By Bob Linscheid
It’s no surprise voters place the cost of housing on top of the list of major issues facing San Francisco. Hardly a day goes by without a news story about rent spikes and bidding wars.
The rising cost of living in The City was recently featured in a slightly satirical “news” article, “Report: San Francisco to shut doors over rising rent.” The article notes The City has barely been able to make rent the past few months and that “San Franciscans say they’ll likely have to relocate their city to the Sacramento area.”
What’s not a joke are some of the ideas floating around to remedy the housing crisis. Perhaps the worst we’ve seen is on the Nov. 3 ballot: Proposition I, which, if passed, would block all new housing development that is not 100 percent affordable, including desperately needed multifamily housing in the Mission for 18 months.
That’s right. For some, the solution to the housing crisis is to stop building housing.
On the other hand, employers believe the solution to the housing crisis is to build more housing, specifically housing that is affordable to all income levels within their workforce. A larger supply of housing will help reduce the pressure on rents everywhere.
Let’s be clear: Simply banning the creation of new housing will do nothing to stop or even slow the demand for housing. And it is demand that drives up costs.
All of San Francisco is struggling with questions about the changing city, gentrification and affordability. Yet those who say they want to increase the supply of affordable housing — while blocking market-rate housing — are dooming their cause from the start. Why?
The market-rate homes built by developers help pay for affordable housing units. Developers are required by law to either pay into a fund for affordable housing or to set aside a certain number of units that meet the definition of affordable. This way it’s the developers and their full-price paying customers who subsidize affordable homes, partnering with The City to build the full range of housing needed to meet San Francisco’s growing population.
When housing construction is stopped, even temporarily, building affordable housing stops, too. Vote no on Prop I.
A much more sensible and needed solution is to vote yes on Proposition A, the affordable housing bond placed on the ballot by Mayor Ed Lee. This $310 million General Obligation bond will finance construction, acquisition and preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and middle-income households. Funds would be used to buy existing affordable rental units, provide assistance to struggling homeowners and repair public housing. And with the growth in property tax assessments that we’re experiencing, property tax rates are not expected to increase to pay the bond.
Yet another winner on the ballot is Proposition D, which seeks approval to make height adjustments necessary to revitalize an asphalt parking lot and historic Pier 48 on Port property south of AT&T Park. The project will provide residential, retail, office and open space and a new Anchor Steam brewery, benefitting The City as a whole.
Propositions A and D are solutions to the housing crisis that everyone can support.
This article first appeared in the Sept. 3, 2015 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.
Bob Linscheid is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.