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Home Featured Breed’s Divisadero St. housing plan helps developers

Breed’s Divisadero St. housing plan helps developers

Supervisor says she wants middle-class housing -- but the builders are the real winners

Will Breed step down early to let her allies elect a new board president?

The Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee heard Board President London Breed’s plan to change affordable housing levels in the Divisidero St. neighborhood April 3, and the discussion showed just how much of a giveaway to developers the plan is.

The legislation is also the first salvo in the coming battle over how much developers should be forced to pay for affordable housing.

Breed's plan blasted as "housing policy by anecdote"
Breed’s plan blasted as “housing policy by anecdote”

Breed created a new, upzoned area around Divis from O’Farrell to Haight in 2015, allowing for much greater density in what is now called a Neighborhood Commercial Transit District.

Greater density, of course, means higher profits for developers, and in the past, the city has tried to capture some of that extra money by demanding more affordable housing in exchange.

Breed said that she was going to mandate “the highest affordable housing requirements ever” and included versions of that claim in her campaign literature last fall.

So here’s what her bill actually does:

In requires that all buildings in the district that take advantage of the greater density – and thus include a lot more units in the same space – include 23 percent of below-market-rate housing on site.

Six percent of the units would go to people the city typically considers low-income – those who make less than 55 percent of Area Median Income. That’s a family of four with about $51,000 a year income.

Eight percent of the units would be priced for households that earn 120 percent of AMI, or about $129,000 a year. Nine percent would be “affordable” to households earning 140 percent of AMI, or about $150,000 a year.

In other words, 17 percent of all the affordable units would be priced at levels that people earning more than $100,000 a year can pay.

As Sup. Aaron Peskin pointed out, for 15 years, the city has based its affordability requirements on the idea that “affordable” meant low- and moderate-income housing. The rules always required from 12 to 15 percent of new market-rate housing to include low-income units. When requirements for middle-class housing were added, they were put on top of that 15 percent.

Breed’s legislation for Divis, like her citywide housing plan, takes affordable units away from the lower-income people and gives them to higher wage earners.

“This is a fundamental change in the levels at which the city provides affordable housing,” Peskin said. “It represents a major departure from a decade and a half of city policy.”

Breed spoke of people she knows who are working-class – a bus driver, a retired city employee – who make just a bit too much income to qualify for the 55 percent AMI housing. She said the city needs middle-class housing too – and that “there are a lot of other sources” of funding for low-income housing.

But Peskin noted that “there are vast differences between people who barely don’t qualify at 55 percent and adding up to 140 percent.”

One of those differences, as Dean Preston, a tenant lawyer who challenged Breed last fall, noted, is that burden on the developer. Let’s assume these are rental units that could be priced at $4,000 a month. Longstanding federal policy puts “affordable” housing at 30 percent of a person’s income. So if some of the units have to be rented to people who make $51,000 a year – and thus can afford $1,275 a month in rent – the developer is on the hook for what amounts to a $32,700 a year subsidy.

But if those units only have to be affordable to someone who makes 140 percent of AMI, and can thus afford $3,700 a month rent, the subsidy is only $3,600 a year. That’s a huge savings for the developer.

“You don’t see a chamber full of developers here saying this is too much of a burden,” Preston said. “What Breed suggests is tripling the rents that those folks will pay and adding to the profits of developers.”

Quintin Mecke, who lives in the neighborhood, noted that the decision to pick 120 and 140 percent “is housing policy by anecdote. They are random numbers.” He suggested that the supes could go to an Irish pub and throw darts at the wall and get the same sorts of numbers.

Why, for example, is there no housing for people at 75 percent of AMI – which might include the bud driver and the retired worker Breed talks about? Why the big jump from 55 to 140 (which puts rents very close to market rate and requires very little from the developers?)

Then there’s the interesting data on neighborhood – not citywide – median incomes. In the Haight, planning staffers told the supes, median family income is about $157,000. But in the Western Addition, where these projects would go, the median is $58,000 – right in that 55 percent AMI range.

