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Why can’t anyone build affordable housing in the Mission?

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“There is a raging crisis ruining our city,” says District Nine Supervisor Hillary Ronen

Photo by vincent noel/Shutterstock

Supervisor Hillary Ronen wants to know why no one has managed to build new affordable housing in the Mission District. A Monday hearing on the pressing issue yielded frustration due to lack of a clearcut answer.

“The Mission has not had any new affordable housing units built in nearly ten years,” Ronen informed the room at the Board of Supervisor’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting.

“There are seven 100 percent affordable buildings in the pipeline, that’s 778 units on the way,” she added. “We have not broken ground on even one project. We need to know why it’s taking so long.”

The Mayor’s Office of Housing promises all of those projects will begin by the end of 2019. However, representatives from various city organs struggled to explain the reason for the holdup.

“We’re developing more housing in the Mission than any other neighborhood,” said Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Dan Adams.

But changes in costs drive delays, according to Adams, saying “We’re in a super high construction cost environment right now.” Many projects must also remain in a holding pattern while seeking necessary funds.

Adams also alleged that state-level rules like SB 35, which was designed to speed up construction, are falling short.

Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the Planning Department, testified that entirely affordable-housing projects move through the entitlements process at “twice the clip” of other buildings.

Sider wasn’t able to articulate a specific reason for the habitual holdup, but later promised to draft “legislative changes” for faster approval.

Department of Building Inspection [DBI] Engineer James Zhan reminded Ronen that the process is, at times, lengthy for a reason.

“We are obligated to make sure each application complies with every code,” said Zhan. “It does take time. We can’t review them the minute or the day or even the week they come in.”

When Ronen asked how much faster affordable projects move through DBI, Zhan could only say, “Probably not [the] three to four weeks” it usually takes for other residential buildings.

When the hour was done, Ronen seemed to have no better answers for her questions.

“This isn’t rocket science,” said the lawmaker, slamming the departments’ testimony as “vague” and “loosey-goosey.”

“There is a raging crisis of families and individuals dying on our streets, having to leave the city, take their kids out of school,” added Ronen. “It’s the issue of our time. It’s ruining our city. I’m not seeing that urgency.”