City Hall

Rally for Affordable Housing


San Francisco Supervisor Asha Safai (left), San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (center) and San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang (right) enjoy a lighter moment during the Valentine’s Day press conference in front of City Hall, where they announced a new proposal to provide incentives for the creation of more affordable housing in the City.


By Thomas K. Pendergast

San Francisco supervisors Katy Tang

and Asha Safai are using a tag-team approach

to tackle affordable housing, as

Tang will bring her HomeSF program back

to the SF Board of Supervisors in March,

and Safai recently introduced an ordinance

on the issue.

Tang said Safai’s legislation will match

her HomeSF program, in that her legislation

will apply to working class, middleincome

people, defined as having incomes

in the range between 60-to-150-percent of

the Area Median Income (AMI), so they

“go hand in hand.”

“We are trying to incentivize developers

who are building three or more units where

you have to build 30 percent affordable on-site to serve middle-class families, and

a 40 percent requirement that it’s twobedrooms

or more, and we have some

amendments that we’re bringing forth that

will try to make developments more family-

friendly, and also close to transit,”

Tang said.

Tang is working with the mayor’s office

to develop the legislation.

The definition of “affordable” depends

on who is asked. According to the U.S.

Department of Housing and Urban

Development (HUD), it means housing

that costs no more than 30 percent of an

individual’s income. In San Francisco,

however, “affordable housing” is attached

to something called the Area Median

Income (AMI).

Joshua Sabatini reported in the SF

Examiner that last year 100 percent of the

AMI for a single person was $75,400, and

$107,700 for a family of four.

The AMI being used by Tang and the

mayor is based on the overall average income

of three counties: San Mateo, San

Francisco and Marin. Using that standard,

Tang claims, the program will create affordable

homes for families making between

$60,000 and $140,000 per year for

a family of four. These are households for

whom no subsidized public housing programs


“We will never again, in the history of

San Francisco, build housing for working

people. That will never, ever happen

again,” Safai told the board when he introduced

his legislation. “Today, homes in

the Excelsior are going for a million dollars.

Homes in Bayview/Hunters Point are

approaching a million dollars and, in

some cases, exceeding it. Homes in the

Richmond and the Sunset are going north

of a million dollars. The market used to

take care of working people, and I’m talking

about teachers, laborers, nurses, firefighters,

first-responders, janitors, hotel

workers ….

“We think the private market is where

we can begin to tackle building housing

for working people,” he said. “Eighteen

percent of that housing should be set

aside, and that would range from a family

of three beginning at $43,000 (annual income)

and go all the way up to a family

of three at $126,000. We have to be careful

that we don’t set that number too high,

that we don’t kill housing altogether or

put people out of work. We have to set it

at a responsible number.

“In the next three years we will still

build 7,500 or more units of low-income

affordable housing. This inclusionary

piece of legislation that I’m introducing

with (board) President London Breed is a

complementary piece, in my mind, to

Supervisor Katy Tang’s HomeSF. And the

two together have the opportunity to build

about 2,500 units for working people. We

want to include a minimum bedroom

count. We think it’s very important. We

can’t just be building studios and onebedrooms

in San Francisco. We have to

have a frank conversation about two-bedrooms

and three-bedrooms, so we put in

there a minimum requirement that would

shake things up in the development industry

for their ability to produce more housing

for working people.”

While many agree that the City does

not have enough housing for working

people, not everyone agrees that Tang and

Safai’s plans are the solution, especially

when California has a state program for

affordable housing that developers can

choose instead.

“The state law is far more generous in

terms of height increases, whatever height

you need to get to 30 percent additional

density, you get that height,” Tang admits.

“And there’s only a requirement for 20

percent affordable housing, but the income

bracket does not serve middle-class

families, so we feel that we are trying to

offer, for HomeSF, a program that matches

our values here in San Francisco to

serve working-class families.”

The state law requires five percent of

units be affordable to very-low income

households (those that earn less that 50

percent of the AMI), 10 percent of units

b e afforda ble to households e arning less

than 80 per ce nt of the AMI, and 10 percent

of units affordable to households with

incomes up to 120 percent of AMI, if the

latter is a “for sale development.”

Local housing activist Calvin Welch, a

lecturer at the University of San Francisco

a nd a board member o f the Haight –

Ashbury Neighborhood Council, is not

convinced developers will use the city’s

formula. He thinks it is likely that more

developers will instead choose the state’s

program over the local one.

“Her proposal is absolutely meaningless

in that developers can choose the state

density program, which requires less overall

affordable housing units but at a more

affordable level. So, I believe developers

are going to choose the state density bonus

over the city density bonus being proposed

by Supervisor Tang, which leaves me the

question of what the hell is she proposing

it for ? Is this just simply political e ye –

wash?” Welch asked.

“Given the choice of doing fewer units

at a more affordable level, as opposed to

doing more units while providing a lesser

number of below market rate units, even if

they are affordable, why would the developer

pick Tang’s proposal? Why would a

developer choose that option? The answer

is, they won’t.”

Last year’s Proposition C raised the

percentage of inclusionary, or “affordable,”

housing from 12 percent to 25 percent.

There was an option in the law, howe

ver, to change this percentage later. A

feasibility stu dy releas ed last month re –

c omm en ded lo werin g t he f i gu re to b etween

14 percent and 18 percent for rental

pro jec ts, and between 17 and 20 percent

for ownership projects.

The ordinance introduced by Safai requires

developers of rental projects with at

least 25 units who opt to build affordable

housing on-site to provide 18 percent of it

as affordable. Of that, a third would go to

peop le who earn 55 percent of AMI; another

third would go to those earning 80

percent of AMI and a third for those earning

110 percent of the AMI.

For ownership developments the requirement

is 20 percent of the units having

an average affordable sales price, set at

120 percent of AMI or less, with those

units equa lly distributed at 90 percent of

AMI, 120 percent of AMI and 140 percent

of AMI, according to Sabatini of the SF


Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron

Peskin have an alternative proposal, and a

struggle between the “progressive” and

“moderate” factions of the board is expected

on this issue.

“ This program is set out to achieve

something that no other program has , or

offers, in San Francisco or at the state level.

Nothing,” Tang said. “I certainly hope

my colleagues will come around and support

me on this effort.”

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