Peskin Seeks Legislative Solution to Family Housing Exodus

by Randy Shaw on February 27, 2008

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin introduced legislation yesterday that will meaningfully increase affordable housing opportunities for the city’s working families. The legislation mirrors a proposed ballot measure for June that Peskin had joined with Supervisors Dufty, Maxwell and Mirarimi in supporting; given the Board’s support for the measure, Peskin saw no reason to place it on the June ballot. Peskin’s move eliminates complaints that the proposed Family Housing Initiative represents “ballot box planning,” and confirms the broad support for programs that help keep families with children in San Francisco. But the debate regarding the family housing measure over the past month has made one thing clear: some housing advocates oppose any solution to the family housing crisis that involves the private sector, believing that only the nonprofit groups should address families needs.

Supervisor Peskin’s decision to proceed legislatively to enact a measure offering density bonuses to increase the city’s supply of affordable family housing makes sense on many levels. The only potential downside is that San Francisco voters will not have a chance to send a message about their support for family housing, an opportunity that will be deferred to either November 2008 — if the Supervisors unexpectedly do not pass Peskin’s measure — or in a future election involving a different initiative.

What has been learned since the Family Housing Initiative was submitted to the Department of Elections on January 15 is that while seemingly everyone rhetorically favors more “affordable family housing,” this does not necessarily translate into support for specific actions to accomplish this goal.

For example, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick was quoted in yesterday’s Chronicle stating in regard to the city’s failure to meet its affordable housing goals, “What we’re really doing is telling kids to get out of town. What we’re doing is economic banishment.”

This great quote does not reveal that McGoldrick has been the only member of the Board of Supervisors to publicly oppose the family housing initiative. Meanwhile, in his nearly eight years on the Board, McGoldrick has taken no action to specifically address the problem of families with children leaving San Francisco.

What McGoldrick does consistently support, as does a broad range of San Francisco, is increased funding for nonprofit owned affordable family housing. But funding shortages and a nonprofit capacity problem has left this sector unable to adequately address family housing needs.

Consider that with all the fighting against market-rate projects in the Mission, nonprofits have built no affordable family housing in that neighborhood in years. And that when the Mayor’s Office of Housing recently issued a Notice of Funding Availability for family housing, the deadline had to be extended because too few nonprofits even applied for the funds.

Tragically, since 1981 the federal government has abandoned its historic role of ensuring decent, safe and affordable housing for all Americans. The number of Americans benefiting from federal housing funding has declined for decades, with only a slight up tick in the last two years of the Clinton Administration.

The lack of federal money has forced states and localities to come up with housing funds, and forced nonprofits to spend years seeking funding from a patchwork of sources. The result is a typical scenario in which it takes five years from the time a nonprofit purchases a site to its use as affordable family housing.

The lack of resources has led many to conclude that San Francisco’s working and middle-class families should at least get some of the benefits from the city’s market rate housing boom. This is the goal of the family housing measure, which encourages builders to make all of their required affordable units two-bedrooms or more, rather than continue having 62% of the city’s inclusionary units be studios or one-bedrooms.

Some are troubled by a measure that makes market-rate housing appear to be doing something positive to solve the city’s affordability crisis. The fear is that connecting market-rate housing to the goal of keeping families in San Francisco will increase public and political support for projects that are primarily serving upper-income residents.

So while everyone says they favor more affordable family housing, that’s not quite true. Some housing advocates do not support expanding such housing in market-rate projects, and some do not see providing affordable housing for families of four earning between $69,000-$103,000 — the current affordable homeownership targets under city law — as a priority.

The family housing measure creates a long-overdue opportunity for public debate about the city’s affordable housing strategy for families. Participation will extend beyond the usual suspects who commonly testify at public hearings, with the first public hearing on the legislation expected by mid-April.

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