The unanswered question: How do we bridge SF's affordable housing gap?

The Bridge Housing media roundtable on March 14 couldn't answer the fundamental housing affordability question.
Steven T. Jones

Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on Friday, again getting no good answers.

The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called “affordability agenda” and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled Friday’s media roundtable.

“There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen,” was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.

One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.

When I brought up other ideas from last week’s Guardian editorial for capturing more of the city’s wealth — such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts — Parker replied, “We’d be in favor of a lot of that.”

Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies.

Stated another way, about 80 percent of housing we’re building is for a small minority of city residents, or the wealthy people that these developers hope to attract to the city. And we’re not building housing for the vast majority of city residents. That is a recipe for gentrification, displacement, and destruction of San Francisco as a progressive-minded city.

Parker parroted Lee and other pro-development boosters, including SPUR, in arguing that city needs to make it easier and faster for developers to build new housing of all types. “In San Francisco, we do need to expedite the [housing] entitlement process,” Parker said.

But when asked whether meeting or exceeded Lee’s housing production goals would ever bring the price of market-rate housing down to the level where someone more 120 percent of AMI — which HUD recently set at $81,550 for single San Franciscans, or $116,500 for a family of four — Parker conceded that it wouldn’t.

The bottom line for San Francisco and its overheated real estate market is we can never built our way to affordability. The only way to build housing that most people can afford is with public subsidies, and San Francisco just isn’t asking enough from its wealthy individuals, corporations, and developers to create an Affordable Housign Trust Fund that is anywhere near big enough to meet the real demand.

That kind of assertion seems radical by the standards of today’s skewed political (and online) discourse. But when I raised it to a panel that included Bridge Housing officials, members of SPUR and HOPE SF, and a panel of journalists from such pro-development outlets as San Francisco Business Times, San Francisco Magazine, SocketSite, The Registry SF, KQED, and TechCrunch (as well as the more Guardian-aligned Mother Jones), nobody had any good answers or remedies to that basic question that we’ve raised again and again.

Instead, some of the business journalists offered a more sober assessment of what’s to come than most of this city’s pro-development boosters, noting a few signs of irrational exhuberance in the local economy.

The Registry’s Vladimir Bosanac said he’s observed a recent trend of developers buying up unentitled land, indicating more optimism in the sustainability of this development boom than market conditions might warrant. Adam Koval of SocketSite, an early predicter of the last dom-com crash, also voiced sketicism in the pervasive “this time is different” faith in the tech sector, noting how realms such as gaming and online coupons are losing steam and predicting that commercial rents are plateauing.

“I think there are some real gut checks coming up,” Koval said of the tech sector and the sustainability of its growth and valuations.

Perhaps it’s also time for a gut check by Mayor Lee and others who argue that we can build our way to housing affordability without any major new efforts to capture more of the wealth now being generated in San Francisco, wealth that might not be here later if we continue avoiding the question of how to provide the housing that San Francisco needs. 


You claim that 80% of the new homes being built in SF are for the "wealthy". But then you claim that the wealthy are the "one percent".

Well, which is it? If you are defining anyone who buys a home in SF as being wealthy, then clearly the number of people who are "wealthy" by your definition is far greater than 1%. There are probably 200,000 people who won their home in SF. So 25% of the city's population are "wealthy".

So cannot tax your way into prosperity. Affordable homes cost the same to build as market-rate homes. That requires a subsidy of about $200,000 for each home. So the level of taxes required to build, say, 100,000 "affordable" homes would be something around 20 billion dollars.

Not only is that an insane economy-busting amount of money to raise locally, but those homes would get over-subscribed by all the new demand that is created by creating something artificially cheap.

Why don't you produce some actual numbers, Steven. And show exactly where these alleged taxes would come from? Along with an analysis of the impact of those taxes on the local economy?

Or would you rather just bleat about "taxing the rich" but offer nothing real or tangible.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

I didn't refer to "the 1 percent" in this article, and there's no contradiction between saying the 1 percent are wealthy and those who can afford the median home price of nearly $1 million are wealthy. 