The larger context, of course, is that the supes are debating right now citywide rules for affordable housing levels – and even the more conservative members of the committee – Sups. Mark Farrell and Katy Tang – questioned why Breed wants to do a “one-off” and change the rules for just this one district.

Of course, no housing discussion would be complete without the Yimbys, and in this case, Laura Clark of Yimby Action demanded more upzoning and said the city needs to get rid of “the historically racist institution of single-family housing.”

That’s quite a claim. There’s no question that the post-War American suburbs were often racially exclusive, sometimes even legally so, and populated almost entirely by white people. And the single-family houses built in the Sunset in the 1940s by Henry Doelger were used for intra-city white flight – Irish families, for example, fled the Mission and the Castro and moved into those houses.

But today, the district with the largest concentration of single-family homes is the Bayview. Most of those houses were built for, and sold to, African Americans. The second largest single-family district is probably the Excelsior, which is a largely non-white district.

And in the Sunset and Richmond, many of those single-family houses are now occupied by Asian families.

So I’m not so sure that racism is the right way to critique single-family housing in San Francisco. Maybe I’m wrong. But the Yimbys aren’t always limited by facts.


  1. The only reason Breed is in this office is because she looks the part. If she were a white male trying to push the same agenda, no one would fall for it. Preston was much more in tune with the needs of District 5, but he was a white male. Totally messed up.

  2. Breed is a sell-out hack. Ed Lee’s puppet. I’ve heard she owns property elsewhere and just keeps her apartment here to keep up appearances.

  3. Uh, from what I’ve heard from long-time locals who went to school with Breed is that she rents an apartment in the neighborhood to keep up appearances but actually has a really nice house somewhere else? This needs to be looked into. Furthermore, under Ms. Breed’s watch, a four-unit building on Alamo Square (on Fulton Street) was bought by a developer in the 2010-2012 timeframe and turned into a single family home that sold for over $7 million this month. After he evicted the tenants. She’s a total hypocrite who needs to be exposed. Selling out the neighborhood to line her deep pockets.

  4. Breed’s campaign mantra was “I’m a renter just like you.” She promised D5 voters that she would double the amount of affordable housing to “the highest level ever in the city and county of San Francisco.” She also promised voters an “affordable housing blueprint.” Not a one of these promises have been kept. Breed barely eeked out a win in D5, historically the most progressive district in SF with 70% renters–she won by a paltry 4%. Now that the campaign and election are over she has once again snuggled up to developers and realtors at the expense of her constituents.

  5. I mean, Sonja Trauss literally did the same thing in front of the entire Board of Supervisors. Let’s just agree to not compare anybody to The Orange One and call it a day.

  6. It’s not fair to directly misquote someone.

    Ms. Clark’s insinuations are part of the picture (although her wording is strong) — weird it seems you are looking to counter her when you are citing examples to bolster her claim. Historically poorer areas were up-zoned while concurrently affluent areas adopted legislation prohibiting this. I question what you really know about Chicago .. a place I am familiar.

  7. Prop B and Prop E passed too. But now Mayor Lee is trying to say SF doesn’t have the money to do the voters’ will. Nothing is certain with this lot in City Hall.

  8. Prop C was voted on and was passed in the 2016 election. But that’s the funny thing about elections and propostions and legislation: the implementation moves at a glacial pace. It is far from a done deal.

  9. Then why are there so many vacancies/unrented units in the WA? The Fillmore Towers have chronic vacancies. Why is that do you think Sonja?

  10. Again: I’d steer you toward the historic origins of development of cities and single family home ownership in places like Seattle, Detroit and Oakland. Your assertion that “single family homes are historically racist institutions” is puzzling. Look no further than your own back yard to the tenements of Chinatown, a stark example of segregated up-zoning and ghettoizing at the time they were built. Chicago also comes to mind.
    SFBARF and YIMBYS ought to dial down the race rhetoric if you hope to have productive conversations about development and housing needs. Repeatedly disrupting the conversation with incendiary insinuations of racism and discrimination gets us nowhere.

