Real Estate Reporter

Tackling housing affordability at the ballot box

Once again, San Francisco voters will tear open their ballot envelopes or step into the voting booth and start to mark their choices for various officeholders and ballot measures in October and culminating on Nov. 5, election day. This election includes two — well, two and a half — propositions that have an impact on the city’s housing and real estate markets.

The first two propositions we’ll cover try to address the severe lack of affordable housing in the city; the “half” proposition is more quixotic.


This ordinance would let the city raise $600 million from the sale of bonds, with the proceeds going to building, rehabilitating or buying affordable housing. The measure would allow landlords to pass on to tenants 50 percent of the property tax increase resulting from improvements to their units. Over four years, it could lead to an estimated 2,800 new affordable units.

The writers of the ballot measure note that this city has arguably (pick your sources) the nation’s highest median rents, hitting $3,700 for a one bedroom apartment, in Zumper’s estimate.

If the measure passes, $150 million of the proceeds would be used to repair and reconstruct public housing; $220 million would be allocated to build, buy, and rehabilitate housing for extremely low- and low-income renters; $30 million would go to preserve units at risk of being removed from the affordable market either due to market forces or because of disrepair; $30 million would be used to help middle-income residents obtain affordable housing; $150 million would help acquire and build senior housing; and $20 million would be used for projects serving public school teachers and employees.

According to city Controller Ben Rosenfield, the taxes necessary to fund the bond issuance would average $11.72 per $100,000 of assessed valuation between fiscal year 2020–21 and 2041–42. “Based on these estimates, the highest estimated annual property tax cost for these bonds for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $600,000 would be approximately $101.57,” Rosenfield wrote in his analysis.

Why is it on the ballot? Because general obligation bonds can only be issued with the support of two-thirds of voters who vote on the proposition.

Will it dramatically change things? No, but it is one dent in the big problem of a lack of affordable housing.

Proposition A is supported by the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed. It is opposed by the Libertarian Party of San Francisco.


If passed by voters, this measure would try to address affordability challenges faced by employees of the San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco Community College District by allowing affordable housing on publicly owned land. The units would be deed restricted for 55 years for tenants who qualify as very low-, low-, or moderate-income households. Each household must include at least one employee of the school or college district. By my reading, this leaves out educators and other school employees who work for private schools, unless they marry a public school teacher. (And, I may have missed it, but if that one employee quits, retires, or is fired, does the family have to move out?)

Controller Rosenfield estimated that the ordinance would favorably impact government costs in a minor way, with expenses trimmed by a reduction in development and construction times.

Proposition E is supported by Mayor Breed and Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Matt Haney, Aaron Peskin, and Shamann Walton; again, opposition is courtesy of the Libertarian Party of San Francisco.


This bill would require SuperPACs to more fully disclose the names of their funders and would restrict campaign donations from real estate interests. Though this mostly seems like a political transparency act that would be attractive to all of us who want to know the Koch-types behind massive national dark money campaign operations, the San Francisco Chronicle notes that “the measure would also place strict limits on contributions by people or companies that have major land use matters — worth $5 million or more — before the city.” That sounds like a rather targeted pet peeve.

Indeed, Rosenfield says it will have little impact on city spending, but notes that “the ordinance includes a new section of the Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code prohibiting any contribution to a member of the Board of Supervisors, a candidate for the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor, a candidate for Mayor, the City Attorney, or a candidate for City Attorney from a person, or the persons affiliated entities, with a financial interest of at least $5 million in a land use matter before various specified boards within 12 months from the date of the final resolution of the matter.”

Why single out developers and real estate interests? An attempt to regulate the free political speech of specific groups would seem to be a big magnet for a lawsuit. Some voters might be tempted by it because they agree with the anti-developer politics that are so popular right now or because they don’t pay enough attention to the proposition and they wrongly think it will expose dark money of all types. Unfortunately, the ballot question aides this misconception, asking simply, “Shall the City establish new restrictions on campaign contributions to local elected officials and candidates, and apply new disclaimer requirements to campaign advertisements?”

Proposition F was put on the ballot by Supervisors Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, Sandra Lee Fewer, Hillary Ronan, and Rafael Mandelman. According to Ballotpedia, it is supported by additional Supervisors Norman Yee, Shamann Walton, and Vallie Brown, as well as the San Francisco Democratic Party, Represent.Us, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the San Francisco Labor Council. The San Francisco Republican Party is the opponent of record with the city’s election department; apparently the Libertarians took a pass on this one.


Whatever your views on these propositions and the other measures and candidates on the ballot, remember that the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 21, and election day is Nov. 5. If you don’t know where your voting location is or you have questions about voting by mail or early voting at City Hall, visit

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