Board Of Supervisors Lurches Back and Forth on Affordable Housing
On Tuesday, July 12th, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors discussed several contentious resolutions on affordable housing, demonstrating just how politically fractious the issue has become in the nation’s most expensive real estate market.
Supervisor Katy Tang was able to muster a full consensus on her ordinance supporting one portion of the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, an effort to implement the state’s Density Bonus law for projects containing 100% Below Market Rate housing. Projects qualifying for the bonus would receive a three-story height-limit increase, form-based zoning (which eliminates density restrictions), and a variety of other zoning modifications.
It should be noted that this version of the AHBP is a significantly truncated version of the proposal passed by the Planning Commission (see link above). Preventing its application in RH-1 and RH-2 zones essentially prohibits this ordinance from producing more affordable housing in the vast majority of the city’s neighborhoods.
Even with those caveats, Supervisor John Avalos spoke approvingly of the bill’s potential to improve the walkability of commercial corridors in San Francisco’s southern edge. “I live in a part of the city where our commercial corridor is often filled with single-story buildings...that creates a huge amount of congestion in cars...and I want to change all that.”
Representing homeowners anxious to prevent diversity of building heights in their neighborhoods, Supervisor Aaron Peskin negotiated a number of amendments aimed to reduce the applicability of the bonus. Recent amendments to Tang’s bill also removed a provision to include Moderate Income units (with rents indexed to be affordable for someone making 80-120% of Area Median Income). The amendments prevent the bill from increasing the amount of affordable housing that can be produced without public subsidies—language to that effect was also stricken from the amended version.
Additional amendments removed provisions to allow 100% Affordable projects to bypass the Conditional Use Permit process. Section 328(f) reads: “If a Local Affordable Housing Bonus Program Project requires a conditional use authorization due only to (1) a specific land use, (2) use size limit, or (3) requirement adopted by the voters,” the Planning Commission would still be required to give a public hearing and apply discretionary review before granting a Conditional Use Permit.
In other words, if a developer proposes a project with 100% of its units reserved for people making 80% AMI or less, they could apply for three additional stories, and still be shot down by angry neighbors lobbying the Planning Commission.
“We did make it better together,” Tang said to Peskin, thanking him in her introductory comments. In passing the resolution before summer recess, Supervisor Tang was hopeful that this would speed up the construction of 203 units from 7 ongoing projects that would qualify for the bonus.
Although the city has yet to comply with state law by implementing its own version of the State Density Bonus, developers can still apply for it, and potentially sue to enforce state law if city officials refuse them.
Supervisors Scott Wiener and Aaron Peskin introduced two competing bids to deliver official city correspondence on Governor Brown’s by-right streamlining legislation. (More background on the Governor’s proposal can be found here and here.) While Wiener’s was collaborative in spirit, Peskin’s was more adversarial: the former sought to work with the Governor’s office to make useful amendments, while the latter sought to amend almost everything about the bill that would streamline the production of affordable housing, if not oppose it outright.
Wiener’s resolution stated that the Board Of Supervisors should essentially make their support of the governor’s bill contingent on amendments including stronger protections for rent-controlled tenants and preserving local labor and architectural requirements. While Peskin’s stated similar concerns regarding demolition, his resolution additionally called for preserving the entirety of the existing public process for entitlements by the Planning Commission, essentially annulling the bill’s streamlining power. Peskin’s resolution also called for categorically opposing the bill if these amendments were not incorporated.
Wiener’s proposal was rejected by a 6-5 vote, while Peskin’s was approved by the same margin. The same supervisors voted in the six-person majority: Peskin, Campos, Mar, Avalos, Kim, and Yee.
Even in their titles, the resolutions betray starkly contrasting views on the issue. Wiener’s resolution seeks to offer amendments to Brown’s bill “in recognition of San Francisco’s severe housing crisis and existing obstacles to sufficient regional and statewide housing creation,” while Peskin’s leaves the door open to opposing the bill “in recognition of San Francisco’s local planning tools and significant contributions to regional housing development.”
The two resolutions diverge not only in goals but in their basic assessment of the problem. Either the city’s efforts to increase housing availability are laudable, or they are grossly insufficient.
So what were the basic goals of each resolution? In short, Wiener sought to strengthen the bill to protect vulnerable tenants from having their homes demolished and replaced by aesthetically nondescript eyesores; Peskin, in addition to that, sought to protect all incumbent residents from any building they might not like for any reason whatsoever.
“The Governor’s proposal has defects, but at its core, it makes sense,” Supervisor Wiener said via email—“we should be honoring our zoning and not arbitrarily reducing the number of housing units allowed.” Peskin’s office assured us that the language in the final version of his resolution would suffice in explaining his goals.
Wiener’s resolution includes a recommendation that the state be encouraged to “allow local jurisdictions to retain the ability to promote good architecture and urban design …preserve historic buildings, affordable and rent-controlled housing stock, to limit demolitions, and to adopt labor and environmental standards[.]” He also encouraged the San Francisco Legislative Delegation to lobby legislators to increase investments in public transportation, which presumably would come independently of the $400 million in state housing funds Governor Brown recently included as part of his bill.
Peskin’s resolution shared many similarities with Wiener’s, including recommendations to limit the demolition of existing housing stock, support local labor standards, and lobby for public transit investment. He also included the novel suggestion that the bill halve the time in which a project was required to begin construction to qualify for by-right approval, from 24 to 12 months. He also sought to reinforce local inclusionary requirements in the face of statewide streamlining, although this has already been included in recent amendments to the Governor’s proposal. (Brown’s trailer bill would require 20% Below Market Rate units, or 10% in a project close to transit as a statewide minimum; any municipal requirements requiring higher amounts, such as San Francisco’s recently adopted 25% threshold, would not be superseded.)
In terms of long-term policy goals, however, Peskin’s true colors as a defender of hyper-local discretion at all costs shone through. The resolution urges “that the approval of major developments continue to allow for public review and local discretionary approval as is currently provided by local laws,” and ultimately to oppose the bill unless the Governor and State Legislature adopt all the requested amendments.
In other words, Peskin wants the City and County of San Francisco to categorically oppose Governor Brown’s streamlining bill unless the entire aim of the bill is stricken. Opponents have launched a petition urging Mayor Ed Lee to veto Peskin’s resolution, while the State Legislature remains in recess until August.