Breed refuses to sign housing bill

Haney's legislation charging developers for affordable housing will become law anyway -- but the mayor's message is stunning.

Mayor London Breed has refused to sign legislation raising the fee office developers have to pay for affordable housing.

Although the bill, which passed unanimously, will take effect anyway without her signature, her refusal to sign on – and her letter to the board explaining her decision – put her on the opposite side from not only the entire board but the Planning Commission and the Labor Council.

The Mayor’s Office is against charging developers for the housing impacts of their projects.

And her message signals that she is willing to promote more office development even if the clear factual evidence shows that it’s bad for San Francisco.

In fact, her letter cites as evidence an almost farcical analysis by the city’s economist that the supervisors have made clear is pointless and irrelevant.

And it suggests that she will be siding with the developers in opposing a profoundly important ballot measure linking office growth to housing.

The issue here is simple: All the data shows, very clearly, that new office development creates a need for affordable housing. If new office projects are built without adequate non-market housing, the crisis in the city gets worse.

By the numbers, a city-sponsored study shows that San Francisco ought to be charging office developers about $193 a square foot for their impacts on affordable housing. Haney’s bill raises the fee to about a third of that.

But it’s still too much for the mayor – who argues that if the fee is too high, some office projects won’t get built.

So, she wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to the board, “if projects become infeasible to build, the result is less funding for affordable housing.”

This is, to be polite, completely nuts.

The whole idea of the fee is that developers who build more offices without paying for affordable housing are making the housing crisis worse – driving more residents out through displacement and almost certainly adding to homelessness.

The fee isn’t about bringing in extra money – it’s about making developers pay the actual costs of their impacts. If a developer decides an office building doesn’t “pencil out” and that project isn’t built, then the demand for more affordable housing isn’t created in the first place.

She also cites a report by the city economist saying that the measure could “lead to an approximate loss of 520 to 585 office jobs annually.” This is insanity – first of all, no existing jobs would be impacted. The only possible “loss” is the creation of fewer new jobs (for which we have no housing) – but even so, the number is just silly. I can’t think of a better word.

As we reported when this came before the Land Use and Transportation Committee:

There are about 750,000 jobs in San Francisco. That’s 200,000 more than a decade ago. The city gains and loses 500 jobs every month, maybe every week, just in the normal course of business. If [City economist Ted] Egan is right, and if the city’s job growth continues at its past pace, the employment impact of Haney’s fee would be in the area of 0.025 percent.

That’s too small to measure.

And if there is an impact, Peskin noted, it might be for the best: Since the jobs-housing ratio is radically out of synch, if the city stops adding new jobs it might help the housing crisis.

There weren’t even that many developers opposing this bill.

So the mayor is far to the right on this one, and it’s alarming if this is going to be the tone of her administration over the next four years.

Haney issued a statement today expressing concern over the mayor’s position:

I am disappointed that the mayor refused to sign our Housing for SF Workers legislation. The legislation was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, supported unanimously by the Planning Commission, and endorsed by the SF Labor Council and dozens of community organizations.

San Francisco has the worst jobs-housing ratio in the Bay Area, the highest cost of housing nationally, and an out-of-control homeless crisis. There is tremendous urgency for the city to act.

It is disappointing that the mayor is so strongly opposed to a policy that has such wide support from labor and the community.

Does Breed really want to spend the next four years supporting a handful of real-estate developers against pretty much everyone else at City Hall? That’s what she seems to be saying.