Affordable Housing Plan Announced by S.F. Mayor

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced his plan to curtail unattainable housing prices.

San Francisco—San Francisco mayor Ed Lee has detailed a plan to make the City by the Bay affordable again, stating that reversing the exodus of long-time residents is his top priority. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lee’s proposal is to build or rehabilitate 10,000 housing units for low-income and working-class families by 2020.  The 10,000 units would be divided fairly equally between new and rehabilitated residences.

Lee asserted San Francisco won’t just build new structures, but will make sure to preserve existing housing stock; noting his objectives as “diversity, equity and economic vitality.” His plan appears to be in response to city’s release in July of its Housing Balance Report, which delivered a gloomy picture of the city’s housing market. The report reported the city added 6,559 affordable housing units from 2004 to 2014.  Over the same 10 years, however, 5,470 apartments were removed from protected status through an array of evictions permitted under California law.

There are several components of Lee’s plan. One initiative is to boost the development of affordable housing through San Francisco’s inclusionary housing program. This program mandates that with each project, market-rate developers construct or finance below-market-rate housing units.  Lee hopes that new legislation can pave the way for the relaxation of current requirements, allowing developers to build affordable units for a wider income range.

In exchange for more units earmarked for low- and middle-income families, developers would also be able to increase their buildings‘ height by two stories. Under Lee’s proposal, non-profit developers will take over federally-funded public housing projects in exchange for upgrading them.  Lee reported that construction aimed at repairing 1,400 units by 2017 and another 2,060 by 2018 will be underway in November.

Lee’s plan also seeks to ease the burden on low-income residents in buildings no longer required to offer below-market-rate units.  It calls for negotiating with owners of buildings with expiring affordability restrictions, as well as legislation that would give the city first right to purchase the property if it goes on market.

Yet another part of Lee’s plan is to ensure residents of a neighborhood are given priority in renting or buying new housing units going on the market in that section of the city. The mayor’s proposal has not been without controversy.  A deepening philosophical chasm divides the administration and progressive housing advocates.  The latter are harshly critical of the mayor for opposing other initiatives they argue are essential if the crisis is to be effectively addressed.

While Lee believes the solution is to continue building housing at every price point and rehab existing housing units, the Progressives aim to curtail development of market-rate housing, arguing it drives up prices.