Getting Serious on 100% Affordable and Teacher Housing

London Breed
Jun 19 · 4 min read

This November we are going to have an incredibly important election for affordable housing in San Francisco. This will include a $600 million affordable housing bond to support homes for our low-income and middle-income residents who are struggling to afford rent and are at risk of displacement.

We also need to fundamentally reform how we build housing, which is why I’ve proposed both a Charter Amendment and an initiative ordinance to streamline the production of affordable and teacher housing and rezone public lands to allow these kinds of projects to be built faster and more efficiently.

Last week announced the City is purchasing 1515 S. Van Ness, which will one day provide 150 100% affordable units for families in the Mission. We need more of these projects in San Francisco, which is why we need to pass the Charter Amendment and initiative ordinance I’m proposing.

I announced these proposals in April, and the Charter Amendment is waiting for a vote at the Board of Supervisors. I’m proud to have Supervisors Vallie Brown, Ahsha Safai, and Catherine Stefani supporting my proposal as co-sponsors.

The proposed Charter Amendment removes bureaucratic delays and costly appeals from the approval of all affordable and teacher housing projects by making these projects as-of-right. By making this simple change, these important projects can shave years from their approvals and millions of dollars of project costs so that we can be sure that limited public dollars fund affordable housing, not dealing with endless bureaucracy. The Charter Amendment has to be approved by the voters, but first it needs the support of at least six Supervisors. It is crucial that we pass this Charter Amendment, and I encourage all residents to contact their Supervisors asking them to support this important measure.

No ordinance approved either by the Board or at the ballot can streamline the approval process the way the Charter Amendment can, but there is more that we can do to make the development of affordable and teacher housing more straightforward, which is why I also submitted a ballot measure to rezone all public parcels, excluding parks, and other very large underutilized parcels citywide for teacher and affordable housing. Today, these excess public parcels do not allow affordable housing, and we must change that. With one vote at the ballot we can avoid years of process it would otherwise take to rezone these parcels.

Four members of the Board of Supervisors just announced a competing proposal that expresses the same goals as my measures, but includes key differences that dramatically limits our ability to create new affordable and teacher homes. I am glad that these members of the Board are supportive of rezoning to support affordable and teacher housing, but when we do this, we have to make sure we are getting the details right to ensure that we are in fact opening up more parcels for affordable housing, especially on our west side.

For example, both of these proposals rezone a similar number of public and other large parcels citywide for affordable and teacher housing. However, many of these parcels, including most on the west side, are zoned for 40 foot height limits. Affordable housing projects aren’t financially feasible at 40 feet. So in my proposal, I allowed for an additional 10 feet to be added on to these sites to allow one extra story. While one extra story might not seem like a lot, it’s the difference between an affordable housing project being built and nothing happening. This one provision alone will allow hundreds of sites to be potentially feasible for affordable and teacher housing that are otherwise infeasible in the Supervisors’ proposal.

My proposal also allows projects for middle-income residents to be built on these public lands. While it’s absolutely important that we build housing for our low-income residents, when we are talking about opening up hundreds of sites for housing, we should be trying to build affordable housing for all of our residents struggling to pay rent. That means housing for teachers, for nurses, for janitors.

My proposal was also designed to apply to the three new teacher housing projects that the San Francisco Unified School District is currently pursuing, and it will apply to the Francis Scott Key project in the Sunset, shaving nearly two years from its approval process. The proposal by the Board will not apply to Francis Scott Key or to the proposals being pursued by the School District to build housing for teachers. Why would we ask the voters to streamline the process for teacher housing projects, but then craft a measure that doesn’t actually help any of the projects in the pipeline? That doesn’t make sense, which is why we carefully crafted our measure to provide immediate benefits to these critical projects.

We can’t keep limiting ourselves when it comes to housing. Affordable housing and teacher housing are too crucial to let the failed policies of the past get in the way. We have to be bold and serve all San Franciscans who are struggling to afford housing.

To be clear, we need the Charter Amendment to streamline the approvals of housing. We need an initiative ordinance to rezone public lands for affordable and teacher housing so that we can open up more locations citywide to build these important projects. We need to do more, not less. Let’s get both these measures on the ballot, and let’s get to work.

London Breed

Written by

45th Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco

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