Moments ago, a panel of supervisors scuttled a teacher housing charter amendment put forward by Mayor London Breed. This was done with no shortage of drama and acrimony and a lengthy cohort of (dramatic, acrimonious) public speakers.
But, like a pro wrestling match, the outcome here was never in doubt and everyone knew the script.
The mayor can count on three, maybe four votes from this board on any given day. You need six supervisors to put a charter amendment onto the ballot — and this charter amendment contained a number of provisions not amenable to the progressive majority on the board. Multiple legislators who spoke to Mission Local said they were never really engaged in a way you’d expect them to be if the object was to win their approval for passage of the charter amendment.
What’s more, the unions representing the teachers — the teachers for whom this housing is proposed — did not support the mayor’s teacher housing proposal. Instead, they’re backing a competing measure put forward by members of the Board of Supervisors.
Your humble narrator is not going to weigh in on the merits of the competing measures, and will focus instead on the problems and perceptions that led to today’s fraught — yet ultimately farcical — meeting. This conundrum has been framed, elsewhere, as a battle between a pro-housing mayor and an anti-housing board. Beware the distillation of a beastly complex problem into a simple slogan. Beware anyone on any side of a municipal issue evincing the moral certitude of a Crusader.
The misgivings the supervisors had with this proposed charter amendment when it was introduced months ago were the same ones expressed today in a telling preamble to the hearing by Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Hillary Ronen. Their feelings weren’t mollified at all.
In short: The mayor’s proposal would enable “by-right” teacher housing on public land in which one-third of the structure is devoted to commercial space, and, in the residential portion of the structure, one third of the units would be market-rate and open to anyone, and two-thirds would be reserved for teachers. The supes complained, however, that these teacher units would be set for residents earning up to 140 percent of area median income, with no hard and fast requirements to provide for lesser levels. Of note, 140 percent of AMI would be $121,000 for a single person and $172,400 for a family of four.
What’s more, as this is a proposed charter amendment, the supes bemoaned that this setup — in which a one-bedroom apartment would run $3,000 a month — would be the new definition of “affordable.”
The mayor has, repeatedly, described the above plan as “100-percent affordable teacher housing.” Which is, if nothing else, excellent branding.
The competing board plan would require everyone in teacher housing to be an educator. It would also cater to those earning less money — half of the units would be for those earning 80 percent of area median income — with 20 percent of the units earmarked for educators earning 160 percent AMI. This split would, ostensibly, make these developments feasible.
(Of note: This is a dicey way to fund a housing development. The mayor’s proposal of allowing one-third of the units to be market-rate housing, while politically treacherous, is not a dicey way to fund a housing development.)
(Also of note: The supes’ plan relies upon structures enabled by Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 35 — a measure many on San Francisco’s political left did not support.)
As speakers in favor of the mayor’s measure pointed out today, there is less state and/or federal money to be tapped in order to provide housing for middle-income earners — and a family earning $172,000 would be hard-pressed to land property in this town.
But the conflict here pits middle-income earners against lower-income earners fighting for the same resources.
“Our concern is that the pie is too small. We do not want middle-income educators’ legitimate need for housing to be pitted against low-income San Franciscans,” said Ken Tray of the United Educators union. “The mayor’s office is creating a new definition of affordable housing. Fair enough. But we would’ve liked to have been there on the ground floor.”
There was much discussion today regarding “discretionary review,” a San Francisco oddity in which private citizens can inveigh against and pillory even a conforming development. This is a legitimate cause for concern, but developers tell me it’s not near the No. 1 issue holding up their housing projects in this city. Rather, they point to spiraling construction costs and the sclerotic nature of the city’s planning bureaucracy itself. They’re less concerned with community groups holding up a project than the months or years it takes to get a hearing before the Planning Commission and connect a project with a planner.
Sclerotic bureaucracy is a problem — but one the voters needn’t be involved in fixing.
So why would the mayor’s office move forward with a charter amendment everyone knew was dead on arrival? Think of it as the legislative equivalent of a flaming bag of feces placed on a mark’s doorstep. The mayor invigorated her staunchest supporters while also portraying the board as obstructionist and dysfunctional.
That’s good politics. That doesn’t mean the mayor’s office isn’t legitimately trying to build more housing in other ways — but, today, the supes were made to dirty themselves by stamping out that flaming bag of feces.
San Francisco’s housing crisis is just that: a crisis. Today the call went out to public speakers on both sides to provide cover for a preordained outcome. That’s politics as usual, but politics as usual got us to where we are.
The charter amendment was tabled today, but the mayor and board are still both presenting competing ordinances regarding teacher housing. If teachers could live in legislation, San Francisco’s educators would be set up well.
The differences between these measures are described as trivial by everyone in City Hall I’ve spoken with. Which could, in fact, lead to the most rancorous arguments of all, and competing measures being thrown to the voters come November. To wit: The definition of “affordable housing” and “teacher housing” differ depending upon whom you ask.
Hopefully housing will be built. As will consensus.