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City Set To More Than Double Affordable Housing Demands

If voters approve, that is

City Hall is now telling developers to start paying the piper a little bit more when it comes to affordable housing, although it will be up to voters in June whether or not to really drop the hammer.

In a 9-2 vote on Tuesday (Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell comprising the minority), the Board of Supervisors approved a measure granting themselves the power to adjust affordable housing requirements for multi-family developments.

Presently, the rate for most big developments (i.e., 10 or more units) is 12 percent. However, critics have long grumbled that that’s not enough given the cost of living in San Francisco these days and the eagerness with which developers have been putting stakes into the ground.

The freshly minted law would first loop around to ask for extra units out of buildings already in the pipeline, upping the requirement to between 13 and 14.5 percent, depending on when the building filed its paperwork. (The total yield would be about 200 BMR units.)

Insofar as future buildings are concerned, the requirement becomes a full 25 percent, or 33 percent if developers opt to build affordable units off-site. "The market should be accountable for building affordable housing, not just luxury housing," said District Six supervisor Jane Kim, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Of course, those figures could come down. That’s the whole point: To give the city flexibility. The 25 percent figure is meant as a placeholder until the City Controller assesses what rate would yield the most new affordable housing without frightening away builders.

As one of two dissenting voices, D8 supervisor Wiener said he wants to see the cap raised, but complained that colleagues are jumping the gun.

"There’s no basis for this 25 percent. It’s just a number that sounds good," said Wiener. "We could name lots of numbers that sound good. But 25 percent of zero is zero."

Supervisors Wiener and Farrell want the city to assess the effect an increase would have on development before setting it.

But D3 supe Aaron Peskin, another co-sponsor, waved off his naysaying colleagues, pointing out that the 12 percent rule was created without a study in the first place. "This will immediately and automatically create 200 new affordable units," noted Peskin as he pulled BMR leases out of a hat like some sort of progressive magician.

Mayor Ed Lee worked on the bill with supervisors, making it a shoo-in for his signature; but it’s the voters who will ultimately decide. The new law will be for naught unless they pass Prop C in June and remove the 12 percent rule from the city charter. If that cap goes, future developments will be in the hands of lawmakers.