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City leaders are seeking innovative ways to stimulate affordable housing development; they are not talking about bringing in the military, but U.S. sailors did pitch in for this Habitat for Humanity affordable housing project in the city photo: U.S. Navy / Aviation Electronics Technician AirmanSandra Gomes

November’s general election is shaping up to be another one in which voters will be confronted with multiple options for addressing the same problem: the rising cost of city housing.

On June 17, Mayor Ed Lee placed a measure on the ballot for the November election that would support his seven-point plan to build or rehabilitate 30,000 units by 2020. Joining the mayor in supporting the measure are supervisors London Breed, Mark Farrell, Katy Tang, and Scott Weiner. Voters will be asked to approve the measure, which would:

  • create a funding plan for more than 50 percent of the 30,000 units to be within the reach of low- and middle-income households;
  • allocate at least one-third of the Housing Trust Fund’s appropriations to severely dilapidated Housing Authority units;
  • find new revenue sources to support middle-income housing, and study the impact of luxury development on middle-income housing;
  • make sure no new barriers prevent the production of housing in planned areas; and
  • funnel new housing into areas where the politicians have already planned for it.

The measure addresses some of the key problems with developing affordable residences in this city, though it leaves other existing challenges untouched.

“The two largest impediments to building housing in San Francisco are the costs to do so and the amount of time it takes to go through the city’s process,” said Farrell.

Supervisor Jane Kim submitted a competing proposal that would require 30 percent of all new units created in the city to be priced below the market. The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, a group supporting housing for all income levels, cautioned that “ballot-box land-use planning is not the solution to solve our housing crisis,” and the group’s executive director, Tim Colen, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Kim’s proposal is “a NIMBY dream tool.”

On Facebook, Kim responded to criticism: “If committing to building 30 percent of housing for 60 percent of our city is going to halt all development, San Francisco is in a lot of trouble.”

Wiener has his own proposal working its way through the city government. In mid-June, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended his plan to incentivize the creation of affordable units in private, mixed-use developments. If a developer makes at least 20 percent of the units affordable (compared to the 12 percent that is required), the affordable units will not count against unit density, meaning — as Wiener explained — “if you do at least 20 percent affordable, you can build as many additional affordable units as you want.”

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