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SF Voters To Decide If Affordable Housing Should Be Cheaper, Easier for Renters

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Housing initiates: the real San Francisco treat

What do San Franciscans do in an election year? Vote about housing, of course.

The June ballot already has Prop C, which would allow city legislators to increase minimum affordable housing requirements. This week it welcomed two little brothers in the form of proposed November amendments, one that would double the income thresholds on who qualifies for affordable housing and another that would demand contractors bid on the right to build off-site affordable units.

The Middle Income Inclusionary Rental Housing Eligibility proposal notes that getting into the Mayor’s Office of Housing lotteries for affordable units can be a pretty tough needle to thread; potential renters can usually make no more than $44,850 a year for a household of two, or $56,050 for a household of four.

That’s not a lot of money. And of course, that’s the whole point; but as the would-be law points out, even San Francisco’s chronically underpaid public school teachers have a median pay of over $59,000, disqualifying most of them (unless they have a truly voluminous number of dependents).

It’s the classic middle-class squeeze: Too poor to buy, too rich to get a break.

The proposal would double the income ceiling from 55 percent of the area median income to 110 percent. This would presumably lead to a huge influx of applicants for already scarce affordable leases, and make the long odds on housing lotteries even longer. But it would also cut some slack to a lot of working people in the city who might otherwise be forced out of the area (something we are seeing more of these days).

Also a possibility for November is the Competitive Bid for Publicly Funded Housing measure.

Short and sweet version: The city uses public funds (developer fees) to build off-site affordable housing, presently by picking whatever contractor they want. Proposition boosters want contractors to have to bid to get those deals, which they say would curb nepotism and cut costs for the city.

However, some folks at City Hall will tell you that the bid process we have on civic projects is a bum deal already, since it encourages cutting corners and rewards D+ work that barely meets the minimum standards on the cheap. (See: the Haight infrastructure project that nearly blew up the street several times last year.)

With that in mind, the proposition acknowledges that the city can deny the lowest bidder if they want, but they would have to explain to the public why they made said decision.

Both measures are in the title and summary phase of the process, and are listed as "pending" right now.