Monday, March 03, 2008

The affordable housing scam

It's the dirty little secret of city planning---the shell game city officials play on the affordable housing issue. When you hear Supervisor Daly boast about the affordable housing that will result from the development fees he extracted on the Rincon Hill deal or Supervisor Mirkarimi claim a victory for affordable housing after selling out the city and the neighborhood to UC, you need to understand that it ain't necessarily so.

As the chunk of the city's planning code (Section 315 under "zoning procedures") cited below shows, developers are allowed a lot of wiggle room when it comes to satisfying the city's affordable housing mandates. They can actually build the required affordable housing on site of the project in question, which sometimes happens. They can build it somewhere else in the city, or they can simply pay an "in-lieu" fee to the Mayor's Office of Housing, money that is supposedly used to build affordable housing in SF.

How much housing is built using that fund? Here's a disturbing quotation from the 2004 Housing Element: "The City adopted its Inclusionary Affordable Housing Policy in 1992, and placed an affordable housing requirement on housing projects greater than 10 units that sought a planned unit development or conditional use approval...the inclusionary housing policy produced only 128 affordable units from 1992 to 2000."

We can only hope that it's been doing better since then! But if hopes were bikes the homeless could ride in Critical Mass. The important thing to remember is this: when prog windbags like Daly and Mirkarimi talk about all the affordable housing they have guaranteed as a result of the terrible deals they make with developers, they should tell us where those housing units are going to be built, on-site or somewhere else? Or even if they are going to be built, or is the city simply allowing the developers to make a nominal payment to the Mayor's Office of Housing to satisfy their affordable housing obligation?

How the system really works is well understood by progressive demagogues like Daly and Mirkarimi, who score political points when they brag about how they have leveraged more affordable housing in a particular project. Daly and the Murk assume---correctly, by and large---that the rest of us don't understand the shell game that they and the Planning Department play on this important issue. We need to let them know we now understand how the game is played.

(e) Alternatives: The project sponsor may elect to satisfy the requirements of Section 315.4 by one of the alternatives specified in this Section. The project sponsor has the choice between the alternatives and the Planning Commission may not require a specific alternative. The project sponsor must elect an alternative before it receives project approvals from the Planning Commission or Planning Department and that alternative will be a condition of project approval. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a project sponsor elects an alternative other than the on-site alternative, the project sponsor still has the option to choose the on-site alternative up to the issuance of the first site or building permit. If a project sponsor fails to elect an alternative before project approval by the Planning Commission or Planning Department, the provisions of Section 315.4 shall apply. The alternatives are as follows:
(1) Constructing units affordable to qualifying households at an alternative site within the City and County of San Francisco pursuant to the requirements of Section 315.5.
(2) Paying an in lieu fee to the Mayor's Office of Housing pursuant to the requirements of Section 315.6.
(3) Any combination of construction of on-site units as provided in Section 315.4, off-site units as provided in Section 315.5, or payment of an in lieu fee as provided in Section 315.6, provided that the project applicant constructs or pays the fee at the appropriate percentage or fee level required for that option.

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