Three Proposals to Fix San Francisco’s Housing Problem

 

“A lot of other places wish they had the problems San Francisco has.”

By now I’ve heard this statement in one form or another from a number of people. And it’s easy to see what they mean:

San Francisco has one of the strongest metropolitan economies in the country. Located a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, the city has become the unofficial capital of the radically innovative and rapidly growing technology industry. As such, it enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates of any major city in the U.S., and also has one of the highest median wage levels. The city is full of cultural offerings and spectacular vistas to boot, all of which make it an extremely attractive place to live.  So while much the rest of the country seems to hobbling along in the post-recession economy, San Francisco appears to be sitting pretty.

Unfortunately, the reality is that San Francisco does have problems, and a major one in particular: housing.

As has been reported extensively, the booming economy, combined with a tight housing market, has driven property values sky high. In late April, we learned that the average rent in San Francisco was $3,458. And the median price for a home – $1.03 million. With so much money to be made in housing, some developers have taken to using every trick in the book to convert rent controlled units into market rate housing. This oftentimes means buying up the affordable housing residences, invoking laws like the Ellis Act to evict existing tenants, and converting the building into high value properties such as condominiums.

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With evictions seeming to run rampant over the last year and a half, social tensions have flared. Protests engulfing city council meetings, rallies blockading tech busses, gadget smashing; these have all become seemingly regular occurrences in the Bay Area.

Outspoken San Francisco blogger Tim Redmond recently wrote a piece entitled, “A city at war: Why we can’t all just get along,” in which he describes the plight many evicted San Franciscans face. It’s not so simple as just having open dialogue between longtime residents and newcomers to the city, he argues. Concrete policies have to be adopted that prevent families from having their entire livelihoods dashed.

Which brings the focus now to the city’s political leaders. Over the past year and a half, Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have made housing a top priority. Here are their latest attempts to solve the city’s biggest problem:

$250 million housing bond

In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Lee announced a goal of building or rehabilitating 30,000 residential units by 2020, half of which to be reserved for below market rate housing. But this comes at a cost – below market rate means subsidies from the city. And last week, Lee revealed how he plans to pay for it: before the Board of Supervisors, the mayor introduced a $250 million housing bond measure to be placed before San Francisco voters this upcoming November. Issuing a bond would allow the city to more quickly fund affordable housing construction, as opposed to just seeking state and federal grants or waiting for sufficient tax revenue to accumulate.

While needing a full two-thirds majority of San Franciscans to vote for it, property taxes would not have to go up in order to pay back the bond. This would have been the case if the Mayor had sought a larger amount. Lee hopes the assurance of no tax increases will push the measure over the edge come election day.

Some doubt that $250 million is enough to make much of an impact, however. A number of affordable housing advocates say the need is greater than $250 million will get for the city.

What do you think? Is a $250 million housing bond the way to go? Or should the mayor ask for more even if it means higher taxes? Vote and comment here.

$250 Million Housing BondSan Francisco mayor Ed Lee plans to put a housing bond measure before city voters in November 2015. Issuing a bond would allow the city to more quickly fund affordable housing construction as opposed to just seeking state and federal grants or waiting for sufficient tax revenue to accumulate. The bond needs a 2/3 majority vote to pass, but would not raise property taxes. Some doubt that $250 million is enough to make much of an impact. A number of affordable housing advocates say the need is greater than $250 million will get for the city.



 

Moratorium on market rate housing in the Mission

Supervisor David Campos, the fiery Mission District representative, earlier this month came out with a housing proposal of his own: temporarily halt the construction of all market rate units in the Mission. Campos sees this as a way to stem the tide of evictions and to buy time for a more comprehensive review of the city’s housing policies, which Campos says “are simply not working.”

The moratorium would last for 45 days with the possibility of approving an extension of up to two years.

Critics of the plan – one of Campos’s colleagues on the board called it, “a terrible idea” –  maintain that stifling any new housing construction will only further drive up housing prices. Furthermore, the city collects fees on each market rate housing development that go towards funding affordable housing. A moratorium would reduce the funds available for these types of projects.

In order to be approved, Campos needs nine out of the eleven supervisors to vote for his plan – an uphill battle, for sure. But even if it fails before supervisors, at least one advocacy group has indicated that it might work to place the idea before voters.

Moratorium: yea or nea?

Moratorium on Market Rate Housing in the MissionMission District Supervisor David Campos wants the city to place a moratorium on all market rate housing in the Mission District. With the consistent displacement of longtime residents of the Mission, Campos believes a temporary ban on market rate housing will prevent more families from being forced to leave the Mission and also allow for time to have a comprehensive examination of the city’s housing policies. Opponents claim that Campos’s plan would be ineffective at protecting longtime residents and that limiting housing stock of any kind would only make the area more expensive.



 

Preventing Frivolous Evictions

If you’re the landlord of a rent controlled building and you want to make more money by converting the units to, say, market rate condominium housing, first you got to get your current tenants out. One of the ways landlords have gone about doing this is by evicting residents for violations such as leaving strollers in the hallways, hanging laundry to dry out of the window, or repainting walls without first asking permission. In other words, fairly trivial offenses.

Not so fast, landlords, says Supervisor Jane Kim: last week the district six representative introduced a proposal meant to reduce these types of evictions. Under her legislation, landlords would have to show proof of the alleged violation, and tenants would be given time to correct petty violations. Her ordinance would require eviction notices to be presented in multiple languages and to also provide information on where to receive assistance to fight evictions. Then, in some cases where a rent-controlled tenant is evicted, the subsequent tenant would still pay the same monthly rate rather than the usual boosted rents that often occur when units change hands. This way landlords won’t have as strong an incentive to evict their current tenants.

It’s Kim’s proposal that seems frivolous, however, to some business and landlord advocacy groups. They argue that only a small percentage of the city’s residential units undergo evictions, and that the main priority should be to build more housing.

Forward thinking or frivolous – what say you? Vote and comment here

Preventing Frivolous EvictionsSupervisor Jane Kim wants to prevent landlords from evicting tenants based on minor offenses like leaving strollers in hallways. She introduced legislation that would require landlords to provide proof of the violation and to give tenants time to correct these. Eviction notices would have to be presented in multiple languages and to also provide information on where the tenant can receive assistance to fight evictions. In some cases where a rent-controlled tenant is evicted, the subsequent tenant would still pay the same monthly rate rather than the usual boosted rents that often occur when units change hands.



1 Comment

  1. […] is a topic that we have covered extensively on this blog, with many articles being written about potential new development policies, on new state policies, on homelessness, and other potential reforms. However, there is one measure […]

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