Supervisors consider affordable housing half-step

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While the Board of Supervisors today considers placing a measure on the fall ballot that would slow market rate housing projects when affordable housing development drops below 30 percent of total production, it is also slated to quietly approve another item showing San Franciscans actually need more than double that amount of housing.

The 30 percent ballot measure by Sup. Jane Kim is covered by the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, an article that includes Chicken Little quotes from developers and their biggest cheerleaders, who fear the sky will fall if the current flood of luxury housing development is slowed even a little bit.

But those fears are unlikely to materialize given that Kim seems to have steadily weakened her measure since its introduction last month, responding to allies who deceptively warn of a “housing civil war.” The measure doesn’t create the moratorium that many affordable housing advocates have called for, simply a bit more paperwork for developers, and even then it exempts projects with less than 25 units and those bigger developers who file applications by the end of this year.

That sort of tepid approach to building the housing that current San Franciscans actually need belies the official city policy of seeking to build more than 60 percent of new housing for those earning 120 percent of the area median income or below, as spelled out in the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan.

Ironically, the board is scheduled to re-adopt the 2009 version of that plan today. Its approval of that plan in June 2011 was challenged in court by neighborhood groups, and in December the court ruled that the city needed to shore up its analysis of alternatives to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. That work is now done, so the board today will repeal its 2011 action and re-approve the 2009 Housing Element.

The changes weren’t terribly significant — and besides, the city seems to essentially ignore its Housing Element anyway, even though cities and counties are required by state law to complete them and build their fair share of the affordable housing needed in their region. In rare cases, cities and counties can be fined by the state for not doing so, as was the case with Folsom many years ago when it built only market rate housing.

“Plan for the full range of housing needs in the City and County of San Francisco, especially affordable housing,” reads Policy 1.1 of the Housing Element.

Later in the plan, it spells out just how much housing that should be in San Francisco, based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment done by the Association of Bay Area Governments: “A total of about 18,880 units, or 61 percent of the RHNA target, must be affordable to households making 120 percent of the area media income (AMI) of less.”

So the supervisors probably shouldn’t stretch too far in patting themselves on the back for a loophole-ridden half-step toward meeting its affordable housing obligations, although we’re happy to see at least some progress in the right direction.