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Progressive Lawmakers Demand 100 Percent Affordability for Density Bonuses [Update]

Behold the alternative proposed for rage-inducing density law

The Affordable Housing Bonus Program, a proposed law that would grant extra floors and extra units to developers of certain parcels in exchange for more affordable leases in the finished buildings, has been stuck in political limbo since February.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisors Eric Mar and Aaron Peskin gave the matter a push, albeit from the opposite direction: The duo pitched a new law Tuesday that Mission Local frames as an alternative to AHBP, indeed granting extra floors over existing zoning to developers if they make good with BMR units in finished buildings.

The difference is degree: Mar and Peskin propose that bonuses of two floors should be given only to buildings that are 100 percent affordable. This is a decidedly smaller carrot than the competing plan, which offered three floors to completely affordable buildings, and two floors to buildings that offer 30 percent BMR units.

But it’s presumably much easier to rally the city’s political left behind a law that would benefit affordable housing developers exclusively. Critics of AHBP have framed it as a giveaway to developers, or even as the offspring of the loathed redevelopment programs that steamrolled neighborhoods like the Fillmore and Little Manila in the past.

(Activist Calvin Welch referred to the program as "ethnic cleansing" in January. AHBP boosters call that a bridge too far. Along with the Financial District, the highest concentration of AHBP-qualifying parcels are in Bayview and the Western Addition.)

D4 Supervisor Katy Tang has been AHBP’s biggest advocate, repeatedly warning that the program was designed as a response and stopgap against the ramifications of a state supreme court ruling that grants developers even greater power.

Representatives from the various supervisor’s office couldn’t immediately comment on whether the competing proposal would also appease the state law, deferring to the Planning Department. We’ll update you with any answer that comes.

Update: Supervisor Tang tells Curbed SF that although the new proposal is narrower in scope, the two would-be laws mostly cover the same ground in terms of appeasing Sacramento.

"The state requires local jurisdictions to adopt an ordinance regarding density bonuses, but it does not prescribe what is contained," Tang says. The city has to have a program; the nuts and bolts are up to us. There is theoretically some incentive to make the plan attractive to developers, lest they decide to appeal local regulation in favor of state law.

A spokesperson for Supervisor Mar pointed out two additional elements that distinguish this plan from AHBP: This one would require Conditional Use approval for any density upzoning, and also establish Area Median Income guidelines by neighborhood rather than just relying on one citywide average.

Tang criticizes the AMI idea, speculating that it will "create confusion about who gets to qualify" and possibly stiff some residents. But she adds she's willing to work with them on it.

Peskin's office has yet to return our calls.