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Rage-Inducing Housing Law Splits In Two, Shoots for Approval

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A bid to head off competing housing program

The Affordable Housing Bonus Program, a mouthful of a proposed housing law that could add tens of thousands of new units to the city but also raise the skyline and the population density near major transit corridors, is still changing shape.

Last week, opponents put so much pressure on it that it split right in half, with one half making a quick dash for the finish line.

AHBP, if it ever becomes law, offers developers a deal: Build more affordable housing than you’re obligated to, and the city will let you build extra floors and units above density limits. The deal is two extra stories for most buildings, or three if your project is 100 percent affordable housing.

District Three supervisor Aaron Peskin and District One supervisor Eric Mar put forth competing legislation a few weeks ago granting bonuses exclusively to affordable housing developments.

So Katy Tang, the District Four supe who has long been the AHBP standardbearer, split the package in two, sitting on the parts of it that reward market-rate developers and pushing just the affordable housing bits forward for a vote today.

(The rest will wait until later this year, when the city finishes a few relevant housing studies. And, possibly, until after the election in the fall.)

Everyone wants to give a little sugar to the handful of developers who focus on 100 percent affordable housing. "Supervisor Tang and are I not that far apart on this," Peskin tells Curbed SF.

But other than that, the common ground is always shifting. Tang told Curbed SF that AHBP is the city’s only really effective tool for helping out small-time developers and middle class tenants, and says the competing legislation would stifle more housing than it spurs.

"We only build one or two completely affordable developments a year," says Tang. "That’s not going to address the housing shortage. Peskin and Mar’s bill is going to create barriers and limit the properties that qualify."

Tang insists that we can’t expect to get more affordable housing out of most developers without offering something in return. "Twenty-five percent or 35 percent affordable housing, we’ve never gotten that without offering an incentive," she says.

Peskin responds that no single law is going to fix the whole city, and that there are other ways to stir up more development, such as ADUs.

"My bill is mostly about securing soft-site structures" that need to be rebuilt no matter what, he says. "We don’t want market rate developers to gobble up those opportunities."

Now that city lawmakers have the authority to raise minimum BMR unit requirements, Peskin says developers will know what they’re getting into when they buy the land in the first place, and adjust their plans accordingly. He adds: "It looks like we’re in the eighth inning of this housing boom anyway."

Supervisor Mar declined to comment on either law.

In theory, the affordable housing element is the popular part of AHBP (the law as a whole touched off protests earlier this year) and should be relatively easy to pass on its own. But of course, anyone who wants to keep the competing bill alive may shoot it down today anyway.

"Peskin claims he has the votes," says Tang. "But we’ll see."