SF is losing affordable housing almost as fast as we can build it

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

Planning Dept. report shows that evictions are erasing about 70 percent of the city’s affordable housing gains


It doesn’t help much to build a lot of new affordable housing if we lose almost as much to evictions. Photo by Zrants

The Planning Department has released its latest report on how the city’s affordable housing balance is coming along, and it’s not pretty.

The report, which will be discussed at the Planning Commission Thursday/1, is required under city law. It’s supposed to show the progress San Francisco is making toward its official housing goals… (more)


Housing developers brace for future with San Francisco’s affordable requirements doubled

San Francisco voters approved Prop. C, a ballot measure that will more than double the city’s affordable housing requirement for new housing projects.

Housing developers and their supporters are now bracing for how to make future developments financially feasible in a city where building housing is already costly and takes several years.

“In a softening market, (Prop. C) will be the nail in the coffin” for some projects, said Lou Vasquez, founder and principal of development firm Build, which has plans to build 900 homes at India Basin along the city’s southern waterfront.

Supporters of the initiative said it would help produce more affordable housing in a city where home prices and rents have skyrocketed in recent years. Approximately 67 percent of voters embraced the measure while 33 percent rejected it.

But opponents argued that the policy will decrease the overall supply of housing by raising the cost of development.

Previously, the city’s policy required new projects to set aside 12 percent of units on-site as affordable housing, or build off-site units, pay a fee or donate land to fulfill the requirement. Under Prop. C, projects are required to have 25 percent on-site inclusionary housing or 33 percent off-site or paid as a fee… (more)

SF pushing changes to affordable housing requirements, short-term rental rules

By : sfexaminer – exerpt

Ushering in a new era of housing policy, San Francisco has proposed a tougher rule on short-term rentals like Airbnb and will vote today on legislation to increase affordable housing requirements.

Legislation from supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim would impose new affordable housing requirements on development, should voters in June approve Proposition C, a charter amendment that would allow the Board of Supervisors to adjust the requirements rather than voters, who currently have that power.

With thousands of homes wending their way through the planning process and the future of development at stake, the board is poised to vote on the legislation today after it advanced Monday out of the board’s Land Use and Economic Development committee.

The law would impose a 25 percent affordable housing requirement for new developments with at least 25 homes. The current requirement is 12 percent for projects with at least 10 units.

While last week the committee hammered out controversial details of grandfathering provisions, on Monday Supervisor Scott Wiener outright opposed the legislation, arguing it could mean a “de-facto moratorium,” even though he has endorsed Prop. C…

Every unit counts

As San Francisco is poised to increase its affordable housing requirements, The City may also be ready to add more restrictions on short-term rentals like Airbnb, which have been widely blamed for gobbling up existing housing.

Today, Supervisor David Campos will introduce legislation to require websites like Airbnb to only list short-term rental opportunities with a verified registration number or face fines of up to $1,000 daily … (more)

Airbnb, HomeAway would police rentals under proposed SF law

A Response to the Supply and Demand Argument that Building Housing will Reduce Rents.

A dangerous shift in powers and authorities from elected officials to unelected appointees lurks behind the new push to build, build, build and densify the population in the Bay Area.

Are we really going to roll out the old supply and demand argument again?  Over the last five years the Planning Department has allowed more variances and exceptions to the rules to produce denser housing. The results so far have been higher rents than ever before, displacement of many residents and merchants that served them, and complete destruction of many arts and cultural institutions and neighborhood characteristics and, many would, say San Francisco’s soul.

Adding supply has not lowered rents. The rents have gone steadily up since the height and density limits were removed.

Building higher and denser and smaller units (200 square feet for a 2-bedroom has been suggested by some developers) will not lower the rents. For that we need a legislative effort to limit values and re-balance the legal rights and obligations between landlords and tenants.

The landlords have all the rights of ownership, but they have been socked by some uncomfortable rules and regulations that make being a landlord unpleasant. We need to figure out how to make the relationships between landlords and tenants less difficult. We need a return to civility between property owners and everyone else.

Passing the Affordable Housing Bonus Programs will not help us get there. It will exacerbate the hostilities and the gentrification and displacement problems. Some officials have asked, “do the developers need incentives to build more?”

We understand there are competing bills going before the voters this fall that may solve some of the problems. Let the voters decide in November what they want their city to be in the future.

About the Affordable Housing Bonus Programs:

It just came to our attention, that in order to pass the Affordable Housing Bonus Program (Being referred to by many as the Affordable Bogus Housing Program), according to this week’s agenda items 12a and 12b, over a dozen codes will have to be amended, as well as the area zoning maps and an unknown number of other related codes. This is a major overhaul of the entire city planning system. One of the most contested issues is over who will be noticed and who will be allowed to object to future projects and how these objections may be brought to which government body for review and when.

About Administrative law versus Legislated law:

How it is now: We are supposed to have a separation of powers that allows a balance of authority between Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. The new trend is to remove the balance by handing authority over to unelected organizations ie: ABAG and MTC and in this case, Planning Department staff. This trend is of major concern to those who believe in retaining the balance of power and the right of the voting tax-paying public to control their destiny through the election process. If you oppose this shift in powers and authorities, you will want to oppose this plan.

