The Planning Commission recommended on Thursday a change to city code that would favor local residents in the lottery for affordable housing. At the same time, commissioners delayed action on measures that would prioritize certain victims of displacement. 

Under the proposed recommendation, 25 percent of new affordable housing built would go to former residents of the neighborhood. Neighborhoods were defined by supervisor’s district plus a half-mile buffer zone.

The problem with the current housing lottery, tenant advocates argued effectively, is that new affordable housing built in a neighborhood may fail to house residents displaced from that neighborhood.

We absolutely need some type of neighborhood preference for affordable housing,” said Sam Moss, director of the nonprofit development firm Mission Housing. Neighborhoods like the Mission have more displaced tenants than affordable housing units, he said.  More often than not, he added, they have no choice but to move across the city.

The Planning Commission recommended the neighborhood preference measure to the Board, but also requested that supervisors consider changing the neighborhood boundaries that define who gets preference so as to keep displaced tenants as close to their former homes as possible.

Board of Supervisors president London Breed addressed the commissioners to encourage them to expand the percentage of affordable housing that should go to locals.

“I want to make sure that when I’m pushing to build more affordable housing in in the city that [constituents] have the right to access this housing,” Breed said.

But even in a city of 49 square miles, figuring out who gets preference for affordable housing in which part of the city is tricky.

“If you make the percentage [of preference] within the particular district too high, you’re excluding people from other parts of the city who could avail themselves of these affordable units,” said commissioner Michael Antonini.

Others worry that relocation within a supervisorial district could still be jarring and take people out of their neighborhoods.

“I could be living literally on Waller by Duboce and a housing project could be built in outer Glen Park,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, imagining a theoretical transition for a senior. “That’s a big move. That’s huge.”

Originally, city staff proposed a system in which an additional stipulation would give tenants displaced by no-fault evictions extra priority. That would have included residents displaced by fires or other disasters, owner-move-in evictions, and other no-fault evictions. Those evicted under the Ellis Act have been given priority since 2014.

Concerns over flooding the market with more candidates for limited affordable housing sent that idea back to the drawing board.

Sophie Hayward from the city’s housing office said tenant advocates worried that an influx of candidates for housing “would increase the pool of eligible people so dramatically that it would result in this raised hope, low delivery situation.”

But the number of people who get evicted under the Ellis Act and also take advantage of their priority for affordable housing is small, Hayward said. Only 12 percent of the 304 evicted under the Ellis Act ultimately ended up in affordable housing.

Since 2010, the city has seen 648 Ellis Act evictions and 1,288 owner-move-in evictions. But the city cannot currently offer the latter any preference for affordable housing.

“It’s really hard to field a phone call from someone who thinks they have a preference and then we have to say ‘No, we can’t,’” Hayward said. Whether it’s an owner-move-in eviction or an Ellis eviction, she added, “to the tenant, it feels the same.”

City staff promised Thursday that they would return quickly with a revised proposal, but it may be months before a new draft legislation can be presented.