January 11, 2016 Housing Action Coalition

Debunking the Hysteria About the AHBP

AHBP_2As the Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) advances through the approval process, outlandish accusations against the proposal are being discussed in public hearings and neighborhood discussion boards across the city. Some claim this program will result in a wall of seven-story buildings along Ocean Beach. Others howl it will lead to “massive displacement” of residents in rent-controlled housing and evictions of small businesses. But the most wildly exaggerated claims appear in a 48 Hill blog post that has been stirring up fears and spreading misinformation about what the AHBP could actually accomplish – more affordable housing for low and middle-income earners.

The SF Housing Action Coalition has examined their claims and debunked several of these myths to offer a reality-based view instead.

The AHBP has moved through quietly, with little media attention.
48 Hills: 
“And other than excellent stories from People Power Media and sfbay.ca, it’s gotten very little in-depth news media attention.”

Since September 2015, 11 mainstream media sources have covered the AHBP. In addition, the Planning Department has provided extremely thorough information on their website, gave four informational hearings to the Planning Commission in 2015, held public programs at SPUR and is currently making presentations at community meetings in all 11 supervisorial districts. Since September 2014, the SFHAC has been regularly publishing content on the AHBP and has held its own educational presentations open to the general public.

It’s just the Redevelopment model repeated.
48 Hills: “No matter how you look at this, it’s the Redevelopment model,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. “And that model didn’t work.”

The AHBP is not remotely similar to this planning model. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the SF Redevelopment Agency used urban renewal as an argument to raze entire City blocks, displacing thousands of residents in the process. It’s universally viewed as a notorious failure by urbanists, including SFHAC, and has not been repeated since.

The AHBP is a voluntary program that developers may choose to build more homes on parcels that are currently unfeasible because of density limits. In exchange for increased density, and up to 2-additional floors, these new buildings will add 30% on-site permanently affordable housing. If fully utilized, SF Planning Department estimates it could result in the production of 16,000 new homes on across the City over the span of 20 years.

The AHBP doesn’t build much affordable housing.
48 Hills: “The right to construct taller buildings doesn’t really create much in the way of new affordable housing, since the developers can count the replacement units that were there in the first place toward their “affordable” responsibility.”

What this fails to take into account is that a very high percentage of the Planning Department’s calculations are parking lots, gas stations, and spaces that do not contain a single home. Instead, the authors focus their frenzy on the unlikely scenario that a developer chooses to demolish rent-controlled units in order to build a new apartment building under the AHBP. IF that is the case, IN ADDITION to the 30% on-site affordable homes required under the local program, developers would have to replace each rent-controlled unit with a new permanently-affordable, below-market-rate (BMR) unit. To mitigate any displacement, the Planning Department is exploring ways to implement relocation services available to any displaced residents through this program.

Supervisor Breed added an amendment that exempts rent controlled units from the AHBP for one year, until this is studied. Plus, the SFHAC and our members would not be supporting a program that permanently displaced San Francisco residents. As a community, we support the Planning Department’s efforts in finding reasonable solutions around rent-controlled buildings that might be impacted by the AHBP.  

Projects that use the AHBP wouldn’t undergo public process.
48 Hills: “Oh, and the new rules would pretty much end public input into neighborhood planning, since most of the new projects would be exempt from the normal hearing and appeal process.”

Again, this is entirely false. A project that applies the AHBP would undergo all the steps that a new proposal goes through from application to design review, to neighborhood notification and a Planning Commission hearing. The only difference is that AHBP projects could be appealed to the Board of Appeal rather than the Board of Supervisors. There would be ample opportunity for residents to provide feedback.

The affordable housing isn’t affordable.
48 Hills: “Potentially, some of the housing could go to people with incomes as high as $150,000 a year. So the developers aren’t losing all that much in exchange for their increased density.”

In addition to the mandated low-income housing, a new building would provide housing affordable to residents earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for apartments and 140% AMI for condos. Those homes would be available to middle-income residents earning between $82,000-95,000 a year, not $150,000. This is the first middle-income housing program the City has developed to address the fact that middle-income earners face housing challenges. Market-rate housing is too expensive yet they earn too much to qualify for traditional subsidized housing. Let’s keep our teachers, first responders, electricians and accountants housed in San Francisco.

Time for you to weigh in:
Don’t fall for these shrill accusations against the AHBP. It is a thoughtful, modest program that could add new housing along underutilized transit corridors and commercial districts for San Franciscans of various income levels. If you’d like to learn more about the program, check out the Planning Department’s Frequently Asked Questions page on their website or attend a community meeting.

If you believe this program is a step in the right direction in providing new homes at all levels of affordability, SIGN OUR EMAIL PETITION that sends and email to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission will be voting on this legislation on Thursday, January 28th. Join us at the hearing to support the AHBP. Without AHBP supporters there, the opposition’s voice will be the loudest. RSVP or contact info@sfhac.org.

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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