The Housing Wars Hit the Beach

By Joe Eskenazi : modernluxury – excerpt

In a quest to densify San Francisco’s west side, the city is kicking sand on some angry neighbors. 

San Francisco’s most ambitious development schemes may well be hatched in smoke-filled antechambers or atop corporate-logoed skyscrapers. But the grand plans to derail those grand plans tend to be born in underheated meeting rooms in unglamorous city structures stocked with store-brand potato chips and dip.

That was the case in mid-November, when around 20 fleece-wearing San Francisco residents—all of them aged 50 or over, many of them homeowners on the city’s west side—trundled out of the fog and into the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. On tap was a strategy session, hosted by the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, with a single agenda item: Undermine a city plan to build thousands of homes in the coming decades, including perhaps 1,000 in the low-slung Sunset and Richmond districts. The top-down plan, fomented by the Planning Department and Mayor’s Office and marshaled by west-side supervisor Katy Tang, is not to the coalition’s liking. The group’s leaders decry it as a devious plot to enrich developers and drive long-standing San Franciscans out of the city. They foresee it spreading the same pestilence that has already afflicted other neighborhoods: waves of wealthy techie arrivistes, intent on disrupting the quaint character that west-side homeowners have cultivated all these years.

“You may not feel it for a year or two years,” warned CSFN president George Wooding of the slippery slope to a denser, taller west side. “But one day it’ll be in your backyard, and you won’t know what hit you.”…

Please note: Most of the people at the above mentioned gathering spent years working to protect the Eastern Neighborhoods long before the plan was hatched to bring the monster into their neighborhoods. They are not NIMBYS. They care deeply about the integrity of the entire city and oppose the plans to Manhattanize it. – Editor’s comment

But they may soon have little choice. The point of conflict is city hall’s long-gestating plan to shoehorn perhaps 16,000 more units into the city by offering developers so-called density bonuses: city-planning concessions that allow builders to erect taller, broader structures in exchange for including a sizable percentage of affordable housing without sucking up public subsidies. On the west side, the program could bring 1,000 additional units along transit corridors like Judah, Noriega, and Taraval—hardly a building bonanza, but still a serious reversal after a decades-long dry spell.

The initiative is deftly titled the Affordable Housing Bonus Program—a city hall–coined term that puts the CSFN activists in the unenviable position of arguing against affordable housing. It’s like disparaging “motherhood and apple pie,” groans Kathy Devincenzi, a representative from the Laurel Heights Improvement Association. And yet, even in a city deficient in affordable housing, pushing for an influx of more is a risky move. People like the idea of more housing, but not when it drops shadows across their backyard…

Learn more about the Affordable Housing Bonus Programs: https://discoveryink.wordpress.com/sf-actions/a-better-plan/

But could developers, as west-side denizens warn, erect seven-story towers and create an Ocean Beach Riviera? City politicos squirm in their chairs at that question, because the answer is actually yes. It’s possible—just as it’s possible for the Warriors to go 82–0—but it’s not probable. Regardless, the nightmare vision of monoliths sprouting on the Great Highway is too good for the CSFN to let pass: At the November meeting, one man proposed toting a 70-foot pole to City Hall to illustrate what he fears will block Sunset residents’ view of the sunset…

But could developers demolish a building and jettison small, local, ground-floor businesses that would never be able to afford the rent in the new structure? The answer is yes. And could they, as Welch foretells, raze a rent-controlled apartment building and then reap a bonus for producing a new structure in which most of the affordable units are earmarked for six-figure earners? Yes—though Tang pledges that “tenant protections are something that is absolutely going to happen” as the city’s plan evolves… (more)


Nerding Out on the Affordable Housing Bonus Program

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

For nerds like me, who love how technicalities buried on page 43 of a report can shape a city for decades, and political Gordian knots, this Thursday’s Planning Commission hearing is sexier than a season finale of “Scandal.”

Back in September, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Katy Tang introduced the Affordable Housing Bonus Program to offer developers bonuses of two or three extra stories in exchange for building units affordable to those earning up to 140 percent of the median income for a family of four, which is $142,000. (What about people earning $90,000? San Francisco is not for you anymore, apparently.)

ABHP targets underdeveloped areas in the Sunset, Richmond, Marina, Western Addition and a few other places. The Planning Department estimates the AHBP could get another 16,000 units built in the next 20 years.

So far so good. Lining six-story buildings down Taraval doesn’t seem like a death knell to west-side quality of life. The Sunset is a little slice of suburbia inside The City’s limits and should grow up. And what progressive wouldn’t love putting affordable housing in the Marina?

Except that there are devils in them details. Hopefully the Satans can get behind thee to fix the policy, even if it diminishes developers’ profits slightly. But will the mayor and Supervisor Tang’s chronic premature capitulation flare up again?

The proposal, as constructed, has two major problems: transit and displacement…

Theoretically, there could be a lot more housing built along existing transit lines, where Muni could increase service without, say, new costly subways. But we’re too busy privatizing the transit system to fund Muni.

