Photo by GerardSFG

Calling it a long-overdue evaluation, San Francisco housing activists and experts praised a performance audit of the city’s affordable housing programs at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing on Monday.

The audit by the city’s budget analyst revealed what many in the crowd at City Hall said they already knew: the city has been failing to meet its affordable housing goals since 1999.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing, one of the agencies in charge of developing affordable housing, said it spent money on special-needs housing, not just affordable housing.

“The report shows that low-income and moderate-income housing isn’t there,” said District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, who chairs the committee. “We are not anywhere close to meeting the need for housing.”

From 1999 to 2011, San Francisco exceeded its goal for developing market-rate housing, which is defined as housing that is affordable to people earning 120 percent more than the area’s median income. In San Francisco, that translates to a single person earning more than $86,000 per year, or a household of four that earns more than $123,600.

At the same time, housing for moderate- and low-income residents lagged. Such housing is defined as affordable for a single person earning between $36,000 to $86,000 a year.

This city’s affordable housing deficit goes back to 1999.

From 1999 to 2006, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) recommended that the city develop 7,363 market-rate units, which then approved projects totaling 11,293 new units. The association asked the city to create 5,639 units for moderate-income households (earning between 80 and 120 percent of the average median income), and created just 725.

From 2007 to 2010, ABAG mandated that San Francisco develop 7,400 affordable housing units, but the city built only 4,500.

Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, said that the city fell off course because it spent the money on other types of housing.

“We did not just do low-cost housing that met the definition of affordable housing,” Lee told the committee. “We took the extra step, based upon your encouragement, to do special-needs housing, housing for people with disabilities, a variety of things that many of their communities do not do.”

The audit also found shortcomings in the ways the city measures its goals.

The Planning Department, for example, has no way of knowing if goals are being met because it doesn’t have all the information when considering projects.

Typically, when the Planning Commission considers a project, planners simply state that the project is helping to create affordable housing but don’t provide any context about how the project will help the city reach its housing goals. Planning Department staff said they are developing methods to get that information to commissioners.

The mayor’s office also found that people who have low and extremely low incomes spend almost 60 percent of their earnings for housing (more than 30 percent is considered overpaying by federal standards), while those with moderate and above-moderate incomes spend about 30 percent on housing.

“This is kind of surprising, actually, that we see these moderate and above-moderate are generally able to afford San Francisco’s high rental markets,” said Sasha Hauswald, public policy manager with the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

The Planning Department attributes this to the city’s relatively higher wages and the fact that some middle-income households benefit from rent control, Hauswald added.

People with extremely low incomes not only spend the majority of their earnings on housing, they also live in substandard conditions, said Joshua Vining of the Mission SRO Collaborative.

“I was doing some outreach in a building, and the tenants were asking me whether it was legal to withhold rent because some rats that were in their room had actually eaten their food, and they had totally ran out of food,” he said. “They had exhausted the remainder of their income after rent and had no more food for the rest of the month, so really what it is [is] a question between clean housing and food, that is something that people should not have to choose among in San Francisco.”

The audit also found that the Planning Department does not report to the Planning Commission on the impact of housing developments within areas that have been designated as transit-oriented districts to encourage residents to take transit instead of driving.

As an example, the report cited a Dolores Street transit-oriented development that was approved with 16 parking spaces, six more than permitted by zoning. “Increased parking paces could deter the use of transit, which is the goal of transit-oriented zoning,” the budget analyst wrote.

Supervisors said they hope to implement some of the changes recommended by the budget analyst.

“Unless we do something drastic, I think that trend will only get worse,” Campos said. “I really think it’s imperative upon us to make sure that we do something here.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. This is a battle that can’t be won. Build “enough” affordable housing units, and thousands more low-income residents will pour into the city. There’s just too many people who want “in”, and they’re just waiting on the periphery, particularly from Oakland to the South Bay. Or have you not noticed how full the Fremont Bart trains are?

  2. I’d love to live in SF, or Manhattan or Mailbu but I can’t afford it so I live in the Midwest where I can afford to live, pay my bills and feed my children. This is how reasonable people make decisions. Quit trying to orchestrate how things work out. It sounds like it would be lovely if we could all live on the beach sitting in the sunshine, drinking mai tai’s and writing poetry but that’s not reality. Real happiness in life comes from investing time, effort and love in the talents you’ve been given. That builds self esteem and pride in individuals. A home in SF won’t make anyone happy but having a goal and reaching for it fills teh human spirit with hope. A hand out just makes you look for the next hand out and deflates one’s self esteem in the long run.

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