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Affordable Housing Program to Go Before Planning Commission For Third Time

In the last round, concerns and questions made for a nine-hour meeting

San Francisco’s planning commissioners are more than likely stocking up on caffeine and carbs in anticipation of a marathon Planning Commission hearing starting at noon today. The long hours will be on account of the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, a bit of proposed legislation so contentious that the last hearing about it, back in January, lasted nine hours.

The AHBP is meant to encourage voluntary development of more affordable housing: If developers promise to designate 30 percent of the units in new buildings along certain key commercial corridors as below market rate (BMR), the city will automatically up-zone those projects for an additional two stories. If a building is entirely BMR units, three stories are allotted.

The proposal, long in the works at City Hall and now in the midst of a series of trials to see if it will become law, has divided neighborhoods. Some San Franciscans just don’t like the idea of taller and more dense buildings on principle, while others are suspicious of anything they think smells like redevelopment. Many of the relevant parcels are in the Bayview and Western Addition, neighborhoods which historically have not come out on top in redevelopment plans.

AHBP boosters point out that it would only affect a small number of parcels throughout the city, that the program is meant as a stopgap to prevent developers from trying to ram through even taller buildings, and that the proposal has been amended to prevent landlords from using it as an excuse to demolish rent-controlled buildings (an early concern voiced by protesters).

But many are not convinced, and that nine hour January hearing teemed with so many objections from concerned citizens that a final vote was put off until today. This actually the second hearing this week on the program; planners went before the Small Business Commission on Tuesday to make the pitch there as well.

The one kink planning hasn’t been able to iron out is that small business owners will get the shaft if their landlord decides to demolish the building to make room for a new, taller, more profitable structure.

"What's the maximum protection the city could afford retail businesses?" Commissioner Paul Tour-Sarkissian wanted to know.

"There's some language we can craft," said planner Kearstin Dischinger, citing a fund to help displaced businesses find new homes. "But there’s no rent control for commercial spaces," Dischinger reminded them. State law forbids most renter protections on commercial spaces, meaning there’s not always much the city can do about it.