The displacement issue arises because ABHP’s incentives, as written, apply equally to developments that displace existing rent-controlled units. Rent-controlled housing is a scarce and precious commodity, like old growth forests or a femme top, none of which are appreciated by everybody. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Anyone who can’t afford his or her rent increasing by any amount whatsoever should worry about that. It doesn’t alleviate the housing crisis to evict current residents…

There’s a happy solution: ABHP could be amended to ensure expanded transit. ABHP could either simply exclude existing housing or require one-for-one replacement of rent-controlled units, relocation and right of return. It could require an average income (say $100K) for the below-market-rate units, and let developers set their own mix around the average.

It’s a conundrum for the mayor and his board allies: There’s a political imperative to deliver more affordable housing; their donors are developers, while their voter base is the neighborhoods where said building would go down.

Who will cave first? I’m bringing popcorn and pitchforks… (more)


The Agenda, Nov. 23-Nov. 30: The problem with affordable housing bonuses…

by Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt


The city has more than 30,000 sites where a “density bonus” could be allowed for building taller housing with some affordable units

By Tim Redmond

NOVEMBER 23, 2015 – There’s not a lot going on at City Hall this week; things tend to slow down for the holiday. Which gives us a chance to talk about a couple of things that have been floating around this fall and that have gotten lost in the campaign season.

There is, for example, this grand plan for what city officials call an “affordable housing density bonus.”

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: If you are going to build new housing in the city, and you are seeking permits in an area with pretty low height limits (like most residential neighborhoods) you can get as much as two stories or extra height if you agree to build more affordable units.

Nice, right? We aren’t talking about giant highrises, just and extra ten or 20 feet in exchange for an increase in below-market units. Let the developers do what they do, and make the new places just a little taller, and we suddenly have thousands of new “affordable” units.

But Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a longtime tenant advocate at the Housing Rights Committee, points out that there’s a huge loophole here:

What happens if developers decide to demolish existing rent-controlled housing units to build taller buildings with more units – but no rent control?

There are thousands and thousands of places in the path of the city’s density-bonus program that are smaller than what the plan would allow. Among them, Mecca told me, is the site on Castro where Harvey Milk’s camera shop once stood.

“Are they going to tear down that building?” he asked.

The current city law makes it hard to demolish existing residential units. Any demolition plan requires a conditional use permit, which means a full hearing at the Planning Commission. The code is designed to discourage any housing demolition; the default assumption is that housing should be preserved.

But what happens when a developer comes to the commission and says: Hey, I’m tearing down six units – but I’m going to build ten, and three of them will be affordable?

The way this commission, and for the most part this Board of Supervisors, has been trending, anything that offers more housing is good. So that’s an argument that might have traction.

Two problems: A lot of that existing housing is in irreplaceable Victorian buildings, part of the city’s historic legacy, which would be turned to dust in the name of (ugly) new utilitarian structures that maximize space.

And under state law, all housing constructed after 1979 is exempt from rent control.

So you tear down rent-controlled housing, which means the existing residents are evicted and forced out of town, probably out of the Bay Area. (Any eviction of long-term working-class tenants or people on fixed incomes today means they are gone, forced to move to another part of the country.)

Then new units that are not under rent control are built, along with some below-market units – probably fewer than the existing affordable units that were destroyed.

Oh, and the existing tenants won’t have any preference for those affordable units, which won’t be built until those tenants have already fled the region.

In the end, maybe, net loss of affordable housing.

Remember: In a housing crisis, the most important, and least expensive, housing is what already exists. The first priority has to be preventing the loss of rent-controlled housing stock.

“We went to the planners and asked about this, and they said they would get back to us,” Mecca told me.

I tried the same thing: I posed the question to the chief planner on the program. What, I asked, will prevent developers from demolishing existing rent-controlled housing to build more new units that might not be under rent control?

No answer.

I don’t think the battle over Fifth and Mission is over – and the same goes for the board’s approval of a highrise condo complex on the waterfront at 75 Howard.

There’s a good chance of lawsuits challenging the EIRs in both projects – and there’s also the prospect of ballot measures.

The developer of 8 Washington got all of his City Hall approvals, too. And that is now dead, thanks to a vote of the people.

Voting is on for the local board of the Sierra Club, and a pro-development group is trying to take control. If you’re a member, you get to vote (and a lot of members don’t). There’s a big difference between the slates, and you can figure it out pretty easily – the ones who have only been members since 2014 are the developer-driven candidates who want to make the local chapter promote more market-rate housing. The ones who have been members for many years are credible environmentalists.

There’s also a battle for control of the SF Bicycle Coalition, between a group that is more focused on the single-issue of bicycles and a group that wants the organization to veer more toward larger transportation justice issues. Also: One group wants to eliminate elections for board members in the name of “privacy.”

The coalition has always walked a fine line between doing the narrow mission – advocating for better conditions for bicycling in SF – and being part of a larger progressive coalition. In the last election, for example, the coalition endorsed both Aaron Peskin and Julie Christensen, who might both like bikes but who have very different vision about issues of economic and transit justice.

The November municipal election is over. Two key environmental groups are just starting theirs… (more)

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