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UncategorizedWho gets affordable housing?

Who gets affordable housing?

Supes tackle complicated, confusing issue as Breed seeks neighborhood preference

This chart shows future affordable housing by district. The vast majority is in only two districts
This chart shows future affordable housing by district. The vast majority is in only two districts

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.”

Tim Redmond
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.
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  1. Thee are “progressives”?

    Not to my knowledge! 🙁

    Didn’t everyone get on board to give us a monstrostity on Howard Street just very recently? 🙁

  2. That’s a false construct created in the 90’s and made law later. Now they’re applying formulas, but builders can build almost anything they want.

    One doesn’t pay for the other, one motivates the other. Huge difference.

    I know of one small builder who sought to create 8 units, marginally priced for lower-medium income, by choice. The City is requiring them to build less units.

    Housing doesn’t have to be subsidized, and rents are set at whatever the landlord, property manager, capital investment team, decides. If the market drops out, they’re going to still build, they’ll just adjust the projects, and build lower end apartments.

  3. Actually, cheaper units are slightly cheaper to build, in the most literal sense wether you look at layouts, material, location, etc.

    You do recognize developers selling high end units have greater overhead, don’t you?

    Market rate units do not lead to affordable housing in any consequential number. That said, I’m not for limiting development, but I’m also not for turning SF into Miami, or hell, turning the rest of the city into the disaster that’s become of Mission Rock. But still, let’s stop lying about who these developments are designed to serve.

    Raising taxes for housing is a problem. Again, we’re not talking about housing projects, truly affordable housing, or even middle class based projects. People are just pretending they are. So that’s why we shouldn’t do both. … neither will get the results you want.

    You want to discuss solutions? Mine involve loosening up zoning changes to existing developments depending on need (the market *is* cyclical), building out in areas like Hunters Point, and admitting 10 discounted units in a fancy building will not make up for the need to build several public housing projects worth of units.

  4. Hey, schmucks from Des Moines need a place to live also!

    Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution says that SF can’t say “You Don’t Have to Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here”

  5. Affordable units are not “cheaper” to build. They require subsidies. More BMR units would require greater subsidies.. So the question is always where that money comes from. Two choices:

    1) Let developers build more market-rate units, and use part of the profits from that.

    2) Raise taxes if the voters approve it. In fact we just did that but there is a limit to what the voters will approve.

    Why would we not do both? Market-rate homes are not a problem in and of themselves.

  6. That’s just the nonsense racket the city created in tandem with developers.

    If they want to make cheaper market units geared towards a different market, they could build that. Or the city could build more subsidized housing. Creating high end market rate units is not a requirement. The requirement is that if you create those high end units, you pay for your sins by giving a token back to the community, with supposedly inclusive, lower end availability.

    In truth, those units haven’t been more inclusive, nor have they always served a lower income residents, as many are merely transitional income, lottery winners.

  7. No. The number of “subsidized units in a new development depend on the number of market-rate units. Without the latter, there is no money to pay for the former.

    Reducing the build of market-rate homes reduces the build of BMR homes.

  8. Funny, for someone who takes umbrage with use of the term “luxury” you sure do play fast and loose with the meaning of “affordable”.

    Lower cost housing does not hinge on developers reduced half the units in buildings never intended to be affordable. The premise is false.

  9. If developers were stopped from building “discounted” apartments then there would not be many affordable units built, and so the issue of who gets them would be moot.

  10. Politics is going to get involved in this process. On the bright side, we’re talking about a very small number of units. This is the progressive version of thinking how many angels fit on a pinhead. But I guess it’s a step in the right direction.

  11. 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.”

    Translation: Breed did not kiss our ass.

    Fascinating that “The Voice of San Francisco’s Affordable Housing Movement” was silent on the fact that “their base” had no better chance of getting into their buildings or inclusionary than any schmoe from Des Moines for decades until Supervisor Breed raised the issue and then all they could do was criticize.

    Didn’t Luis Granados’ MEDA, East Bay resident and former Marina resident, have a representative on the Community Land Trust Task Force like a jillion years ago and do nothing about it until they saw funding opportunities?

    Why are these people still employed with our tax dollars?

  12. The qualifications for the lottery should be revamped, for starters.

    There is a sweet spot between those who would qualify for public assistance, and housing, and people who could previously qualify and pay for housing but are barely hanging on now…and we need to stop talking about them as if there one in the same. It’s a false premise. And finally, we need to stop pretending developers paying off the city with discounted apartments, for the right to build, is in any way, shape, or form, a sound solution.

  13. The Chinese community in D3 are/were against this “localized preference” proposal because they wouldn’t get a shot at affordable housing units (AHU) in other parts of the city. If this passes their AHU numbers will start to decline now that Peskin is their supervisor. To D3 residents, “Be mindful of future legislation and who you vote for in your District elections”.

  14. I suspect that any alleged disparity between different ethnicities can be explained by other factors such as income criteria or cultural preferences for neighborhoods.

    And I am not sure that a misguided attempt to impose some form of affirmative action would be legal, ethical or popular. We can do better than infuse race into everything.

    These allocations happen by lottery so it is not clear to me that anything sinister can be inferred from the outcomes.

  15. The racial disparity between city-built and private housing is indeed shocking. Is it that only the city provides the truly affordable housing people at the absolute bottom of the economic ladder can afford, and thus there is a self-selection bias for who applies? I would also be interested in learning more about what measures if any are taken to prevent fraud or patronage.

    We could start by reserving the lottery to actual residents of San Francisco (or freshly displaced ones). I believe there is no residency requirement today, so someone from Oakland or New York City could conceivably apply..

    It would also be a good idea to periodically verify the eligibility of people who are already in the system

    The good thing about this proposal is that it gives supervisors an incentive to get affordable housing built in their own districts, and thus spur them to bulldoze NIMBY obstructionism or foot-dragging by the city bureaucracy.

  16. The people who whine that homes are not affordable are the same people who whine about new construction and development, and advocate NIMBYism.

    Until progressives acknowledge and accept that you cannot simultaneously and credibly be both a NIMBY and an advocate for affordable housing, the problem will continue.

    But if the left wants to get into internecine squabbles over the race and political correctness of people winning the lottery then let them. At least while they are doing that they won’t be causing harm elsewhere.

  17. The city has failed to build housing, to partner with government, private or charitable groups to build housing or to issue enough permits for such groups to build. Shouldn’t Supervisors, Mayor and advocacy groups like 48 Hills first try addressing the failure?

Comments are closed.

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