I've linked to articles with specific dollar amounts (ie $80 million a year from congestion pricing, which would also reduce traffic and pedestrian deaths). You want me to talk about how taxes hurt the economy, but the fact is this country has had a booming economy when tax rates were far higher than they are now (such as in the '50s, and again in the '90s), so I think that argument is a ruse. I'd rather focus on your tacit admission that San Francisco can't or won't build housing for current residents. So why is it that market rate housing developers get to decide who lives in San Francisco?

Posted by steven on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

helpful because clearly, if you have to be wealthy to buy a home in SF, then at least one third of the SF population are "wealthy" by that definition.

But then how helpful is the term "wealthy"? Does that mean the school teacher I know who bought a TIC for 400K? Does that mean the nurse I know who bought a condo for 500K? Should we not build homes for people like that?

SF doesn't need to "build home for current SF residents" because those residents already have homes, despite your claim that they cannot afford them. We build new homes for locals who have aspirations and want to live better, and for folks who wants to move to here to work in the knowledge and sharing economies. Are you saying we should not build homes for them?

We had higher taxes in the 1950's, it's true. But we also had segregation and gays lived in fear of their lives. You want to turn the clock back, but highly selectively? The trend to lower tax rates was global - it didn't have much to do with SF.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

I'm glad Steven didn't waste any of his time by responding to this tripe from "The Question Troll." (What's The Question Troll? That's the useless resident troll whose main tactic for trolling on this site is by constantly asking insipid, stupid, and inane questions to bait Steven and others).

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:34 am

inconsistencies and contradictions in Steven's analysis.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:08 am

Please show your assumptions and your working, along with your computations.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

What are you proposing to make it easier for anyone to build more affordable housing in SF, Steven - other than demanding tax revenue that somehow never seems to materialize into more housing, or demanding that developers bring down prices to a level that verges on an operating loss for them?

Have you supported incentives to reduce costs and encourage the construction of more BMR housing - like Wiener's proposal to allow more density for larger onsite BMR allocation? Have you considered measures to reduce the overhead in construction? Easier permitting? Reducing opportunities for NIMBY roadblocks?

Or have you immediately dismissed the folks suggesting these things as shills for developers, out of your fear they might yield a profit for someone somewhere?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

Because he is also a NIMBY. If he really wanted cheaper homes he would want more homes. But he opposes every single new home that is market rate, claiming it is "for the wealthy" even though that is nonsense.

His real message is tax, tax and tax again. And ironically if he got his way, SF homes would be affordable because all the wealth, success and prosperity would relocate and we would be an economic shithole.

And he would not care at all.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

It's sometimes hard to avoid the conclusion that a lot of progressives in SF don't care nearly as much about increasing the availability and affordability of housing as they do about keeping the city's doors closed to people they're not as fond of.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

And then waging relentless war on them by us

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

Read the article and its links, and then you'll learn that I and others directly addressed your flawed belief that building more market rate housing does anything to address the housing needs of the vast majority of city residents, who simply can't afford market rate housing in San Francisco. And to the previous commenter, building affordable housing doesn't require any change in the entitlement process, it simply requires more resources. Unlike market rate developers trying to strike why the real estate market is hot, the need for affordable housing in San Francisco is eternal, persisting through the ups and downs of the business cycle, so speed is less important than political will. 

Posted by steven on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:05 am

are already in SF, because they already have homes else they would not be living here. That is why "living here" means.

We are building homes for the folks who will be moving to SF in the future and who want to love here now, but cannot because they are priced out by NIMBYism and rent control

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:20 am

Except you didn't address the comment at all. It mentioned a proposal to increase BMR housing construction in return for allowing more density - a proposal not just concerned with market rate construction - and you ignored that.

And the other proposals mentioned there are directly related to reducing the cost of building housing, thus helping lower the market rate - and the cost of future BMR, for that matter. You ignore this as well.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:46 am

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Posted by taruhan bola online on Apr. 13, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

Co-managing the shitpile.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 5:56 pm

and doesn't care as long as that paycheck arrives in his bank account twice a month.