  11. They’re already built. And unoccupied. There is a glut of market rate housing. You and your BARF pals are welcome to rent them.

  12. Mansplaining because it’s unsettled and unresolved. Surely you comprehend that. Or are you just trying to claim it’s settled. It isn’t. Convenient for you to say so though Kraus.

  13. A slim 4%. Breed, the obscenely funded and all powerful incumbent just barely eeked out a win. No mandate. No majority. Keep spinning Kraus. Your funders are Breed’s funders.

  14. I would also argue he was heavily outspent by developer money that was funneled into her campaign in the first place. Which was my point the whole time. Which you ignored.

  15. Kraus, it’s odd you don’t be so willing to call Preston false in the comments of an article that discusses how Breed is failing to live up promises she made. But hey, it’s easy to attack folks when you needed to defend the people that were called into question in the first place. 🤷🏽‍♂️

  16. Yet he didn’t — because the majority still had enough sense not to fall for Preston’s false-populist schtick and profound economic ignorance when in comes to housing policy.

  17. The way to accelerate the displacement of the groups you profess to advocate for, i.e., those with low/modest incomes, is to not build adequate amounts of housing.

  18. Just like some so-called “progressives” compare those they disagree with to Donald Trump (See “Jerry Rosenblum” and “Heart” comments below.)

  19. The Prop C that “curiousKulak” is referring to (i.e., increasing the subsidized housing requirement from 12% to 25% — subject to adjustment by the BOS which is currently underway) passed in June 2016.

    The Prop C’s of 2012 (Housing Trust Fund) and 2014 (Children & Families First) are not relevant to “Kulak’s” comment — and the latter has nothing to do with housing.

    You need to pay attention, get up to speed and get your Propositions straight before you go off accusing others of confusion/dysfunction.

  20. Many YIMBYs seem to believe progressives don’t know about redlining and exclusionary zoning and racist housing policy, and that if they simply read enough about it (which, newsflash: progressive housing advocates do in fact know how to read! I can word real good!) they’d come to agree with the YIMBYs.

    And some of them will even call POC progressives complicit with racists, if not calling them racists/nativists outright, for disagreeing with them. If a reticence to subordinate every affordable housing solution to the profit motive somehow makes someone racist, then fine, call them racist, but don’t expect them to have an intelligent conversation with you about upzoning after that.

  21. Doxxing people! Real classy. Next thing you’re going to say that it’s about ethics in gaming journalism.

  22. Dean Preston has done more for renters than Breed ever has. Good for him as a homeowner to take on Tenant’s Rights. 👏

  23. It’s so crazy how the Supervisors who’s campaigns are funded by developers never seem to want to help the poor but always seem to want to help the developers, amirate??? It’s like the money is influencing their decisions, amitrite??? So craaazzzzy.

    Dean Preston should’ve won.

  24. Prop C of 2012 passed by 61+%. Prop C of 2014 passed by 70+%. It remains to be seen how they will be implemented; when the dust settles we will likely have a hybrid of both. The voters whole heartedly supported both. Breed’s proposed legislation helps to confuse things even more, which is likely her intent. All along this hectic odyssey, London Breed has been on the Board; she has been crafting dysfunction. There is no continuity or thought to her actions or attempts at drafting legislation. She tells good stories though.

  25. Nope. They are the clandenstinest of the clandenstine Sarah. More exclusive (aka fucked-up) than the Bohemian Club, the Union-Pacific, and the Olympic Club. Condoleeza Rice is a member though. And Colin Powell is the black guy every year in Monte Rio for the Bohemian gathering. Don’t call them racist 😉

    ps. The Olympic club is also protected by RH-1 buffer. The other two are downtown.

