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News + PoliticsHousingThe state agency enforcing housing rules doesn't care about affordable housing

The state agency enforcing housing rules doesn’t care about affordable housing

The people who build the badly needed projects call on Sacramento to work with them to make the RHNA goals possible. Newsom's administration hasn't even responded.


This is how bad California’s housing policy has become: An affordable housing group in San Francisco is asking the state to please, please work with local folks on affordability issues—because otherwise there’s no possible way this city can meet its state-mandated goals.

And nobody in the state seems to care.

The governor wants to mandate that cities build housing, but he’s missing in action when it comes to making that policy work.

The state is investigating San Francisco’s plans to meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment. But nobody is talking to the folks who are building the affordable housing that is a central part of those goals.

That’s the opposite of what should happen: The state Department of Housing and Community Development should be reaching out to the affordable housers.

Instead, the Council of Community Housing Organizations has written a letter to HCD explaining, in great detail, that the entire premise of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment is false.

In a Sept. 13 letter to HCD, CCHO notes:

We welcome a thorough and comprehensive review or San Francisco housing policies; however, we are concerned about HCDs narrow focus on development constraints on overall housing production without stressing that over half of the next RHNA cycle’s housing production goals are for below-market-rate affordable nosing units.

Moreover, HCD fails to provide any guidance on protecting and strengthening the city’s existing affordable housing programs and strategies.

San Francisco produced 150 percent of its state and regionally mandated goals for market-rate housing in the most recent RHNA cycle but produced less than half of its goal for affordable housing. In light of this distressing performance, we call upon HCD to partner with us to identify the funding and policy solutions that ensure we meet our affordable housing production and preservation goals in the new cycle.

That would seem to make perfect sense, right? The state is demanding more affordable housing, and there are 21 organizations in San Francisco who build affordable housing. But the state is offering no help at all:

Without a significant change in direction, San Francisco will likely repeat past mistakes, continually underproducing affordable housing, exacerbating our displacement and climate change pressures, and preventing our city from adequately housing our local workforce. We believe this change in direction will not come from a singular focus on removing constraints to market rate development. In fact, in 2021, according to data provided by the Mayor’s Office of Housing & Community Development, only 29 percent of new affordable units in San Francisco came about through inclusionary obligations of market rate development. This is far short of the state and regionally mandated targets for affordable housing that conclude 57 percent of new housing should be affordable to very low, low, and moderate income households. We are concerned that HD’s one-size-fits-all approach that focuses on market rate development and stays silent on affordable housing funding and policies will only result in San Francisco falling short, once again, in meeting our state and regionally mandated targets for affordable housing.

Those targets are ambitious:

In order to meet the RHNA goals, San Francisco should be building at least 6,000 new affordable units each year, dedicating about 45-60 new sites to affordable housing, and spending an average of $2 billion annually on housing production and preservation. The price tag for the 46,000 units of affordable housing required under RHNA is $19 billion over the next 8 years.

In order to achieve these goals, it is imperative that HCD, regional, and local leaders create new sources or revenues to ensure that we can achieve our goals.

 The RHNA goals are, CCHO says, basically impossible and the state’s position is a contradiction in terms:

The State’s actions do not align with the state’s goals. The state’s guidance puts SF on a collision course with upzoning San Francisco to create housing that is approximately 20 percent affordable and 80 percent market rate, while at the same time actual housing production goals set by the state and region conclude that 57 percent of new housing should be affordable to very low and moderate income households.

And, of course, just plunking new luxury housing in existing neighborhoods is a recipe for disaster:

Deregulation of our housing market is an inequitable strategy for creating affordability. San Francisco’s affordable housing standards have raised the bar, and we need to do more, not less, to uphold our affordable housing standards. The State is over-emphasizing the removal of government constraints without recognizing San Francisco’s policies and resources that serve as an essential line of defense to safeguard affordability and prevent displacement. Without critical policies like our inclusionary program and processes to regulate the housing market for affordability, San Francisco would not have been able to slow the tide of displacement and would have fallen even further short of our affordable housing goals. Moreover, simply lifting all government constraints as a strategy to facilitate the production of new housing development overall will still empirically never achieve the 57 percent below-market goals under San Francisco’s RHNA obligation.

I talked to John Avalos, director of CCHO, today, and he told me there has been no response from HCD, or from the Planning Department, which also has a copy of the letter.

“We don’t expect they are going to change their policy and address the needs of working people instead of speculators’ need for profit,” he told me.

The state, he said, “never attempted to reach out to us. They are not interested in affordable housing.”

Which is so short-sighted: Of the more than 80,000 housing units the state wants to see built in SF, 57 percent are supposed to be below-market-rate. “That’s a significant amount of housing,” Avalos said. “We need to identify the land and resources, now.”

But no. From the letter:

Future investments in affordable development and preservation strategies must not leave behind frontline working class communities that have historically faced displacement pressures. The current draft of San Francisco’s Housing Element mentions the word “equity” more than 121 times, yet when one adds up all the policies that encourage demolition, streamlining, and cut costs for developers without prescribing equity measures or price controls, the cumulative effect is accelerating housing development that increases displacement pressures BIPOC communities. We encourage the HCD to make every effort to identify the policies and resources that will enable San Francisco to build housing to sustain working class, BIPOC communities to have sustainable futures in San Francisco instead of creating a system that would further imbalance housing development against such a future.

Is Gavin Newsom even paying attention?

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Tim Redmond
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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