Supes tackle complicated, confusing issue as Breed seeks neighborhood preference
By Tim Redmond
NOVEMBER 17, 2015 – The supervisors will tackle today a really tricky question that has bedeviled the city for years: Who should have the best shot at winning the lottery for scarce affordable housing?
The problem exists because the city has failed, repeatedly, over many years to match the level of housing to the number of jobs that are created. In the name of economic growth, San Francisco officials for decades have promoted office construction, tax breaks, special deals and anything else that would bring new, higher-paid people into town.
But they’ve never made sure that those people have a place to live. That’s created the epidemic of displacement we see today.
Instead, the city has required developers to pay for a totally inadequate number of below-market-rate units. And as is always the case when underserved communities are forced to allocate a fraction of their needs, there is tension.Right now, most of the affordable housing in the city is doled out through a lottery. People who were displaced by the old Redevelopment Agency get first shot (and their numbers are dwindling). Tenants who were evicted under the Ellis Act also get a preference.
Now Sup. London Breed wants to add another category: People who live in the supervisorial district where the affordable housing is built.
Her constituents in the Western Addition, she told me, “can look out the window at affordable units they will never get.”
The lottery is brutal. There are hundreds of needy, qualified people for each available unit. Fewer than 5 percent of the people who apply wind up with an apartment. Part of the issue is outreach – a lot of people who might be able to apply don’t know that housing is available, or don’t have help filling out what are often complex applications.
But you can see how frustration builds when people see new projects come on line in their neighborhoods and they don’t get in.
People who need affordable housing, Breed told me, shouldn’t have to leave their communities and their support systems. People living in overcrowded places or surviving by giving most of their paychecks to a landlord should have the right to stay in the neighborhood and move into BMR units.
But here’s where it gets tricky:
Not everyone defines community or neighborhood on the basis of a supervisorial district. The Upper Haight and the Western Addition – very different places – are both in District Five. Chinatown and Russian Hill are both in D3. Some think the “neighborhood” rules should be broader; some want them more narrow.
To make it more complicated, the city doesn’t at this point have any neighborhood-based demographic data on who live in the affordable housing built by city-funded nonprofits. We don’t know if African Americans from the Western Addition are underrepresented in new projects built in that part of town.
The Chronicle reports that African Americans won 23.2 percent of the units developed by the city, with Asians winning 26.6 percent. But less than 5 percent of the units built by private developers went to African American residents.
At a hearing on the topic, according to the Examiner,
Breed presented demographic data on who is winning housing lotteries for inclusionary units.
Between 2008 and 2014, affordable housing units in private development sold and rented includes: Whites, 264 units; Asian, Pacific Islander, 615 units, Hispanic/Latino, 145 units, African American, 62 units, “other” at 47, and 193 units of an unknown race.
Some Mission activists favor a much higher percentage than Breed is discussing. Luis Granados, executive director of the Mission Economic Development Agency, wrote in an email to Breed that
Under this proposal, of the 300 units that are in the very early stages of development, 120 would be guaranteed to go to Mission residents, and the other 180 would go to others outside the neighborhood. Given that the Mission has lost 8,000 residents in the last 10 years, the 40% clearly falls very short of what we need in the Mission. Again, this proposal is deaf in recognizing the housing crisis in the Mission District.
Then there’s a project on Laguna that was supposed to be for LGBT seniors. They live all over town. How does the neighborhood preference impact them?
And what about places where almost no affordable housing is being built? Should low-income people living in overcrowded conditions in the Sunset lose out on housing being built in SoMa – because there’s no affordable housing under construction in their supervisorial district?
The vast, vast majority of the city’s affordable housing is being built in two districts – six and ten. According to a 2015 City Planning Dept. report, of the 2,319 below-market units now in the pipeline, 46 percent are in D6. Another 31 percent are in D10.
Only a tiny fraction of the units are in other parts of town (including, by the way, Breed’s D5). What happens to the people who live there?
The other challenge: A lot of what is described as “affordable” housing isn’t really affordable to low-income people. Check out this listing for units in a private project on 16th Street. To qualify for a two-bedroom unit, a household would have to earn about $35,000 a year – more than the median income for Black households in SF, according to the 2010 Census.
And the effort of some, including the mayor, to shift more of the affordable housing toward “middle-class” households isn’t going to help.
The politics of this, of course, come into play. The backers of the measure are Breed, Mayor Ed Lee, and Sups. Julie Christensen, Scott Wiener, and Malia Cohen. None of the progressives are yet on board.
And as one affordable housing activist told me, “there was very little contact with the people who are trying to work on this. There are many discussions that should have happened.”
In the final hours before the board meeting, affordable housing activists were working to find some compromises that might make this work better. “Nobody’s against neighborhood preference,” said one. “But this is a lot more complicated than it looks.”