After all, he has bills to pay and the revolution can wait.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

Well that should delight you since you don't give a fuck about progressives or progressive politics, Mr/Ms Right-Wing. If that's what he's doing, then that should delight you, insipid one.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:36 am

But I do give a shit about the issues that professional progressives pretend to care about and I see that we've got a few activists who have, as Valerie Solanas said "good jobs co-managing the shitpile."

Since this claque of mutual admirers came to dominate the progressive political scene around 2006, the progressive political position has deteriorated by half each year. Yet they still get paid.

Tim Redmond presided over decades of hand-wringing at the scope of loss, yet he never had the cojones to actually confront the paid advocates who had successfully negotiated our way to failure and decline. His firing was mourned with a progressive state funeral.

When it comes time to Steven's good times, the BORG nonprofit cash out debacle in a virtual city with virtual residents that does not exist for 51 weeks out of the year, the outrage is sustained. But when the poverty nonprofit BORG runs the progressive movement into the ground, risking the residence of tens of thousands of San Franciscans, it is chirping crickets and tumbleweeds rolling down Main Street of Guardianville.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:15 am

progressive politics means, and prefer a more moderate, centrist administration of the city?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 7:05 am

Or even just a more inclusive and less doctrinaire and judgmental progressive movement. Just because we don't agree with you, Marc, doesn't mean we lack to the will or commitment to these values. I'm trying to be inclusive and expand the movement, not exile people who don't pass your purity tests.  

Posted by steven on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:10 am

Uh, the left activists are the ones scoping down the realm of progressivism. It is all just about "the most vulnerable" on one hand and selling out to moneyed interests to care for "the most vulnerable" on the other. The fear of "moving to the right" by broadening an appeal is rendered a hoax by the deals cut with big money interests.

The fear of reaching out to any San Franciscans without direct economic interests in politics is what has wrung the success out of progressive politics.

All progressives are reduced to now is attacking San Franciscans for their own good.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:20 am

class of people, including those whom you describe as "big money interests".

It's about working with them and reaching compromises with them to get at least some of your goals. Rather than staying ideologically pure and achieving nothing.

Being an extremist is hard because you always have to move to the center to get elected, to get power, and to get things done.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:32 am

Mainstream liberalism is not extreme.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

how you regard yourself. So very few extremists regard themselves as such, whether left or right.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

My electoral politics are mainstream liberal. I regularly put together winning voting majorities of members of official bodies on which I serve. My ideal politics are extremist but they are not my electoral politics.

That I connect with people outside of the corporate, for- and non-profit claques is what really scares those with a vested interest in continuing corruption.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

Most Americans would regard you as a left-wing extremist and it is hard to think of many US cities where you would not be laughed at for your anti-business beliefs.

I'm not aware of any "official" bodies that you claim to serve on, but I'd be surprised if you could get elected to any public office. Apparently you tried and failed.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

The results and outcomes speak for themselves. The major impediment to moving a mainstream middle of the road liberal agenda is not conservatives, rather "progressives" with claims on the general fund and foundation grants. After three times of being slapped down by the complaint lap dogs, I quit giving anything but criticism of these spies and saboteurs.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

anti-growth, anti-development and anti-business.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

There is nothing to be taken seriously by those compelled to project marginalizing framings onto others behind the cloak of internet anonymity.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 1:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

describe the efforts you are making to reach out to the following groups:

1) Bankers
2) Realtors
3) Developers
4) Investors
5) CEO's of big business

Give tangible examples of how your thinking has been changing by carefully listening to them.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:22 am

Democracy is only legitimate if it is centered around the voters first and foremost, not legal fictions of corporations and those individuals who operate through them.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

common interest. Likewise unions.

As individuals we get to elect politicians that are either favorable or unfavorable to business and, even in SF, it's usually the former. People want to see successful businesses and generally see their interests aligned with them.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

Corporations provide limited liability to their investors and officers, those limits should be further expanded for these artificial persons.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

align for a common cause. There is no logic to hate them nor to deny them collective influence.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

Corporations are not mentioned in the US constitution where flesh and blood human beings are defined as the sovereigns. Why do you have popular sovereignty?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 5:20 am

If they had no rights, we could ban unions from having a voice.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 8:09 am

A "less doctrinaire and judgmental" progressive movement, like that which fills its news sites with a few articles daily about the need to exile all new arrivals and those working in the tech industry to far-flung exurbs ASAP.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 11:52 am

Earlier Steven wrote: "Just because we don't agree with you, Marc, doesn't mean we lack to the will or commitment to these values."

