board of supervisors

HomeSF clears final hurdle, plan would increase housing density

by Thomas K. Pendergast


After more than two years of struggle between moderate and progressive factions

on the SF Board of Supervisors, and a great deal of compromise,

SF Supervisor Katy Tang’s HomeSF program was approved by a 10-1 vote

in late May.


Tang told the board she expects the voluntary incentive program to produce

about 5,000 “permanently affordable housing” units in San Francisco, by

building 30 percent of “affordable housing” within qualified new developments.


In exchange, zoning laws would allow flexibility of those sites so developers can

add extra floors to buildings beyond what zoning laws would normally limit.


“We have really not produced very much housing for middle income families.

They are the most rapidly declining households in San Francisco,” Tang told

the board. “With this program we are allowing developers to go up to two stories

above existing height limits in exchange for density increases as well as providing

for 30 percent affordable housing.”


Tang said the program would encourage more “family-friendly” housing developments,

instead of the studios and one-bedroom apartments that developers tend to favor as

more profitable.


“So, 40 percent of the units would have to have two or three bedrooms, and

of that 10 percent must actually be three bedrooms,” Tang explained.


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).

In San Francisco, HUD defines 55 percent of the annual AMI for an individual

earner at $41,450, and for two-income households at $47,400. As well, HUD defines

80 percent of the annual AMI at $60,300 for an individual earner, and

$68,900 for two-income households. The federal agency further defines 110 percent

of the annual AMI at $82,950 for an individual earner, and $94,750 for two

income households.


For rental units, of the 30 percent total apartments required to be “affordable,”

some will be reserved for households earning up to 55 percent of the annual

AMI, others reserved for households earning up to 80 percent of the annual

AMI, and the rest reserved for households earning up to 110 percent

of the annual AMI.


Before the final vote Tang offered an amendment for units being sold for private

ownership, adjusting the AMI percentage numbers down from what she

had pushed for previously.


For below-market-rate housing in the “ownership” categories, Tang explained,

the units’ pricing would be offered at 80 percent, 105 and 130 percent of the annual

AMI. Previously, Tang had pegged those annual AMI figures to purchase at

90 percent ($67,850 for individual earners, $77,550 for two-income households)

120 percent ($90,500 for individuals, $103,400 for two-income households) and

140 percent ($105,000 for individuals, $120,600 for two-income households) of

the annual AMI.


“We are also going to be modifying the unit distribution between rental and ownership

programs, so that 12 percent of the units would be offered at the lowest tier,

nine percent of the units would be offered at the middle tier, and another nine percent

would be offered at the highest tier.”


District 3 SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin has been one of the more prominent critics

of the plan since it was first introduced more than two years ago and he pushed

for many of the changes that it has gone through since then.


“My concerns were that this could inadvertently be used to demolish existing

housing stock and the most affordable housing that we have is the housing that

we have,” Peskin told the board. “But when Supervisor Tang added the provisions

that no residential unit would be demolished, removed or converted, that to

me was the swinging point where I could start supporting the legislation.”


Nevertheless, there are still people who cannot support the HomeSF plan, like

Trevor Martin, the treasurer of the political action group Berniecrats, who addressed

the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee when the current

legislation was introduced. His wife also works as a nanny, he said, so they are

a two-income household.


“Together, we might pull in around $70,000 this year,” Martin said. “And so

we will not reach $83,000 and we make too much to qualify as ‘low income.’ I

will tell you right now why San Francisco has left the middle class behind, because

you keep redefining what it means to be middle class. Teachers, firefighters and

people like myself, we’re getting priced out. This is not affordable housing.


“I commend San Francisco for building but we can’t just build, build, build

without thinking about who we are building for and who benefits from that



George Wooding, the president of the Coalition for San Francisco

Neighborhoods, told committee members that city zoning is currently based on

floor-area-ratios, which allow buildings to be based on square footage.


“HomeSF is using a new formula based on density zoning. That does not

correlate to building square footage,”


Wooding said. “In other words, HomeSF only talks about the number of units being

built. This is why the Planning Commission will continue to present how

many units are being built but it has no limit on minimum unit size. So, when

they find a 600-square-foot, two-bedroom (two-bedrooms seems to be the key words

for ‘middle class’) units will now be considered middle-class units.”


He spoke of “unintended consequences” from the law. “Increasingly, smaller units will be

built throughout the City and it will lead to the increased migration of families

with children, as they will be so small that children will no longer be able to live in

these units,” he said. “If people want to live in dorm rooms their entire life, that’s

their prerogative. We, at some point, have to decide not only  who we are but how we

want to live.”

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