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
“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
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.”