February 5, 2016 Rob Poole

Building Affordable Housing in San Francisco Just Got Easier

129 Golden Gate

I am delighted!!! This eliminates at least one of the hurdles in trying to get an affordable housing project entitled.” – Pat Scott, Booker T. Washington Center

Last week marked a huge win for affordable housing and San Francisco residents. The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 (D7 Sup. Norman Yee voted no) in support of streamlining the production of 100 percent affordable housing projects by exempting them from needing a conditional use (CU) permit. Getting a CU permit requires the applicant to prove to the Commission that the project is “necessary or desirable”, an absurdity for 100 percent affordable projects. They’re both!

The measure, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, could shave off at least three to six months from a affordable housing project’s approval timetable. That creates more certainty that these badly-needed homes will get financed and out of the ground faster. More details can be found in our earlier blog.

Ali Gaylord, Director of Development at BRIDGE Housing, captured the importance of this legislative win when she said:

“BRIDGE Housing supported this legislation in order to remove administrative barriers to affordable housing production. The Conditional Use authorizations can cause project delays which are costly in relation to the costs of materials increasing over time, but also as affordable housing providers are faced with strict funding deadlines for scarce financial resources. BRIDGE is a long-term owner and operator of affordable housing in San Francisco. We look forward to continuing our engagement with community members in the City, particularly when we begin the development process at a new site.”  

The SFHAC’s community organizing involved getting 99 San Francisco residents to email their support to the Planning Commission as well as bringing affordable housing builders to speak at the hearings, including BRIDGE Housing, John Stewart Company and Robert Stevenson of Pantoll Advisors. Speakers also included Pat Scott, Booker T. Washington Center, as well as representatives from Mercy Housing CA and Larkin Street Youth Services. Other pro-housing and smart policy groups like SPUR, SFBARF and Grow SF were heard, too. All understand the vital importance of streamlining 100 percent affordable housing production, especially during an affordable housing crisis.

This legislation moved out of the Planning Commission with a 3-3 vote (Commissioners Richards, Wu and Moore opposed; Fong, Hills and Antonini in favor; Johnson absent), sending it to the Land Use Committee without a recommendation. Luckily, it moved forward on a unanimous vote at the Land Use Committee (Supervisors Wiener, Cohen and Peskin), and finally to the full Board of Supervisors for adoption on January 25th.

This also means that a proposed ballot initiative will be pulled from the June ballot. Supervisor Wiener introduced the measure when he thought it might have trouble getting passed as legislation. Fortunately, the weight of community opinion on the issue turned the tide.

While there was concern expressed that the legislation would hinder community input, those concerns were addressed thoroughly. As Robert Stevenson noted, affordable housing developers do not get selected to build projects in San Francisco if they don’t have an excellent track record of community outreach and engagement. Mercy Housing also addressed the challenges of meeting financing deadlines.

…the timing of commission hearings can conflict with the funding cycles of NOFA’s (Notice of Funding Announcement) on which our projects’ financing is dependent. Many funding programs, such as the state’s Housing and Community Development’s Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, offer NOFA’s that require planning approvals as a threshold for funding but NOFA’s are issued on annual basis only. To miss the NOFA can delay a project for an entire year or mean missing out on millions of dollars of state funding.”

SFHAC thanks Supervisor Scott Wiener for pushing this sensible legislation and all the Supervisors who supported it at the full Board. This is one of many solutions San Francisco needs to get housing built faster for low- and middle-income residents.

Image: Vera Haile Senior Housing, Mercy CA

Rob Poole

Rob is the former Development and Communications Manager at SFHAC.

Stay Up to Date

Get weekly updates with housing news, HAC updates, and more!