San Francisco, It’s Time to Treat the Housing Shortage Like the Crisis It Is

Today there is an ordinance up at the Board of Supervisors that would make an appreciable difference in the approval and construction of badly needed 100% below-market-rate housing. Yet, this proposal is not getting nearly the attention it deserves.

Low-income affordable housing is very hard to finance and build. Non-profit developers like TNDC, CCDC, MEDA, Mission Housing, BRIDGE Housing, and Mercy Housing all have to cobble together different funding sources, from federal ones, like LIHTC (low-income housing tax credits) and the HOME program, to local and state sources of funds. Almost all of these sources generally have timing considerations. Any delay in approval and construction start dates can put these badly needed projects at risk, or at the very least complicates their financing options.

Expensive condos? Nope, this is affordable housing courtesy of TNDC!

All that piecemeal funding is dependent on getting your permits. You can raise all the tax money in the world and it won’t make a difference if the process to get this housing built is full of pitfalls, ambiguity, and arbitrary decisions. The current process makes a mockery of the notion that we’re treating the housing crisis like the crisis that it is. As a city, we need to decide if affordable housing is something we want throughout the city, in every neighborhood. Unfortunately, the current process allows far too much abuse by those who want stop or scale back affordable housing that’s already funded.

Look to this article about the proposal to build affordable housing at the shuttered McDonalds in District 5. It might take five years (or more with an environmental lawsuit) to get this badly needed housing built. That is unacceptable.

Some districts are more effective than others at keeping affordable housing out. Here’s a snapshot of my own District, the Richmond, from the pipeline tool provided by the Mayor’s Office of Housing:

Zero affordable homes to be built within the Richmond in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and so on.

My neighborhood is not pulling its fair share of the weight when it comes to building new housing of any kind. That goes double for the subsidized affordable housing that is most badly needed by those residents that earn well below the area median income, which is now almost $83,000 a year for a single person.

Frankly, it’s embarrassing that the pipeline for new affordable housing in our neighborhood is nonexistent. That’s something we cannot accept.

San Francisco needs this ordinance badly. Two other parts of the law are also needed: standardizing of neighborhood notifications to make them more consistent (and apply to tenants and folks who speak languages aside from English) and streamlining small changes to historic buildings.

But, first and foremost, we need to make it easier to build affordable housing. When we put barriers in front of affordable housing, when we make permitting difficult and unpredictable, it takes longer to build this badly needed housing. When permitting is unpredictable, funding pulls back and we lose units. We need to move more quickly on all housing, full stop.

San Francisco cannot wait years for these and other reforms to get more housing built. We need much more legislation just like this to get the housing we need permitted faster and in every neighborhood.

If you want to read even more about this legislation, check out this letter from YIMBY Action. Then, be sure to send a quick email to your San Francisco supervisor urging them to support this ordinance.

And if you want to join fellow residents of the Bay Area in fighting for more housing and more reforms to our bloated processes that get in the way of housing, join YIMBY Action, the fastest growing pro-housing tenant movement in the Bay Area.

50+ YIMBY Action members showing up to support affordable housing on a Monday night earlier in 2018.

Note: My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, my friends, relatives, or anyone else. They are solely my own.