Increasing Housing Affordability in the Central SoMa Area Plan
Following this month’s passage of Prop K, San Francisco has set a goal of ensuring at least 33 percent of the new housing is affordable to low and moderate-income residents. This has focused attention on the evolving Central SoMa Area Plan, since it has the potential for significantly more height and density than many other neighborhoods.
The SF Planning Department recently asked SFHAC’s members for suggestions on how to increase housing affordability beyond what is currently required by the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. The SFHAC believes there are ways to achieve this. Some of these ideas include:
1. Increase development capacity on scarce land by increasing height limits as part of a density bonus ordinance. Increased height is probably the single most important change that could improve overall housing affordability.
2. Implement an Inclusionary “Dial” that would allow folks with middle incomes access to permanently affordable housing. These limits exclude enormous numbers of middle-income folks who earn too much to qualify for BMRs, yet not enough to afford market-rate housing. Since allowing higher income limits would reduce the subsidy for each unit, more affordable homes could be built.
3. Reform the Off-Site inclusionary rules to encourage partnerships between market-rate and affordable housing builders. This could increase the amount of Inclusionary BMRs from 12 to 20 percent. The current rules for off-site affordable housing have been a notable failure in promoting off-site housing. This is ironic given the strong interest expressed by SFHAC member firms from the two sides to work together.
4. Add flexibility and streamlining to process and environmental review. The SFHAC has spoken about this for many years. There is a significant economic cost for the long time it takes to get residential development through planning and entitlements to the market.
5. Allow infrastructure impact fees to support housing affordability. New residential development currently supports a wide variety of impact fees for numerous public benefits. While these benefits are undeniably important, they are ultimately borne by the price of housing and there is an upper limit to this without limiting its economic feasibility. Given the housing affordability crisis, there should be a frank discussion whether some impact fees could be used for housing affordability instead.
6. Begin discussion of a citywide housing bond ballot initiative. All housing stakeholders agree that an enormous part of the housing affordability crisis is the lack of resources to address it. The fairest way to begin is with funding whose cost is borne by the widest population possible. It is time to begin discussion of a citywide ballot initiative, such as a general obligation bond that would be used to support housing affordability.
Stay tuned. The SFHAC is working on this and as the Central SoMa Area Plan moves forward our position will become more detailed.
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. View all posts by Housing Action Coalition
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