ÖOn one of the first rainy days in drought-stricken California for months, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stood before the rain in an unfinished store on the city’s gentrifying Market Street. Exposed pipes ran past bare plaster and cold concrete floors, but the dreary backdrop had a shining meaning: Above the retail space were nearly two dozen brand new apartments that were below market prices and the kind of housing the land-restricted, high-priced city badly needs – and the mayor praised it.
Housing in San Francisco has become the most expensive in the nation, sparking an affordability crisis that has driven protesters onto the streets and low-income workers from their homes. It has also sparked a lot of activity at City Hall, where politicians have come up with proposals to address housing problems and alleviate simmering class tensions in the city. Lee’s recent efforts, announced at a retail press briefing on Thursday, call for red tape in the cumbersome review process for new projects and priority for proposals that include units for lower-income residents.
Other proposals were more ambitious and far more controversial. Here’s a look at seven other plans to solve the San Francisco real estate crisis:
Build, build, build
One of the city’s biggest problems is that far more people want to live here than can currently fit. In his State of the City address in January, Lee announced the ambitious goal of building or renovating 30,000 new homes by 2020, equivalent to 5,000 a year – and a massive increase over the rate the city has built. In 2011, only 260 units were completed in City by the Bay. Lee said he wanted a third of the new units to be “permanently affordable” for lower-income residents.
Let the landlords pay for evictions
City overseer David Campos proposed a law on Feb. 4 that would require certain landlords to evict tenants from rent-controlled buildings in order to essentially subsidize the new, higher rents they could be forced to pay. The landlords would have to offset the difference between the controlled rents and the market price for this apartment for the equivalent of two years. Unsurprisingly, developers and rental companies refused.
Density has long been a lightning rod among the city’s residents, and San Francisco is limiting new construction projects to density. For developers, more apartments in a building generally mean more income from that project. To get developers to focus on building affordable housing rather than luxury condominiums that can accommodate new tech riches, City Supervisor Scott Wiener has suggested that the city raise density limits for any project that is at least 20 % consists of affordable housing units, completely removing the density boundaries for projects that offer 100% affordable housing.
City guides have also proposed laws that would turn illegal “in-laws” into legitimate housing stock. These can be apartments that are actually converted garages, inconspicuous but habitable rooms that technically do not correspond to the code. There are tens of thousands of such units in the city. “They house a lot of people. The rent tends to be much lower, ”says Wiener. Their legalization is also causing an uproar among NIMBY types who don’t want buildings that are designated as single-family homes to suddenly become two-family homes.
Lee recently met with technology industry executives, many of whom supported his candidacy, and encouraged them to become much more involved in local philanthropic causes. The anger of the displaced has been directed against many of these successful companies that are attracting well-paid workers to the city, which in turn gives developers another reason to build these luxury condos. Some companies are already struggling to be seen as part of the housing solution rather than part of the problem: Twitter, which moved its headquarters out of town to the mid-market after a tax break, has posted its legal staff to represent Locals pro bono during the eviction process.
No more buyouts
Currently, developers behind any new housing project in the city of 10 or more units will have to rate those units 12 percent below market price – or pay the city a fee to opt out. Peter Cohen, co-director of the council of municipal housing associations, has suggested that the city remove the pay-not-to-play option that developers may use to help more homes bring in more rent in the long run, even if only the rich can afford.
Protect what is there
Under San Francisco law, most units built before 1979 are subject to rent controls, and city guides work to keep the residents of these buildings in place. On February 4, the mayor said the city intended to make it more difficult to take the existing housing stock off the market by requiring hearings to review if housing loss is proposed. Another city administrator tabled a controversial proposal late last year prohibiting the merging, conversion or demolition of a property for 10 years after most evictions.
At the press conference, Lee spoke strongly about the city’s housing problems. The city, he said, has to be “almost militaristic about building” for people who have no money.
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