Trolls hijack the discussion by shifting it from issues to personalities as Steven does here.

It is not a matter of agreeing with me or not. What counts, as mentioned above are outcomes.

But now that you raise it, what does it mean that the claque is finally turning to ideas that I'd promoted years ago but which they feared at the time?

- Affordable housing dollars going to buy Ellisable buildings into CLTs

- Ellis eviction relocation benefits that track to well settled CURA/FURA relocation benefits

- The Affordable Housing Trust Fund

After a decade they finally take my advice yet Steven asserts that they disagree with me. What does it say about the extent to which the claque personalizes EVERYTHING? I mean, they feared holding Quezada accountable to the extent that they held back as he sold the neighborhood off for peanuts. Sara Shortt actually posted "I WILL NOT LET marcos GET TO ME" cut and pasted many times on her facebook status. Why would these people fear me so if there was no substantive reason?

That's the deal steven, the Mission is up for sale so long as you pay the nonprofit tollbooth to provide jobs for a few hundred people to pretend to care for the dwindling poor. This is happening on your watch as a progressive advocacy journalist because you are not holding the claque accountable because they are your friends. Ditto for ped and bike perils as your friends in the livability crowd takes developer money to lard up the City on condos which means more cars, more traffic and more blood in the streets.

It is happening on the claque's watch, and they're as concerned with me than with those powerful forced allied against San Franciscans. Perhaps that is because I come to the table with the truth and the others come to the table with money. Dude, coming to the table with good ideas and good intent is not sufficient when the outcomes continue to increasingly favor corporate dominance. There might as well not be a Guardian and the claque might as well not get paid.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

like he is the only Supe who actually wants to create new homes rather than micro-manage existing homes. His ideas aren't just the higher densities but also new micro-apartments and allowing new il-law units in existing homes.

Wiener actually gets it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

"Wiener's ideas have been god [sic]...

The Wienerbot has dutifully genuflected and spoken about their god and savior Wiener. Now it's time in the service for your version of The Nicene Creed. The first line:

"We believe in two gods, our gods Wiener and Lee."

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 12:30 am

which was that Wiener's ideas actually create new housing, rather than trying to stop new housing?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:10 am

Real Estate cash is what they believe in, kow-towing to Wall Street.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:22 am

Considering that almost all of Marcos' assets consist of "Real Estate cash", complaining about it is rather rich.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Posted by racer さ on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 6:53 am

will personally profit from it in the same way as have Hestor, Welch, Shaw, Redmond, Daly, Mirkarimi etc.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 7:10 am

Real estate in San Francisco will appreciate over time irrespective of what public policies are brought to bear. Increasing the production of housing will not drive down prices but will drive up profits.

Would that the "real estate cash" locked up in our home were available to counter the real estate cash that purchases elections and nonprofits like the real real estate boosters do.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:14 am

"Would that the "real estate cash" locked up in our home were available to counter the real estate cash that purchases elections and nonprofits like the real real estate boosters do."

Hey, Marcos - go to your friendly local bank, take out a HELOC loan, and you can buy elections and nonprofits to your heart's content.

"Real estate in San Francisco will appreciate over time irrespective of what public policies are brought to bear."

Real estate always goes up! When a hard-working H-1B visa holder replaces you, you can always sell real estate with that attitude.

Posted by racer さ on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:28 am

but that "activists" should be allowed influence.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:44 am

Yeah, I'm a real cheerleader for the professional activists.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:52 am

not try and influence the results of elections in the same way as some others use money to try and do that.

Maybe we should abolish campaigns, campaign finance, activists and just have election day? I'd be happy with that but it's probably too democratic for most vested interests.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 9:08 am

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