  26. Presdio Terrace, Sea Cliff, Pac Height’s billionaire row, and of course the entire area containing the San Francisco Golf Club are all currently zoned RH-1. These were never areas for “newly minted middle class buyers,” and have always been homes for the elite. Presidio Terrace touted it’s white exclusiveness in it’s original sales brochures.

    To this day these neighborhoods are vastly white, and SF Golf Club still doesn’t allow Jews. The sunset does have a large Chinese population — probably because it wasn’t exclusive and because it was affordable to the middle class. Only the nicer homes up the hill are zoned RH-1.

    I’m not saying Ms. Clark’s assertion is right, but I am saying your reasoning of why SFH was adopted is wrong. It was adopted to protect the equity and ideologies of the wealthy.



  27. Exposing the hypocrisy of the mis-guided opposition is not a “personal attack” — it is fair game.

  28. Resorting to personal attacks of those who disagree with you is tiresome. But then BARF, YIMBY, RFKDem Club and D5 Dems aren’t big on facts and data. Personal attacks, stoking the rich vs. poor/property owner vs. renter/techie vs. hippy wars serves no one. No solutions or agreement will be found there in that scorched earth.

  29. Jerry M. Rosenblum, 65 yrs old.

    Politics/ideology formed — and petrified — in the late 60’s.

    Comfortably ensconced in spacious rent-controlled apartment at 4555 18th Street.

    Wants to keep San Francisco the way it was in the “golden age” when he arrived in the City.

    Accordingly, ideologically/reflexibly anti-housing / anti-developer — doesn’t what any “newcomers” to benefit from the same naturally-affordable housing that he enjoyed and continues to enjoy.

    Hides these attitudes behind self-deceiving mask of supposed “progressivism”.

  30. Several Victorians, and a block from the most important concentration of them in the country, Alamo Square.

  31. Try again. There is no there there in Breed’s legislation. Everyone’s confused. One thing is nearly clear: it seems that the supes and the Planning Commission are of a mind to set citywide levels for future development of affordable units. But don’t hold your breath.

  32. That distinction was made at Monday’s Land Use Committee hearing where Breed stumbled, bumbled and couldn’t answer questions about her new plan. She blamed the city attorney for bad legal advice and stated “mistakes were made.” How long has London Breed been a supervisor? How long has she been saying “I’m a renter just like you” while promising to double the amount of affordable units built and then snuggling up to developers??

  33. Detroit? Oakland? Hunter’s Point? But you’re from Washington DC; perhaps that is the lens through which you view and make this ill fitting and misguided claim.

  34. I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me or debating. A household at 140% AMI would be required to pay $2850 for a one bedroom. I know a couple who found a large 1 bedroom near Dolores Park for $2800 last year. You can absolutely find rents lower than $4000 per month on the private market and some people can afford them.

  35. 140% AMI is $105,550 for a single person, which can “afford” $2675/mth rent. So, no, these new units are not going to be “affordable” – at $4000/ – to anyone making less that 200% AMI, or $150k/yr.

  36. I’ve NEVER considered Divisadero “architecturally rich”. Its a mishmash of styles and uses; best symbolized by the asbestos shingles that “never need painting”.

  37. Well, Tim made a distinction btw WA and the Haight. So what does each include?

    Does WA include Hayes Valley? Lower Haight? (or does that belong to The Haight?), South of California? East of Masonic? North of Oak? West of Van Ness?

    Does the Haight stop at Arguello? Stanyan? Waller? 17th St? Divisadero? Gough?

    I think these days the WA is bounded by Geary, Scott, Golden Gate & Gough. But others will disagree.

  38. Yup. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment consistently says we should build 60% affordable at varying income levels, including middle income. The math is never going to work if we have a wimpy board afraid to ask form more than 6% low -income and redefining 140% (ie able to afford MARKET RATE!!!) as needing a subsidy.

