The unanswered question: How do we bridge SF's affordable housing gap?

The Bridge Housing media roundtable on March 14 couldn't answer the fundamental housing affordability question.
Steven T. Jones

Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on Friday, again getting no good answers.

The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called “affordability agenda” and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled Friday’s media roundtable.

“There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen,” was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.

One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.

When I brought up other ideas from last week’s Guardian editorial for capturing more of the city’s wealth — such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts — Parker replied, “We’d be in favor of a lot of that.”

Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies.

Stated another way, about 80 percent of housing we’re building is for a small minority of city residents, or the wealthy people that these developers hope to attract to the city. And we’re not building housing for the vast majority of city residents. That is a recipe for gentrification, displacement, and destruction of San Francisco as a progressive-minded city.

Parker parroted Lee and other pro-development boosters, including SPUR, in arguing that city needs to make it easier and faster for developers to build new housing of all types. “In San Francisco, we do need to expedite the [housing] entitlement process,” Parker said.

But when asked whether meeting or exceeded Lee’s housing production goals would ever bring the price of market-rate housing down to the level where someone more 120 percent of AMI — which HUD recently set at $81,550 for single San Franciscans, or $116,500 for a family of four — Parker conceded that it wouldn’t.

The bottom line for San Francisco and its overheated real estate market is we can never built our way to affordability. The only way to build housing that most people can afford is with public subsidies, and San Francisco just isn’t asking enough from its wealthy individuals, corporations, and developers to create an Affordable Housign Trust Fund that is anywhere near big enough to meet the real demand.

That kind of assertion seems radical by the standards of today’s skewed political (and online) discourse. But when I raised it to a panel that included Bridge Housing officials, members of SPUR and HOPE SF, and a panel of journalists from such pro-development outlets as San Francisco Business Times, San Francisco Magazine, SocketSite, The Registry SF, KQED, and TechCrunch (as well as the more Guardian-aligned Mother Jones), nobody had any good answers or remedies to that basic question that we’ve raised again and again.

Instead, some of the business journalists offered a more sober assessment of what’s to come than most of this city’s pro-development boosters, noting a few signs of irrational exhuberance in the local economy.

The Registry’s Vladimir Bosanac said he’s observed a recent trend of developers buying up unentitled land, indicating more optimism in the sustainability of this development boom than market conditions might warrant. Adam Koval of SocketSite, an early predicter of the last dom-com crash, also voiced sketicism in the pervasive “this time is different” faith in the tech sector, noting how realms such as gaming and online coupons are losing steam and predicting that commercial rents are plateauing.

“I think there are some real gut checks coming up,” Koval said of the tech sector and the sustainability of its growth and valuations.

Perhaps it’s also time for a gut check by Mayor Lee and others who argue that we can build our way to housing affordability without any major new efforts to capture more of the wealth now being generated in San Francisco, wealth that might not be here later if we continue avoiding the question of how to provide the housing that San Francisco needs. 


"Publicly available information shows that you have refinanced repeatedly to take money out."

Oh, oh - Marcos won't be able to eventually buy his dream house in a trendy, lily-white, neighborhood in Portland if he takes out too much money from his condo now to support his lifestyle.

No wonder he's so insistent that real estate in San Francisco always goes up, no matter what - he's screwed if his condo stops appreciating.

Posted by racer さ on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

realize they were cash-out refi's. I thought that information about liens was only available at the Country Assessor-Recorder's office and, as much as it's fun to debunk him, it's not worth any real effort.

See anything else interesting in those liens? Lawsuit judgments, maybe? Mechanic's liens?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

Please, how much do your records indicate that we took out?

If I wasn't a threat to you or the poverty nonprofiteers, then you'd all ignore me.

Your attacks, your making this personal reveals your vulnerability and indicates to me that I'm on the right track.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

except it all sort of reminds you that you are on the right track - doesn't it ?
Have you ever stopped to consider that you're a narcissist ? A running theme in your posts is yourself. The fact that so many people are so eager to expose you shows nothing more than the fact that you are a universally disliked person.

Posted by Becky Backside on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 6:44 am

The running theme in your response to my posts on policy is to hijack the thread into an exercise of internet staking of me. You attack me, hijack threads from policy to personalities, because you are afraid of my ideas because you know that I know enough to be dangerous to you.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 6:52 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 7:18 am

Yet I continue to command your ever so valuable attention...

