The city expects to raise at least $136 million from Proposition I for social housing this fiscal year, and there’s no shortage of ideas on how to spend it.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee heard from a number of housing groups that want a slice of that $136 million pie to fund proposals that include teacher housing in the Mission and improvements to Single-Room Occupancy rooms.
But all of this depends on Mayor London Breed deciding to spend that money. Last year, she refused to spend $64 million in Proposition I revenue on the city’s Small Sites preservation program, even though the Board of Supervisors approved the expenditure. To date, it has not been spent.
The money comes from the 2020 ballot measure, Prop. I, which doubled the real-estate transfer tax on properties worth more than $10 million.
Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored the proposition, envisioned the pot of money would fund social housing; a model in which a residential property is owned by the city, nonprofits, or a group of residents. The Small Sites program, for example, buys existing buildings filled with low-income tenants to keep those tenants in place. Since 2014, it has added 53 buildings and preserved the affordability of 563 units.
The Controller estimated $170 million will be raised this year from Proposition I revenue, including $136 million for social housing. At a hearing on Wednesday, the Housing Stability Fund Oversight Board presented community-led social housing proposals to recommend to the supervisors and the mayor.
The oversight board is composed of 11 members, including one appointed by the mayor’s office and 10 by the supervisors.
Several members represent housing organizations like San Francisco Community Land Trust, Council of Community Housing Organizations, and Tenants Together, which Preston founded.
Over the past few months, the board conducted meetings, considered dozens of community proposals and ultimately recommended that $60 million go for land acquisition, $12 million for educator housing, $15 million for upgrades to public housing, $12 million for elevator upgrades for Single-Room Occupancy buildings, and more.
Preston said acquisitions are, rightly, the main chunk of the oversight board’s recommendations.
“At the end of the day, you have to have the property to create the housing there,” Preston said.
Different groups that participated in the process offered specific ideas for each tranche of money. The Mission Economic Development Agency and the United Educators of San Francisco suggested converting a shovel-ready property at 18th and Mission streets into affordable housing for educators.
Hope Williams, from the San Francisco Community Land Trust, encouraged investments that help build home-ownership opportunities and wealth among communities of color. “The people who are being forced out of our city are the people that look like me,” said Williams, who is Black. “I know that these housing models work. We need the funding to strengthen the capacity.”
Jessica Lehman, executive director of Senior and Disability Action, wants some of the funds to be used for subsidies for senior housing. She also advocated for disabled tenants. Other monies should be spent on elevator repairs in Single Room Occupancy units, she said at the hearing.
“The elevators are a mess, and we desperately need to not only fix, but we need to replace, elevators in places like Chinatown and the Mission where SROs are unlikely to have elevators at all,” Lehman said. “It’s really time to invest.”
The oversight board also recommended budgeting $6 million for the city to investigate new “innovative” housing solutions. Shanti Singh, a legislative director for Tenants Together and the chair of the oversight board, said research is integral to learning what’s feasible in San Francisco.
States like Hawaii and Maryland are embracing social housing, and a new state bill suggests California may, too. “It just doesn’t matter unless you act on it. To do something that can be such an ambitious housing program, there are a lot of nuts and bolts,” Singh said.
Still, the mayor controls the purse strings. Preston said he had a conversation with Breed about social housing proposals in earlier stages of this budget’s process to avoid another stalemate. “She did not make any commitments to fund the recommendations, but she also did not rule any out,” Preston said.
At the hearing, Preston concluded by “strongly urging” the Mayor’s Office to reflect the oversight boards’ recommendations in the budget. “I really hope that one area where political or personal differences don’t stand in the way of delivering the housing that we need,” he said.