SF Housing

SF Housing Deficit of More Than 100,000 Units

By Thomas K. Pendergast

San Francisco will have to build about 25% more housing, and dedicate that strictly for blue-collar and skilled workers, to meet the demands of both current and future job requirements, according to a recent report.

The scale of the challenge became apparent at a Dec. 13 meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee, when a deeper analysis of the Housing Our Workers report came up on the agenda.

“Housing Our Workers: Getting to a Jobs-Housing Fit” was released in October. It was put together by the housing advocacy groups Council of Community Housing Organizations, the San Francisco Labor Council and Jobs With Justice. The report concluded that “market pressures” have displaced thousands of working-class households from the City.

“The upshot is that there is a deficit of approximately 106,000 housing units overall, of which about 56,000 are projected to be deficit on the affordable side of the ledger and about 49,000 on the above-moderate side of the ledger,” Joshua Switzsky of the San Francisco Planning Department told the Committee. 

He said San Francisco had a “very robust” job growth of 211,000 jobs between 2009 and 2019, the years the report examined. The related housing need for those jobs was 154,000 housing units, of which 61,000 should have been “affordable” and 93,000 in the “above moderate” category. 

“The overall housing production over that period fell well short of meeting the overall needs and the needs across all income levels,” Switzsky said. “Less than 20% of the overall need was met, with an unmet housing need for that period of 124,000 housing units, of which 54,000 affordable units were not provided and 71,000 above-moderate housing units were not provided,” 

He further stated that, going forward, if the need for such housing were to be met over the next decade or so, it would amount to an estimated $20 billion and would require the City buy up about 775 property sites. 

“We only have a total of a little less than 400,000 units of housing in San Francisco,” District 7 Supervisor and Committee Chair Myrna Melgar responded. “We need to make up for pretty much 25% of our total housing stock just to keep up with the jobs that we’ve added, not the jobs we’re going to add, right? It just seems like a pretty big lift.”

“Those folks who can afford to make choices, they’re pushing out others and driving up prices and have more choices,” Switzsky responded. “And so, the fact that we’re not delivering the housing across the income spectrum has implications for everybody and where everybody ends up.” 

Efforts to create more housing for working people have met with both success and failure throughout the City recently.

The west side of town is now watching the development of the Shirley Chisholm Village for educators at the former Francis Scott Key Annex site in the Outer Sunset and the 2550 Irving St. project for low-income families. Plus, there are plans to replace a funeral business with a 98-unit affordable housing building for senior citizens at Geary Boulevard and Sixth Avenue in the Richmond District.

Nevertheless, the production of luxury higher-end units continues. 

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar has previously stated that throughout the past decade new housing was geared toward luxury condos and apartments that met the needs of single and high-income workers, and has consequently been “overbuilt.” 

“We can see this imbalance playing out even in the Sunset District, with three market-rate developments sitting mostly vacant – in one case more than two years after completion – because the units are too expensive and not family-friendly,” Mar said.

Housing advocates have also noticed this trend. 

“One of the things that really stood out in this report is the need at the moderate-income levels,” said the Co-Director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Fernando Marti. “About 19% of the units that were produced should have been serving moderate-income households and in fact only 5% of the units that were produced were meeting that need.” 

“One of the things that is really astounding is the monetary value and the kind of investment that the City needs to be putting into actually meeting affordable housing to low-to-moderate-income workers,” Marti said. “The report identified that the City should be building about 6,000 affordable units per year to meet the need caused by growth in jobs, when in fact we’re building about 765 a year.” 

“This has real impact on real people’s lives,” said Kung Feng, the executive director of Jobs With Justice San Francisco. “A little while ago we were looking for workers for a Today Show about super commuters and they asked us if we could find workers who could speak to this topic. And we were like, well, what workers can we find that won’t speak to this topic?

“We just asked a couple of our member organizations and right away it was  security guards and healthcare workers – workers who are commuting two-and-a-half hours,” he said. “Their day was starting at 3 a.m., getting ready to go into work and not getting home until after their kids have had dinner, leaving very little family time. So, this is a real issue for so many people.”

“We have chased away most of those types of workers because they cannot find housing in San Francisco,” San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Kim Tavaglione said. “And if they can’t find housing in San Francisco they are likely to go get jobs in the areas where they live…. They can find those jobs where they’re at rather than traveling into the City. 

“So, we have a severe problem, and every time we gentrify a neighborhood we are chasing these very workers out of the City…. We really need to focus in on working families housing in the City. This is the critical crisis that we are facing. This is what we must build for.” 

“We’re grossly underbuilding the housing that is needed for moderate-income households and we’re also not building the right proportion of housing that’s affordable to low-and-moderate-income people and families,” Mar said. “And we do need to incorporate our true workforce housing needs and better housing balance in our policies and decisions. 

“Building for working families is predicated on increased public investment and good regulation and equitable land-use policies…. We know better than to rely on speculative market forces to try and address these very urgent problems. Indeed, we’re not waiting on the market.”  

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