The Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee will continue its deliberations today on a measure to establish a Housing Trust Fund, which would give the city an independent funding source for affordable housing. If the measure passes the committee and the full board, voters will have the final say when it appears on the ballot in November.
Mayor Ed Lee has proposed the fund as a replacement for the city’s defunct Redevelopment Agency, which was dissolved in November 2011.
At last week’s Rules Committee meeting, everyone agreed that the city is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, but committee members were at odds over the particulars of this potential solution.
Supervisor David Campos criticized the fund’s shallow pockets.
“The amount of money on the table certainly doesn’t get us to where we need to be,” he said.
In its first year of operation, the Housing Trust Fund would make available between $12 and $20 million to generate affordable housing in San Francisco, and add a steady $2.8 million to the pot every year after that.
The fund would reach $50.8 million by 2024 or 2025, after which point it would grow “according to the growth of the general fund, much like other set-asides,” said Dan Adams, director of program development for the Mayor’s Office of Housing.
The charter amendment that would establish the trust fund does not yet specify a funding source. During the presentation, Adams unveiled three potential methods for covering its costs.
Two of the methods would reroute tax revenue currently being used for other purposes. The third would establish a new tax via a companion measure that would also go to voters in November: either a 0.2 percent transfer tax increase on properties valued at over $1 million, or a gross receipts tax reform bill.
“Either measure, we’re calculating, would generate approximately $13 million in additional revenue for the Housing Trust Fund,” said Adams.
Adams said this new source of money would be “fundamental” to the fund in its early years.
If voters approve the fund but not the companion measure, money might have to come from the general fund.
“We do not want to impact general fund commitments to other programs,” Adams said. To that end, Mayor Lee will be able to veto the housing fund measure if it passes solo.
First, however, supervisors have to agree on whether to establish the fund at all.
“The value of the Housing Trust Fund [would be] in excess of $1.2 billion” by the end of its 30-year lifespan, said Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and former deputy executive director of the Redevelopment Agency. The agency, by comparison, had a total value of $500 million during its 20-year operation, Lee said.
In its final year, the Redevelopment Agency had more than $46 million to spend on affordable housing, but was dissolved before it could distribute those funds. But was that enough to address the city’s housing woes?
“It made a dent,” said Lee.
Campos disagreed. “What the Redevelopment Agency was doing was in many respects a drop in the bucket.”
Even if the housing fund is established, “you’re still going to have an affordable housing crisis in San Francisco,” Campos said.
“With something as important as this, the devil truly is in the details,” he said, proposing two amendments to the measure — one to weaken the Housing Review Committee that it would establish, and another to remove a provision that would give stalled developments a break on the city’s below-market-rate housing requirements.
The measure establishing the Housing Trust Fund would also create a Housing Review Committee, which would be able to determine which areas of the city offer “a significant increase in residential development potential,” a label that would affect how much developers in those areas would pay in affordable housing fees.
The provision stated that if the Housing Review Committee applied such a designation, the board would be able to overrule it only with a supermajority. Campos questioned the necessity for the high threshold.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the measure’s sponsors, defended the supermajority requirement, explaining that it had “resulted from a negotiation” about how to craft the measure, and that it would also help the measure garner “broad support at the ballot.”
Adams tried to reassure Campos that the supermajority requirement was not intended as a political power grab.
“Because we see this as primarily a technical exercise, rather than a political one, we put the technocrats in charge of it, to make a recommendation to the board,” Adams said.
But Campos wouldn’t have it. “I guess I don’t know what the distinction between technical and political is,” he said.
Kim voted with Campos to change the supermajority requirement to a simple majority.
“I can’t think of land-use decisions where we require such a high threshold,” she said.
Another of the measure’s provisions would decrease the number of below-market-rate housing units required for new projects by 20 percent. According to Adams, that would mean roughly 700 to 800 fewer BMR housing units over the next 30 years.
If that sounds counter-intuitive for a measure designed to increase affordable housing development, Adams said, it’s not.
“We see the Housing Trust Fund as a way to generate close to 10 times that number of units,” he said.
Adams called the BMR reduction “fairly modest” and said that it is intended to spur projects stalled by the poor economy and stimulate “broadened development across income levels,” not just affordable housing.
The provision would work retroactively, Adams said, giving current project sponsors the chance to make a case to the Planning Commission that they need the 20 percent reduction to make their projects financially feasible, for projects going as far back as 2005.
Campos argued that projects that have already been approved by the Planning Commission do not need to be revisited, and he questioned whether doing so would undermine the original approval process.
But Adams countered that the situation has changed. “What we’re recognizing is that the market conditions that were likely true at the time of [approval], and informed the decisions, shifted dramatically.”
Campos disagreed and tried to amend the measure to remove the provision, but none of the other supervisors at the meeting joined him.
Though affordable housing is one piece of the puzzle, Wiener said, “it’s not the only piece.”
“We also have to make sure that we’re creating enough housing overall, so that we don’t continue to have a situation where supply is not keeping up with the incredible demand.”
The Rules Committee will meet today at 10:30 a.m.