San Francisco is an incredible city that so many of us are lucky to call home – but luck should not be why working families are able to live in our beloved City.
When I immigrated to San Francisco in 1990 with my mother and brother, we were able to afford living in the City because my mom was able to secure a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown with below-market-rate rent.
Thanks to San Francisco’s affordable housing, my family was able to thrive as new immigrants. Today in this City, every neighborhood and block has its own unique culture and character, where a third of people were born in another country. We have diverse workforces, from blue-collar jobs to tech, and multigenerational families who have called San Francisco home for decades.
Now, San Francisco has fallen far behind on its goals to build affordable housing for working families. The lack of housing affordability has led to the displacement and outmigration of low- and middle-income families and individuals, and many are from communities of color and immigrant background.
To keep our city diverse and provide housing for families like mine, we need to accelerate affordable housing production. We need to house our essential workers like healthcare workers, firefighters, teachers, janitors, construction workers, hospitality workers, small business owners, retail and nonprofit workers and transit operators.
That’s why I’m introducing the Affordable Housing Production Act, which will accelerate the production of much-needed affordable housing and help San Francisco meet the state housing mandates. The measure will create an accelerated process for affordable housing projects by waiving California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Discretionary Review for qualifying affordable housing projects. It will also support our unionized building and construction trade workers and San Francisco’s workforce development goals by requiring prevailing wages and a skilled and trained workforce.
Development Without Displacement
The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development recently released a report that stated San Francisco faces a $1.3 billion shortfall to build enough affordable housing to meet its state housing goals. The City needs to build 82,000 new homes over the next eight years, including 32,000 affordable units. San Francisco has far exceeded its market-rate housing needs, having built 151% of its market-rate goal and only 48% of its affordable goal.
Furthermore, policies that incentivize unrestricted market-rate development without consideration of vulnerable communities leads to increased gentrification and displacement. Unlike more resourced neighborhoods, lower-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities are still fighting to claim the right to community planning and self-determination. After decades of disenfranchisement on development decisions that affect their neighborhoods, we need to prioritize building housing for these communities to further prevent the displacement of our most vulnerable communities.
The Affordable Housing Production Act will incentivize developers to produce truly affordable housing projects for renters, families and seniors who live paycheck to paycheck. These affordable housing projects will allow communities who are struggling to live in a city with a skyrocketing cost of living, to have a stable living environment so they can thrive in our City.
Workers Should Be Able to Afford the Housing They Build
San Francisco developments must also promote skilled construction workforce development and pay a living wage. Apprenticeships, prevailing wages and benefits are critical to attracting and retaining qualified workers. The need for safe, high-quality construction practices will only continue to grow amidst increasing demand and requirements for the installation and building practices necessary for a successful transition to greener jobs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Therefore, the Affordable Housing Production Act will require developments to not only pay a prevailing wage, but also utilize skilled and trained workers in the construction of affordable housing. This guarantees the workers who build our housing can afford to live in the units they build.
Transparency in Affordable Housing Spending
Despite San Francisco voters approving several measures over the past five years to provide robust funding for the production, preservation, and protection of affordable housing, the City has failed to expend these funds under a coherent strategic plan with transparent public input and oversight.
Instead, many of these departments make programmatic and budgetary decisions with little public input. Without such transparency, the City has no way to measure the efficacy of the expenditure of these new affordable housing fundings.
The Affordable Housing Production Act will bring greater transparency and insight as to how the City spends affordable housing dollars by requiring an annual affordable housing report to be included as a part of the mayor’s annual city budget proposal.
Where We Go From Here
San Francisco has long benefited from the public’s participation in the design and creation of affordable housing programs including tenant protections, the right to counsel, neighborhood preference, and community land trusts. San Francisco thrives when its residents thrive – we need our diverse communities, union workers and families to be able to afford living in this City. The Affordable Housing Production Act will provide an accelerated review of affordable housing projects, which will allow the City to incentivize and expand the City’s affordable housing supply.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in June 2022.