Winning Affordable Housing on Divisadero

By Gus Hernandez and Dean Preston

There is an undeniable housing affordability crisis in San Francisco. According to the 2017 San Francisco Pipeline Report, the City produced 10,026 market rate units over the last three years, and entitled an additional 18,250 market rate units, totaling a robust 28,281 units of market rate housing. The City has now surpassed its market rate housing goal through 2022 by over 200%. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s below market rate housing lags behind at 48% of the 2022 goal.

While developers argue for as much market rate housing as possible with as few affordable units as possible, San Francisco residents know that we desperately need affordable housing. The battle for affordability is coming to a head on Divisadero where developers are proposing three large scale, market rate projects. Later this month, the Planning Commission is scheduled to decide whether to approve a 66-unit project at 650 Divisadero that will be unaffordable to the vast majority of neighborhood residents. Another project three blocks away will soon move forward, proposed at over 150 units with no commitment to any on-site affordable units. In the midst of our affordable housing crisis, how can this be happening?

It is not much of a mystery. As Supervisor, London Breed sponsored and passed (without holding a single community meeting) a developer giveaway in 2015. The measure removed density limits on Divisadero and Fillmore, declaring these “transit” districts without any transit improvements. The rezoning gave massive benefits to developers — tripling and quadrupling the number of units they could build — while failing to require a higher rate of affordable units.

Affordable Divis formed in response to the rezoning of Divisadero in 2015. An all-volunteer organization of neighbors, Affordable Divis stopped this giveaway from coming to fruition, and we are now monitoring developments in our neighborhood and taking action to ensure that they include an adequate amount of on-site affordable housing.

We have accomplished a lot since we formed, including:

  • In 2015, we convened a series of neighborhood meetings and developed the Divisadero Community Plan with the participation of over 500 neighbors that calls for 50% affordable housing in new large-scale developments along Divisadero. The Divisadero Community Plan serves as a guiding framework for discussions about formula retail, affordability, and transit in the neighborhood; it has also served as a model for other neighborhoods. This is aligned with the 50% affordable goal (Prop K) approved by San Francisco voters in 2014.
  • In 2016 and 2017, we mobilized repeatedly to planning commission and board of supervisors hearings demanding greater affordability in exchange for the density bonus giveaway. Affordable Divis also played a key role as part of the community coalition to prevent Supervisors from lowering voter-approved affordability requirements citywide.
  • Meanwhile, exploiting a loophole in the inclusionary housing law, the developer for 650 Divisadero had proposed to include a mere 9 affordable units out of 66, or 13.5%, and would have been allowed to proceed at this reduced affordability rate had the community not organized to prevent this. The Planning Department has just confirmed that the 13.5% requirement will no longer apply to this project, as the time for developers to take advantage of that loophole is now expiring, moving the floor from 13.5% to 18% affordable. That’s not enough, but it’s a step forward.
  • In 2018, thanks to our advocacy, the City conducted a feasibility study specific to our neighborhood, which confirms that more affordable housing is feasible based on the Divisadero rezoning.

Despite the efforts of City Hall to prioritize luxury housing over affordable housing, thanks to the advocacy of neighbors, the proposed projects at 1355 Fulton, 650 Divisadero, and 400 Divisadero will now contain more affordable housing than originally proposed. How much more is not yet determined.

At a city-hosted meeting tonight (7pm at Emporium SF, 616 Divisadero), city officials could take a step forward by announcing legislation calling for significantly higher affordability for development on Divisadero. Even better, city officials could announce their support for the Divisadero Community Plan and pledge to make sure its key aspects are reflected in planning for Divisadero.

Our community strongly supports building affordable housing on Divisadero and our efforts are already yielding results. What we do not support is massive amounts of unaffordable housing driving up neighborhood rents and displacing our diverse community. We urge developers and city officials to respect the will of neighbors who are demanding housing that is affordable, rather than just investment opportunities for those looking to profit off of our neighborhood. We want new housing on Divisadero, but it must include an adequate amount of affordable units in exchange for any density increases. In addition, the City should take long overdue steps toward identifying and acquiring sites for 100% affordable housing development in the neighborhood.

Gus Hernandez and Dean Preston are co-founders of Affordable Divis. Gus currently serves as co-chair of the Affordable Divis Steering Committee. Dean is a candidate for District 5 Supervisor.