The waterfront proposal doesn’t do as much for housing as the team would like you to think

How much affordable housing -- and for whom?
How much affordable housing — and for whom?

By Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí

MAY 12,2015 — We love our baseball team, but we don’t like the way the Giants are playing games with last November’s Proposition K, the Housing Balance Measure.

Last week, the Giants publicly announced plans for developing a set of highrise luxury towers on a parking lot across from AT&T Park, on land that is leased from the Port of San Francisco.  The plan is evidently queued up to go to the ballot in November for voter approval of a height increase from its current open space designation to allow development up to 280 feet in height, making the argument that it will result in affordable housing.

On the surface it looks to “match Mayor Ed Lee’s affordable housing goals,” according to the Chronicle, as a third of the 1,500 new units built will reportedly be “affordable housing.”

That may sound good – but in reality the Giants are changing up the goalposts (or more apropos, they’re moving the baselines) on the housing standards of Proposition K’s 33% affordable goals.

Prop. K sets specific goals for achieving an “affordable housing balance” of low income, moderate income and middle income housing and market-rate housing production:

  1. The measure calls for a minimum 33% affordable housing defined for low-income households up to 60% of the City’s median income (or $58,000 annual income for a family of three) and moderate/middle income households up to 120% of the median (about $110,000 annual income).
  2. On top of this 33%, Prop K calls for an additional 17% of housing affordable for middle income households above $110,000 and up to $150,000 annual income.

Together that’s a 50% affordable housing goal.  It’s a sensible one-to-one ratio of price-restricted housing units to match the number of market-rate (aka “unaffordable” units) produced by private development. And importantly, it’s a “both/and” outcome that addresses affordable housing needs for a wide range of low, moderate, and middle-income households, rather than the divisive tactic of pitting the classes against each other over a fixed-size pie.

The mandates of Prop. K have come to set a standard for responsible development in the city, with big developments like Pier 70 committing to providing 30% affordable housing consistent with Prop K’s low- and moderate-income definitions.

The Giants are positioning their project in the public eye as following suit, but unfortunately are using Prop K’s 33% like it’s a numbers game, trading out low- and moderate-income housing and replacing it with housing targeted at higher incomes. We hear rumors that a big chunk of their “third affordable housing” will be geared above 120% of the median income — in other words above Prop K’s 33% goal.  Rather than a both/and proposal consistent with the full 50% affordability range of Prop K, the Giants appear to have put up an either/or scenario.

Though middle-income San Franciscans are clearly being affected by this affordability crisis, pitting lower-income and higher-income San Franciscans against each other along class lines is wrong. That’s why Prop K. took a both/and approach, calling for 50% of the units to include middle-class as well as low- and moderate-income units.

We welcome, for example, the Giants’ proposal to add teacher housing to the mix – it’s high time we heard a developer say this.  Teachers in San Francisco, even tenured teachers, earn below 90% of the City’s median income – exactly in Prop K’s moderate-income bracket, and what the City’s inclusionary housing program asks developers to provide.

But above that, the real estate development “market” has not been building any new family-sized units for what Prop K calls middle-income households with, for example, two teacher incomes.

So adding that layer of affordable housing to the Giants housing proposal is a helpful move. But we are confident the teachers union sees this is as additive to low- and moderate-income housing, not as an alternative, and it would be crass for the Giants or city hall to use the educator community as a wedge on this issue.

Let’s not forget that all of this development is happening on public land leased from the Port.  If we can’t expect even the modest low-, moderate-, and middle-income housing goals of Prop K (which are significantly lower than the optimal City Housing Element targets for affordable housing) to be implemented on publicly-owned land, how can we expect the city to make real the voter’s mandate anywhere?

The income targeting for affordable housing is not a game—low- and moderate-income housing up to 120% of the median income is not interchangeable with “middle-income” housing priced above that level.  If the city is to truly address this crisis, we must demand that developers, including our beloved Giants if they are going to enter the development game, build housing for both/and the low-income, moderate-income and middle-income workers of San Francisco as Prop K calls for.  The Giants can – and should – do better for their city.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are codirectors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations

Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
  • As long a social planning is subservient to business interests, the City’s housing situation (and other infrastructure; been to Muni Pier lately?) will continue to deteriorate.

    • SolAlex

      The business of America is business.

      • Fine. “The Market” is in the process of “correcting” that. But the business of government is to care for the people.

        • SolAlex

          The most important way the government cares for the people is by encouraging business to create jobs for those people.

          • Business control of government is called “fascism,” Sam.
            Most people don’t want that.

            Or do they…..?

          • SolAlex

            Most people want a good standard of living and that derives from having successful businesses in their locality creating well-paid jobs.

            Work is how most people contribute towards society and so suggestions that people hate those who provide work and incomes seems wide of the mark

          • Most peoples “work” contributes nothing to society, but rather to some corporations bottom line. The people that got that tomato to your table worked, yet most of them didn’t even earn minimum wage. You on the other hand, manipulated numbers on a computer; that’s not work, and it contributed to the oligarch’s fortunes. As for society, your work “contributed” to the destruction of the rainforest, turning our waterways and oceans into sewers, devastation of wildlife and natural areas, groundwater depletion, global warming, war, famine, and plague. That is the “business of business.” Like the man said: “War is business, and business is good right now.”

            Life is not about conspicuous consumption, Sam. Life is for living, and living doesn’t require “business.” Most people on the Earth have no money, and no prospects of getting any; what good is “business” going to do them? No money is the new money.

  • folderpete

    er, its currently zoned “open space” – height limit = 0. So why we gonna let them go up 28 stories? At that height, they’ll block views of the game from Potero Hill.

  • chris12bb

    No new housing!!! No new housing!! Yes on moratorium to all new housing!!
    No new housing!!! No new housing!! Yes on moratorium to all new housing!!

    Landlords and Homeowners are loving this keep it up

    • chasmader

      Foolish NIMBY-Boomer; the moratorium does nothing to stop evictions

      • SolAlex

        A moratorium encourages evictions by taking away one important alternative – buying a newly built home

  • SolAlex

    Tim, I’d like to suggest that you rename this site something like “The Paranoid Housing Blog” because you appear to post about nothing else other than housing. Obsessed much?

    It gets a tad boring after a while. Just sayin’.

    • Ragazzu

      Obsessed? OBSESSED?! Jesus H. Christ, SOLSam, look at your thousands of obsessive comments on housing. What the hell would you do with your life without Tim?

      Boring! BORING?!

      • SolAlex

        I can only respond to the topics that are written here. If most articles are about housing then most comments will be about housing

        Most of your comments are about me. Obsessed much?

        • Ragazzu

          Your ridiculous comments are so much fun to ridicule.

          • SolAlex

            You never successfully refute my comments because all you ever do is resort to cheap ad hominem insults.

            If you really thought I was ineffective here, you would have no reason to endlessly stalk me.

          • Ragazzu

            Stock you? Don’t flatter yourself.

          • SolAlex

            You are the one who seemingly cannot resist responding to me with personal attacks. So yes, stalking.

            You can prove me wrong by not doing it – not that there is any risk of you being that mature.

            I look forward to the day when you post on some subject other than me. Nice that you spend so much time thinking about you though. If only I could reciprocate.

          • Ragazzu

            Your persecution complex rears itself once again.

  • sffoghorn

    Tim’s role is the mouthpiece of the CCHO/SFIC.

  • VivaShotwell

    It’s never good enough. The reason why the moratorium is a joke, and why progressives have become a joke, is because they never settle for anything less than 110% of what they want. Progressives become more and more like the Tea Party every day, with the main difference that at least the Tea Party wins elections.