New Affordable Housing Policies

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By Tes Welborn, HANC Board

“San Francisco wound up with a sweeping new affordable housing policy . . . one that will encourage the demolition of some existing low-rise commercial buildings housing neighborhood businesses, increase density in many parts of town, and set affordability levels lower than what the voters approved last year but higher than what some supervisors wanted. It’s a compromise that is going to shape housing policy for the immediate future – and is aimed overall at encouraging somewhere around 30,000 new housing units without any discussion of how the city will pay for the infrastructure to support them,” said Tim Redmond.


Coming after Prop C's landslide win, the hard-negotiated Inclusionary Housing legislation compromise of some 18% of new construction to be affordable seemed ready to pass Land Use Committee May 22.  But the Mayor and Supervisors Tang and Safai's Affordable Housing Density Bonus Program, just renamed Home SF, threw all that work into a different light.  “HomeSF,” not Inclusionary, is likely to be the developer's choice.  After all, they get a bonus of two floors. The “HomeSF” and related programs passed the Board with a 10-1 vote on May 23. 

 And the wins we got were because of housing activists' and members of the public's good work, considering the current Board make up.

Projects built for “HomeSF” rental must stay rental for the life of the building, and the household income levels were reduced slightly. However, we anticipate that most of the housing under this program will be for sale condos.

Here are some examples of income levels and percentages of housing units that will be “affordable” in the “Home SF” program:

affordable housing table

For sale projects, ownership projects' income levels were reduced to middle and moderate income.  Where neighborhood AMIs mirror market-rate housing, sale prices are to be reduced by 20% .  Still, most of those housing units will be studios and one-bedrooms, not the advertised “family housing.”

The Affordable Divis coalition, which includes HANC, succeeded in keeping Divisadero and Fillmore districts out of the new maximum Inclusionary program, until a study could be made to see if there could be additional affordable units extracted, after two prior upzonings.

Developer wins with “HomeSF” include: no public hearings or appeal process [just a deal with the Planning Dept.], two more floors over existing zoning, with as many housing units as they want to build, allowing several lots to be merged, little protection for existing neighborhood businesses and services, and much smaller backyards.


 About a third of San Franciscans live in households earning less than $60,000.  And a quarter of all San Franciscans are over 65, a growing number, which often means suddenly reduced incomes.  Also, about 30% of San Franciscans live in some sort of rent-protected housing, whether rent-control, federally subsidized, or BMR [Below Market Rate] rental or sale housing units.

 Affordability is defined by some complex formulas. AMI, or Area Median Income, comes from HUD, and is based on the average annual income of San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo households.  It is calculated by the number of people in a household, so there can be  more than one income earner.  There are three levels, Extremely Low Income [30%], Very Low Income [50%], and Low Income [80%]. 

 But if we take San Francisco alone, the AMI would be about $8-10,000 LESS.  And in many neighborhoods, the average median income is even lower. Further, a recent study showed that income levels vary even more by ethnic category. All this makes the development of Affordable Housing policy and housing challenging.

 For example, to qualify for subsidized housing, a single person can't have income over $27,650.  For Inclusionary Housing, some housing units are reserved for single people who earn less than $46,100 [50% AMI], and some for those earning less than $73,750 [80% AMI]. 

For families of three persons, in Inclusionary Housing, some housing units are reserved for those who earn less than $59,250 [50% AMI], and some for those earning less than $94,850 [80% AMI].


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