[Hpn] BEHIND THE HOUSING HYPE
William Charles Tinker
Sat, 27 Aug 2005 16:43:27 -0400
Behind the housing hype
Newsom slashes new affordable-housing goals - and fails to provide a
blueprint for reaching his targets
By Camille T. Taiara
The median price of a home in San Francisco just hit $800,000. More than
25,000 households are on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, 30,000
others await public housing, and the San Francisco Housing Authority is
about to lose another $5.7 million in federal funds. Yet Mayor Gavin Newsom
unfurled a plan Aug. 3 that effectively slashes the city's
affordable-housing construction goals by at least 68 percent - and probably
by a whole lot more.
The new initiative, dubbed Home 15/5, calls for the construction of 15,000
housing units over the next five years, with a little more than a third
(5,400) to be affordable to low- and moderate-income households - currently
defined as those earning up to $76,000 (low) to $114,000 (moderate) a year
for a family of four.
But the city needs another 12,637 affordable units by next year, according
to projections included in the General Plan's Housing Element, a 250-page
policy guide developed by the Planning Department and approved by the Board
of Supervisors and state officials last year.
"We call upon the Board of Supervisors to hold public hearings on how the
mayor can change official city housing goals merely by holding a press
conference," April Veneración, of the South of Market Community Action
Network, said at a modest noontime rally on the steps of City Hall Aug. 16
called by the Housing Justice Summit coalition, an alliance representing
more than 70 groups. The supervisors took heed, approving a resolution later
that afternoon, sponsored by Sups. Sophie Maxwell and Ross Mirkarimi, to
hold hearings on how to meet the city's affordable-housing goals.
"Not all housing is good housing," Julie Leadbetter, of Homeless Advocates
of the Mission, told the crowd gathered on the steps of City Hall that day.
"We have to ask, who's this housing good for?"
In fact, these past 5 years have seen the greatest boom in housing
construction in San Francisco in 20 years. About half of the new units are
studios and one-bedrooms, but only 27 percent (2,284) of the units built
from 2001 through 2004 were deemed affordable to even middle-income San
Franciscans, and only half of those were affordable to low- and
very-low-income residents, according to a report released by the Planning
Department last month.
Inclusionary housing quotas, which require that 10 percent of units in new
buildings of 10 units or more be offered at affordable rates, only produced
an extra 514 such units during those years. Meanwhile, 40 percent of San
Franciscans currently fit the definition of low- to very-low-income,
according to the Mayor's Office of Housing's own data, provided to the Board
of Supervisors' Land Use Committee in May. Two-thirds cannot afford
As a result, families, seniors, and the working class continue to be pushed
out - and San Francisco has gained the lamentable distinction of being the
city with the lowest percentage of children of any urban center in the
Despite its bold claims, Home 15/5 simply siphons more resources into the
Planning Department and the Department of Building Inspection in order to
reduce backlogs. The resources are significant and long-needed, but they
don't seem to include any new incentives for developers to build affordable
housing instead of more-profitable market-rate units. The Mayor's Office has
not released any details of how it proposes to ensure that even the 5,400
"affordable" units included in Home 15/5 actually get built and offered at a
truly affordable rate, and it would not comment on the record for this
But Matt Franklin, director of the Mayor's Office of Housing, told the San
Francisco Chronicle that the mayor's new plan "not only meets the Housing
Element's goals for housing for the poor but exceeds it [sic]," according to
an Aug. 17 article.
"I'm stunned," veteran San Francisco housing-policy expert Calvin Welch, of
the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse, told the Bay Guardian in
response. Welch - who reported, ironically, that Franklin had lobbied him
just last fall to register his support for the Housing Element with the
California Department of Housing and Community Development - pointed once
again to the Housing Element's findings that more than 7,000 extra units
were needed for low- to very-low-income households by 2006. That figure
doesn't include the unmet demand for "moderate" affordable housing. "How
5,400 exceeds that escapes my math," he said.
Compounding the housing crunch has been a slow economy that simply isn't
producing the kinds of jobs that pay enough to keep up with the skyrocketing
price of housing.
"You cannot talk about affordable housing without talking about income,"
Welch said. "The Housing Element, by state law, draws a relationship between
the workforce and housing." Newsom's plan does not - and therefore
essentially reserves the city almost exclusively for the upper middle class,
Supervisor Maxwell has already been holding Land Use Committee hearings on
the discrepancy between definitions of affordability, and on
affordable-housing development scenarios. Supervisor Mirkarimi wants to see
developers include more low-income units with their projects. "We need a
greater inclusionary rate, so we don't have to continue fighting these
fires," Mirkarimi told us. "And we need to create more opportunities for
middle- and working-class families to own their own homes."
He hopes the public hearings the Board of Supervisors called for will help
push such initiatives forward and create a more sensible and inclusive
housing policy - with or without the mayor's support.
E-mail Camille T. Taiara at email@example.com.
William Charles Tinker
New Hampshire Homeless / Founded 11-28-99
25 Granite Street
Northfield,N.H. 03276-1640 USA
Advocates,activists for disabled,displaced human rights.