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City Hall Factions Jockey to Reshape Housing Development

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Possible measures offer both carrots and sticks to developers

Little by little, San Francisco legislators are reshaping the future of housing development in the city. But while developers, housing advocates, the mayor, and the city’s progressive and moderate groups jostle for leverage, the clock is steadily ticking toward a November election that will change the makeup of City Hall.

Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considers a proposed amendment to the city charter that would grant them the power to lower or raise the affordability quotas in new housing. Right now, most projects of a certain size (10 units or more) must designate at least 12 percent of on-site units as below market rate (BMR) units.

Previously, District Six supervisor Jane Kim and District Three’s Aaron Peskin had proposed a June ballot measure that would bump the requirement as high as 25 percent, but they unexpectedly withdrew that proposal last week. Now they are replacing it with this charter amendment on the table, which could do effectively the same thing. If it passes, the board would have the power to raise or lower the BMR requirement.

The mayor’s office and SF developers say that a 25 percent mandate would kill construction in the city. The politicians backing the idea actually agree, but want the option of imposing such requirement for the sake of bargaining leverage.

Meanwhile, the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, a rezoning plan that, if passed, would grant extra units and additional floors above existing zoning limits to developers who agree to set aside a greater number of BMR units on certain parcels—30 percent of the total if you want two more floors, or 100 percent for three—is set for its first showdown with the board this month, when it goes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee.

The AHBP more or less passed the Planning Commission last week. The commission voted not on the project as a whole but on the individual parts of it, with some commissioners suggesting that it was too ambitious and recommending the number of parcels included be drastically reduced. The proposal has been divisive in the affected neighborhoods, with many protesting the idea of more dense development.

The Land Use Committee consists of Supervisor Scott Wiener, a board moderate, Peskin, a progressive, and Board President London Breed, a swing vote. If they approve it, it will go to the full board for a vote. Right now, progressives have a 6-5 majority at City Hall, but three of those six are termed out at the end of the year, leaving only a few months for the coalition to make its mark on housing issues before the balance of power potentially shifts again.