This afternoon the Board of Supervisors will vote on Supervisor David Campos’s call for a temporary moratorium on luxury housing development in the Mission—one of a handful of ideas currently being circulated as possible solutions to the area’s housing crisis.

The numbers speak for themselves. San Francisco’s median rent is now $4,225, according to a recent report in Curbed, and 64 percent of San Franciscans are tenants. So there’s little dispute that more affordable housing is a good idea.

Many, however, disagree on the best means to that end. Other ideas being floated include a bolder bond measure and a more aggressive use of the city’s small site program, which buys existing buildings.

While a moratorium during a housing crisis sounds counterintuitive, Campos argues that it gives legislators and planners time to get funding for and acquire some of the sites available in the Mission for larger developments.  The moratorium would initially be for 45 days but could be extended for 18 months.

The supervisor wrote in a recent OpEd that a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission would give the city the time to secure some of the sites “to build 100 percent affordable developments.”

Failing that, he argued, the sites will be scooped up by developers of market-rate housing.   Only 14 percent of the new Mission housing since 2008 has been affordable, far below the mayor’s goal of 33 percent.  The fact that market-rate housing development has far outpaced affordable housing has lent support to Campos’s idea that the city needs to take a break and rethink planning in the Mission.

While many in the city’s development and urban planning community are opposed to the moratorium and the Democratic County Central Committee opposed the measure in a recent 13-to-10 vote,  Campos has the support of four supervisors, the Catholic Church – which is increasingly active in housing rights – as well as housing activists. To get a moratorium he needs four more supervisors, or nine in total.  If he fails, Edwin Lindo of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club has said he will introduce an initiative for the November ballot on a moratorium for the Mission.

While Supervisor John Avalos supports the Campos moratorium, he has also called for a bond measure that would double the $250 million bond measure proposed by Mayor Ed Lee.  This, he has said, would give the city far more money to buy existing housing and build new units.

Housing bonds aren’t easy

Voters last approved a housing bond in 1996. Two more recent attempts – in 2002 for $250 million and in 2004 for $200 million – failed. It’s worth noting that the proposal nearly got the required two-thirds vote in 2004 (the bond measure fell short by two percentage points), but that requirement makes passage notoriously difficult.

With housing front and center and a build-more fever in the air, said David Baker, an architect active in building affordable housing, there may be enough votes to support a bigger bond. “It would be really smart to double” the size of the bond, Baker said.

However, no bond measure will make affordable housing available anytime soon. New housing of any kind takes at least three years to bring online.

Although he stressed the need to move on all fronts, Baker also offered a quicker solution: the small sites program, which allows the city to buy existing housing.

David Baker, an architect active in the affordable housing sphere. Photo by Lydia Chávez

David Baker, an architect active in the affordable housing sphere. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Third Option: Buy More Existing Housing

 Baker, who is also a Mission resident,  described rent-controlled building as jewels dangling in front of developers who have no difficulty seeing their potential. “People being people, (they) say I want some of those jewels, and they make a run at it,” he said.

At present, developers buy a building with rent-controlled tenants, use the Ellis Act to get rid of the tenants, and then turn around and sell the units at market-rate prices.

With more funding, the city could step in and match an offer on a rent-controlled building. A non-profit such as Mission Housing, which already runs buildings, would manage the new acquisitions, Baker said.

Doing so means bringing the building up to code, which often makes each unit as expensive as building new affordable housing. However, tenants are allowed to stay, and new affordable housing is created immediately – not three years out.

The other benefit, said Baker, is that the non-profit housing entity can put rents on a fairer footing. If a high-income individual is living in a rent-controlled apartment purchased by the city, that individual will end up paying closer to market-rate rent, while lower-income tenants will continue to pay low rents.

“They adjust the incomes in a way that is really hard for the Rent Board to do,” said Baker, and the building becomes permanently affordable.

 “The solutions are there,” said Baker. “The major impediment has been the lack of us committing resources.”