Kim's affordable housing ballot measure gutted then approved

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Supervisor Jane Kim calls for more affordable housing construction in San Francisco at a press conference in front of City Hall on 7/18. So what changed?
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Housing is out of whack in San Francisco, and Sup. Jane Kim's affordable housing ballot measure would've gone a long way towards fixing it. But that was then. Now, things are more uncertain. 

At yesterday's [Tues/29] Board of Supervisors meeting, the board unanimously approved Kim's Housing Balance proposal. But this was not her original ballot measure: it was gutted. Or as Kim told the board, "We were not able to come to an agreement on everything I wanted to see."

Her originally proposed ballot measure required new housing developments to provide 30 percent affordable housing, with an opt-out mechanism possible through a hearing. Currently, developers can provide on-site affordable housing or pay money into a pot of affordable housing funding. That's the system we've got now, and you can check San Francisco's soaring rents and home prices to see how well that's working out.

The 30 percent requirement was a strong, clear ask which may have spurred much-needed housing for middle and lower-income San Franciscans. Too strong, apparently. 

Kim's negotiations with the affordable housing community and Mayor Ed Lee hit more than a few snags, sources told us. The mayor, frankly, didn't like it. 

We reached out to the Mayor's Office but didn't hear back from them before press time. But it doesn't take a soothsayer to see the mayor wanted the measure dead: He sent a strong signal by creating a rival ballot measure, which, if approved by voters, contained a "poison pill" which would've killed Kim's measure.

"We were still negotiating down to the last minute what we’re announcing today," Kim told the board. 

Kim's new ballot measure no longer includes the 30 percent affordable housing requirement. In exchange for dropping the strong mandate, Kim said she wrested a number of concessions from the mayor, including: 

 

  • Pledges of a 33% affordability housing goal for all new development in Central SoMa and future area plans
  • Interim planning controls in the Central SoMa to prevent displacement in advance of the approval of the Central SoMa Plan
  • The creation of a Neighborhood Stabilization Trust to fund Affordable Housing Acquisition & Rehabilitation program
  • Commitment to identify new revenue to accelerate affordable housing projects languishing in the City’s pipeline and land acquisition strategies, including tiered in-lieu fees
  • Pledges to find sufficient funding to jumpstart public housing rehab and HOPE SF –without tapping the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • A legislative path forward to continue goals of Housing Balance Act, including unit count

 

Peter Cohen, co-director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, put the compromise this way: "What the supervisor ended up doing [through negotiation] is forcing the city to commit itself to substantive policies for real action, in exchange for that conditional use trigger [contained in the original legislation, which would have subjected market-rate projects to addition scrutiny when affordable housing dropped below 30 percent]."

"Obviously," Cohen said, "some people think thats a bad tradeoff."

So Kim lost the 30 percent trigger, but gained a number of compromises. So were they a big win for affordable housing advocates? 

Sources told us the Neighborhood Stabilization Trust is a long sought-after goal of the affordable housing community, but so far no plans have been revealed about how the trust (or any of the other proposals) would be funded. The ballot measure may offer Kim some leverage to make sure those promises are funded by Lee, especially considering San Francisco's impending 2015 mayoral race. 

"We’re presenting [voters] a ballot measure that constitutes our core values and memorializes the agreement," Kim told the board. "Housing balance had a large journey, and it does not stop today. Thirty percent: this is a goal we should commit to as a city. Our voters want this."

Earlier Tuesday, Kim stood with Lee at the unveiling of 60 new affordable housing units on Natoma street. Now, without a mandate, the only guarantee the city will build more affordable housing is the mayor's word.