  39. Don’t help them with their messaging. They excel at putting their foot in the mouth so that no one takes them seriously. (Except the developers who have plenty of $$ to throw around for shoddy plans.

  40. The YIMBY’s have a racial analysis/privilege problem. They have members who don’t realize they sound like assholes when they talk about “muscling out” poorer Latino residences which makes them look bad. This was Laura’s attempt to point the finger elsewhere (as usual) instead of looking in the mirror…but once again they haven’t bothered to study reality today, the history of anti-displacement activism or read a single book on gentrification and the deliberate rent gap.

  41. “Single family home only zoning was deliberately adopted to keep out minorities. I’d call that a historically racist institution”

    No. SFH were deliberately adopted for class considerations (newly minted middle class buyers, who mostly moved out of older areas of the City like Mission, Haight, W.Addition, & North Beach.

    The ‘racist” part came in the form of Covenants prohibiting non-white ownership (Asians, Blacks, and I think in some cases Jews). Those haven’t been legal for 50 yrs or so. Thats why the Sunset is now Chinese and the Ingleside WAS Black (dispersed by drug violence). St Francis Wood had covenants, but is now excluded by class (money). Anyone can buy, like Woody Guthrie might say “if you’ve got the do-re-me”.

  42. If San Francisco’s housing prices were to reflect its income structure, we’d have 50% of the housing affordable by households earning 100% median income and below. In order to compensate for existing unaffordabilty, much more than that (70%+) would have to be affordable to median income households.

    Instead, we’re talking about something like 12% (Breed’s plan) or 25%-ish (current city plan) affordable to under-AMI households. In other words, we’re fighting over crumbs, while either way we’re heading toward an even less affordable city, by plan.

  43. The reasons why high-density and low-density housing were built 50 years ago are not what’s dictating housing policies now. As Redmond pointed out, minority-majority neighborhoods in San Francisco are overwhelmingly 1-3 unit buildings. The high-density buildings of the last decade house a mostly White and Asian population.

  44. The upzoning happened in 2015 (Resolutions 126-15 and 127-15). According to the committee packet on this bill’s file, there are 4 projects in the pipeline in the Divisadero NCT in 2016, and I think 2 are grandfathered by Proposition C (400–444 Divisadero and 650 Divisadero). In particular, 650 Divisadero is being heard by the Planning Commission tomorrow. They would not be grandfathered by London Breed’s legislation, so her affordability levels would apply to them.

  45. Nativists vs. non nativists. Rich vs. poor. Old vs. young. Homeowner vs. renter. 49ers vs. Raiders. Techie vs, Hippy, These are divisive distinctions and silly tactics. They serve only to foment rage and entrenchment.

  46. We are YIMBYs. That doesn’t mean everyone else is a NIMBY.

    Some people are nativist. Is there a time when I’ve used that term and you think it was unfair?

    Single family home only zoning was deliberately adopted to keep out minorities. I’d call that a historically racist institution. What would you call it?

  47. Here “grandfathered” refers to projects that were in the planning and permitting process before Prop C. But that hasn’t been tested either.

  48. You might want to reconsider the decision to use the terms “YIMBY/NIMBY” Also “nativist.” Also “historically racist institution of single-family housing.” Unless of course you are hoping to confuse people.

  49. And……once again London Breed chooses the developers over her own constituents. Shameful.Also: what about the press conference in 12/2015 where Breed touted her legislation to double the amount of affordable units? Whatever happened to that promise/legislation? And what about Breed’s oft touted housing blueprint? No sign of it after nearly 2 years. Does she think we don’t have memories? Ahhh. Yes. She was running for reelection and campaigning against a true progressive. Breed consistently refuses to hold town halls, to meet with constituents or to address the epidemic of illegal evictions of our elderly and most vulnerable. We hear stories about powdered milk and “I’m a renter just like you.” Meanwhile elders are dying, people of color and artists are being purged and teachers, firefighters and families still don’t have affordable housing. It’s time for the supervisors to get real and come up with solutions and policies for those who make $100k a year.

