A new affordable-housing charter amendment just dropped.
Supervisor Connie Chan Tuesday proposed making the permitting process easier for any project that increases its affordable units by 15 percent.
“To think, all these last years, how many families have been priced out, how hard it has been for them to even afford the rent, or to dream of owning a home in San Francisco. It’s why we’re introducing this affordable housing production act,” Chan said at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday.
The measure for a new charter amendment, backed by supervisors Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Aaron Peskin, competes with Affordable Homes Now, a similar amendment backed by pro-density groups and Mayor London Breed. That proposal would make the permitting process easier for projects that add considerably fewer additional units. The competition already appeared to heat up; as Chan announced the amendment at a City Hall press conference, multiple carpenters with the NorCal Carpenters Union advertised the Affordable Homes Now initiative with huge banners and fliers.
According to Chan and the measure’s supporters, developers shouldn’t get an accelerated process if not enough affordable units are built.
“In our minds, it was about on the one hand getting the market to do something better. On the other hand, it was figuring out how the city properly invests in permanently affordable housing,” said Fernando Marti, the former executive director of Council of Community Housing Organizations, which is a co-sponsor of the measure. “It’s those two pieces working in tandem.”
In 2022, the city requires a market-rate project with more than 25 units to reserve 21.5 percent of units as affordable, though that number will rise incrementally until 2027.
Both proposals offer streamlining after a project has “increased affordability” beyond what is required. Chan’s proposal defines the trigger as 15 percent of the project’s total units. The proposal backed by the mayor defines it as an extra 15 percent of the units already deemed affordable.
In a project of 100 units, streamlining would kick in at 25 affordable units under the proposal backed by the mayor, while 37 units would be needed under Chan’s proposal. Some of the extra units in Chan’s “increased affordability” projects need to be reserved for seniors or be large enough to house families as well.
Todd David, the executive director of Housing Action Coalition, which is the main sponsor of Affordable Homes Now, said few if any developers would use Chan’s amendment because it wouldn’t be profitable to add that many affordable units, and likely result in little construction. “This is quintessentially what the Board of Supervisors has always done. They make it look like they are doing something for affordable housing, but producing little to no units,” he said.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Walton called this a ”fallacy” and said the city continues to build projects with high proportions of affordable units.
Both measures also streamline housing for 100-percent-affordable projects and educator housing. Chan’s definition of affordable is limited to 120 percent of the area median income. The proposal backed by the mayor is capped at 140 percent area median income.
Progressive housing advocates prefer a lower area median income, which they said is more accessible to middle- and low-income San Franciscans. Pro-density advocates argue higher area median incomes capture the middle class and subsidize lower-income units.
Chan’s measure will also invoke a “use it or lose it” policy that causes planning approvals to expire after 24 months for increased affordability projects unless a site permit is acquired or construction has begun. This addition supposedly thwarts developers who may take advantage of a quick process, then sell entitlements or sit on the undeveloped land until construction costs are right.
It also mandates the mayor and the Mayor’s office of Housing and Community Development, issue an annual report in conjunction with the budget to boost transparency of affordable housing funds and how they are spent. Past clashes between the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors meant millions in rehabilitation funds went unused. This report may provide a “collaborative” approach to ensure certain dollars get put into affordable housing if politicians work together, said John Avalos, current executive director of Council of Community Housing Organizations.
Both measures add a note about labor provisions and living wages. Chan’s goes further and requires a “trained and skilled” workforce to build the housing.
“These workers know about their rights in addition to their craft,” said Rudy Gonzalez, executive director of the San Francisco Building Trades Council, a co-sponsor of the measure. This ensures developers hire an experienced, licensed worker and “not a-fly-by-night worker that a developer pays less” he said.
David argued that while skilled and trained workers are preferred, there’s not enough to meet construction needs. Overall, this may lead to delays in building, David said.
Gonzalez dismissed this, and said San Francisco has 1,300 skilled and trained workers “on the bench” and “ready to work now.”
At present, both measures are gunning for the November ballot. Affordable Homes Now was introduced a few months prior and has so far gained 25,000 valid signatures, or half of those needed to make the November ballot. Similar iterations of the measure — also backed by the mayor — failed twice.
Chan’s measure needs six votes at the Board of Supervisors, and besides herself has clinched three more.
“In my experience, if people have a chance to vote and weigh in, they’ll pick what’s best,” Gonzalez said.