SF coalition aims to put housing fast-track measure on November ballot

Charter amendment would streamline affordable projects, homes for teachers

San Francisco mayor London Breed (Getty Images, iStock/Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
San Francisco mayor London Breed (Getty Images, iStock/Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Housing advocates frustrated with the pace of development in San Francisco aim to place a charter amendment on the November ballot that would fast-track projects that include affordable units.

After striking out at the Board of Supervisors, a coalition backed by Mayor London Breed is launching an Affordable Homes Now initiative that would streamline development by several years by allowing some projects to avoid the city’s discretionary review, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The charter amendment would hasten projects that are 100-percent affordable, cater to teachers, or add 15 percent more below-market-rate units than required under the city’s affordable housing rules.

The coalition supporting the measure includes GrowSF, Habitat for Humanity, Nor Cal Carpenters Union, the Housing Action Coalition, SPUR and YIMBY Action. The coalition has raised the $1 million estimated cost for signature gathering to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

“We believe the Board of Supervisors has completely failed and is incapable of addressing the housing crisis,” said Todd David, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition. “We have thought for a while that in order to address the housing shortage and displacement crisis we were going to need to bring it directly to the voters.”

Breed has made three attempts to put the charter amendment on the ballot since 2020, and has been unable to get needed support from the Board of Supervisors. In order to get on the ballot, charter amendment initiatives require either a majority vote at the Board of Supervisors or the signatures of 52,000 voters.

San Francisco ranks as the fifth-costliest housing market in the nation relative to income, behind New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Newark.The average family in the Bay Area city must fork over 66 percent of income to buy a median-priced home.

Buying a home in San Francisco now requires a family to earn at least $350,000 a year, with fewer than one in five able to afford a median-priced home.

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YIMBY Action executive director Laura Foote said polling shows that more than 60 percent of voters would back a housing charter amendment, which requires only a simple majority to pass.

“Housing is popular — more people want it built than don’t want it built,” she said. “It’s just that the people who don’t want it built have a disproportionate say in the process.”

Others say not so fast – that most affordable housing projects are already streamlined by other laws — SB35 and the 2019 Prop E, which addressed educator housing — and that the cost of living in market-rate development is too high for workers at risk of being displaced.

Fernando Marti, director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said the charter amendment was “a market rate streamlining bill masquerading as an affordable housing bill.”

He said the city should encourage developers to start construction on tens of thousands of housing units that are approved, but have not been built. This includes thousands of units at multi-phase mega-projects like Parkmerced, Schlage Lock and Candlestick Point.

“They are trying to create a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Marti said. “Is the problem how much housing has been approved and entitled or is the problem that investors are not investing right now?”

[San Francisco Chronicle] – Dana Bartholomew

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