S.F. affordable-housing trade-off plan ‘in trouble’

By J.K. Dineen : sfchronicle – excerpt

The city’s plan to give developers extra height and density in exchange for building a greater number of affordable units faces a showdown Thursday at the Planning Commission.

And the odds aren’t looking good for those who believe that squeezing more apartments onto transit corridors could help alleviate the city’s housing crisis.

In the works for more than a year, San Francisco’s affordable-housing bonus program, or AHBP, is the city’s home-cooked alternative to a long-standing state law requiring cities to give builders an extra two floors, provided they make a percentage of the units below market rate.

While the state law has been on the books since 1979, it was under the radar until a 2013 state Supreme Court case, Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano vs. County of Napa. The court ruled that local governments must follow the state law or offer their own version of a housing bonus plan.

The San Francisco version of the law focused on so-called “soft sites” — parking lots, gas stations and one-story commercial buildings — along commercial strips like Van Ness Avenue, Ocean Avenue, Geary Boulevard, Irving Street, Balboa Street, Lombard Street, Geneva Avenue and outer Mission Street. In exchange for including units at 30 percent below market rate, developers in those areas could get two extra stories. Those doing 100 percent affordable-housing projects could get an extra three floors.

While planners see it as a modest proposition, the proposal created a small uproar, particularly on the west side of town, where homeowners saw it as setting the stage for an invasion of greedy downtown developers looking to replace quaint neighborhoods with boxy, SoMa-style apartment complexes.

Broad opposition

Some affordable-housing advocates, who would seem like the plan’s natural allies, sided with the west side antidevelopment home owners, saying the AHBP’s proposed income levels required to qualify for units were too high.

“It’s going to get massacred,” said John Elberling, executive director of nonprofit developer Todco and an opponent of the plan. “I don’t know if it will get through the Planning Commission, but it will never clear the Board of Supervisors. They have managed to enrage every neighborhood in the city. Nobody wants to see large new projects appearing in the classic neighborhood two-lane commercial street.”… (more)



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