Sometimes, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
Frustrated that the Board of Supervisors blocked a charter amendment to streamline housing three times, pro-density groups with Mayor Breed’s support, are instead pushing for it to land on the November ballot.
“San Francisco has some of the most, if not most, aggressive inclusionary housing requirements,” said Todd David, the executive director of Housing Action Coalition, which is sponsoring the amendment along with other organizations. “We want to make sure that those units are actually produced.”
Housing Action Coalition, which is working in tandem with Grow SF, YIMBY Action, SPUR, NorCal Carpenters and other groups, announced it has raised $1 million to collect signatures to get a charter amendment on the ballot that would certain affordable-housing projects to bypass the traditional approval process. Eligible projects include those earmarked for teachers, 100 percent-affordable developments, and mixed-income projects that bump up the number of affordable units by 15 percent.
In exchange, the city must complete the approval process within nine months. As long as a project complies with basic building and safety codes, it may skip city hearings and state environmental review, two tools that some pro-density groups argue have been abused to deliberately obstruct or kill housing.
The deadline to get this amendment on the ballot is July 11. Paid signature gatherers, however, are the elixir for getting initiatives on the ballot.
And, If it goes to the voters, David said it has a good chance of passing.
The amendment is polling at 62 percent right now, and only a simple voting majority is needed to solidify it, David said “I have no reason to believe we will not reach the target,” he said.
The amendment will likely encounter criticism over its definition of “affordability.” The Board of Supervisors shot down a similar charter amendment authored by Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. The supervisors and dozens of community members questioned how many affordable units the amendment would create.
The city already requires a 100-unit project to include 22 affordable units; to qualify for speedier permitting, mixed-income projects need to add 15 percent more affordable units, a calculation based on the required number of affordable units. In a 100-unit project, that would mean only three additional affordable units overall.
Some housing groups, like the Council of Community Housing Organizations, believe that amount is insufficient.
“It’s a couple extra units in exchange for the streamline, it isn’t really creating affordable housing,” said Fernando Martí, the organization’s former executive director. The actual hindrance to building units is the lack of funding, he said, which the amendment doesn’t address.
David defended the amendment, saying that requiring affordability higher than 15 percent would make projects too expensive to build, and would discourage market-rate developers. “We feel that by adding 15 percent but condensing the timeline, we will get those units produced. Forty percent of zero is zero. People can have a philosophical debate, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting housing at all levels of affordability.”