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:00 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:12 am

comments on multiple websites.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:22 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:47 am

And an irrelevance in everyone else's mind.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 7:19 am

No, seriously, how much did we take out of our house according to your research? Or is that yet another tactic to avoid the substantive discussion and frame the focus back onto the person?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:10 am

I'd have to go down to city hall and learn all about your lien history.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:11 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:23 am

Here's the original post that sent you all of on yet another hysterical campaign of ad hominem:

"Most Californians think that we should tax the wealthy more ( and it is becoming obvious that we should not build to the boom because it is impossible to build San Francisco up to affordability ("

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 8:55 am

It is nonsense, however.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 9:26 am

yet you respond repeatedly to a thread that you've not read...and hijack the conversation from the issues to the individual...and then you claim that the subject of your hijacking, of internet harassment that you've directed to an individual, is all about them, not you. Pathetic.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 9:57 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:43 am

Some of us remember the dot com busts and the effect they had on the overpaid tech sector. Some of us were humbled by the experience that drove many people out of the Bay Area. Let's see how many of the new hires living in the high-priced housing units fair when the next recession comes. The tune will change, they will learn humility, and many will leave.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 9:51 pm

Your wet dream hope for failure and misery isn't probable.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 6:08 am

So what? Then the next even higher boom will start...

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:22 am

Yes, if your wet dream is to live in a city of abject failure …. just move to Detroit.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:26 am

doesnt matter as long as we see higher lows and higher highs, which we always do.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:46 am

Why would you expect a world class city to be cheap? That's insane, all world class cities are expensive… EVERY ONE OF THEM. You must all be METH addicts…..

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2014 @ 10:57 pm

All these losers want Tech companies the "Pay their fair share", so their lazy loser lifestyles can be subsidized. You pay your fair share, you self serving losers! Take responsibility for your own lives and stop expecting others to prop up your lazy loser lifestyles….

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 10:13 am

"destruction of San Francisco as a progressive-minded city"

In other words, losing sheep who follow our self serving dogma.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 10:24 am

Subsidizing the poor in one of the most expensive city in the country is LUNACY Just freaking go to Modesto where you belong….. Money to house subsidized losers is a waste and selfish use of public funds and only benefits a few… NOT EVERYONE FAIRLY.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

All these losers expect landlords to be their bitches for life. Well the Ellis act lets land lords stop be your bitch, greedy property thieves !

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 7:00 am

wanted the profits and security of home ownership without the commitment and responsibility.

No can do.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2014 @ 7:17 am

Maybe if the anti development crowd will let developers build, build housing through out the bay area.

Posted by Garrett on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

do we really want NYC, or do we want a city with a local vibe?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

See all the stress and strife having such a large income inequality in a city creates? The only solution is to stop enabling the poor to live in SF and let it becomes the place just for the rich, that God and or evolution are channeling it to become. Stop fighting destiny !

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:38 am

See recent "clean-up-the-plaza" boards in the mission.

a) Maximus Realty
b) Robert Rosania
c) Bert Polacci
d) Parkmerced (see also predatory equity investments)
e) see rental prices at $3500-$4500 per month (aka NYC)
f) see his comments at a recent shin-dig talking about how undervalued land is in SF.
g) guess what's the next steps, a big land grab for profiteering green-$-greed throughout SF.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

I just love being able to NOT read the comments after reading an SFBG story.

Posted by Terrrie Frye on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

Of course, you would have to read them to know they were not worth reading so you're a liar as well as a bore.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

San Francisco gets more and more crowded every year as the population density increases on this relitively small peninsula. This has had a direct effect on quality of life issues.

SF Single family home zoning is a joke. Numerous "single family homes" are boarding houses with 10 or more tenants cars parked on the street, tenants dumping their trash in neighbors containers, cause the boarding house owners are to cheap to provide adequate containers for thier tenants.
plus they put their neighors at risk of being fined for having the wrong trash in the the wrong can. its like the politicians exspect us to guard our trash containers all night or risk a fine. remember the pretty boy mayor who proposed that law? hes now lt governor.

the politicians subsidize corporations to locate here, increasing competion for shelter and thus increasing the cost a roof over our heads.

There simply is not enough room for every one who desires to live here.

There already are too many people here. Enough already!!!!

Posted by SFTparty on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

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