  50. “Greater density, of course, means higher profits for developers”

    This, right here, is San Francisco ‘progressivism’ in it’s full, reactionary glory. This is why housing affordability experts all over the world treat San Francisco as a punchline. It also shows how intellectually bankrupt 48 Hills has become. This is not a news site. It’s just lazy political propaganda.

  51. Something tells me your comment does’t actually come from a deep concern for tenants and other people. (Notice I didn’t call you a real estate troll.)

  52. The Szeto family thanks you for your support. They would also like to reiterate that it is sheer coincidence that Breed’s zoning change is going to massively increase their profit at 650 Divisadero, along with their other upcoming mixed use projects along Fillmore St.

  53. Every last unit of housing in the Western Addition is “affordable” — somebody’s living in them.

  54. Yes, by all means vote for the comfortably-ensconced homeowner, Mr. Preston, over the renter, Ms. Breed.

    This is imperative since we need to preserve the “look” of San Francisco and subsidize and pander to the nostalgia and obsolete ideology of some of the select few that are already here — because, don’t you know, cities are about buildings; they’re not about people.

  55. One committee should do if the proposal is in an architecturally rich stretch like Divisadero. (Look at the atrocity of Urban High School’s glass block among the Victorians on the Panhandle.)

    To my knowledge, the only recent project that’s affordable in the Western Addition is the gay senior housing in the lower Haight. Two original facades were kept and it’s not a hulking tower. That should answer your question.

  56. Yes. We should have dozens of Neighborhood Architectural Committees to review and approve any new construction for each block.

    BTW, can you tell, architecturally, the distinction between “affordable” bldgs and market rate bldgs?

    Heaven forbid we begin to look like Oakland.

  57. So, in other words, under the old scheme, there were 4U’s for AMI<55%; and under the new scheme there will be 4 or 5U's for AMI<55%. So – where, Tim, does this legis "(take) affordable units away from the lower-income people"? Seems to me that the same number – or more – of low-income folks will be housed.

    I will agree that there should probably be another segment – the AMI<75% that was mentioned. That would include many teachers (though not SFPD/SFFD). In fact, instead of the 6%/8%/9% proposed, maybe it should be 6/6/6/6% to yield 24%.

  58. They talked about it being grandfathered, as in it was already in progress when Prop C passed.

  59. No, please! I LOVE the original headline. It’s like Breed is conspiring with El Chapo or Kim Jong-un.

    This says it all:

    Greater density, of course, means higher profits for developers

    That is the litmus test. For progressives greater density means higher profits for developers. For others greater density means…well, greater density. As in more homes.

    I listened to the meeting and Breed gave an example of a proposed building that would have been 16 units and perhaps 1 affordable, now it could be 64 total and 16 affordable. We can figure out the income distribution but I don’t think that Breed is out of line for thinking of the family of 4 earning $150k. Or does trying to raise a family in the city run aground of our ‘diversity’ goals somehow?

    I never got the Breed for Mayor thing but this is changing my mind. The resistance from Tim and Peskin is the surest signal we can get that Breed is on to something that is truly effective and will lead to a better city.

  60. There isn’t a magic money pot to cover the lower rents in a new development. Affordable housing requirements add costs to new market-rate apartments. The fact is adding new units isn’t a social cost, but rather a benefit. What we have is a poorly implemented transfer that taxes newcomers.

  61. Thankfully, Prop C allows the Supervisors to modify it — based upon actual analysis nonetheless; not merely ideology, petulance or wishful thinking.

  62. Alternate Headlines:

    “Breed’s Divisadero Plan Encourages the Creation of Much-Needed Housing”

    “Breeds Divisadero Plan Can Serve as a Model for Creating Desperately-Needed Housing in Other Parts of the City — Not Just the Eastern Neighborhoods or the Mission”

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