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Breed’s housing measure heads to November ballot, while a competing proposal looms

Mayor London Breed speaks at the Affordable Homes Now Rally in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif. On June 19th, 2022. | Eloïse Kelsey for The Standard

Mayor London Breed joined District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, pro-housing activists, and members of Carpenters Local Union 22 outside 469 Stevenson Street on Thursday to announce that a ballot proposition seeking to pave the way for new housing will head to voters this November.

Dubbed Affordable Homes Now, the ballot measure would amend the San Francisco charter by removing the discretionary review process for eligible new housing units that are either meant to house teachers, are 100% affordable, or mostly market rate with 15% or more affordable units. Backers of the measure, who have been gathering signatures to place it on the ballot, say it could shorten construction timelines for new housing by years.

“70,000 units have been entitled in San Francisco and are waiting to be built. Just imagine if we flooded the market with 70,000 units…what difference it would make in terms of housing affordability,” Breed said.

The 469 Stevenson site became a flashpoint in the city’s housing battles last year. In October 2021, several supervisors were lambasted for voting down a controversial high-rise building planned for the Stevenson site, which is currently a parking lot. In doing so, they were blamed by YIMBY groups and pro-housing lawmakers for obstructing new housing development.

“[Affordable Homes Now] will change the approval process from a six-year process to a six-month process,” said Todd David, Executive Director of the Housing Action Coalition.

Under Affordable Homes Now, a project is eligible for streamlining if it adds an extra 15% of affordable units to what is already required under the city’s Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program, which requires that new housing developments include affordable units.

The ballot measure has received major funding from Twilio co-founder John Wolthuis and venture capitalists Garry Tan and Benjamin Spero.

Affordable Homes Now is just one of several housing-related charter amendments that voters may be asked to consider this fall.

District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan has introduced an amendment also meant to streamline the development of affordable or partly affordable housing. Chan’s amendment, called the Affordable Housing Production Act, differs from Affordable Homes Now by adding additional streamlining requirements, including size and affordability requirements for studios, which must be no less than 300 square feet and rent for no more than 80% AMI. It also requires that 30% of affordable units have 2 bedrooms and 20% have 3 bedrooms.

Mayor London Breed acknowledged the competing charter amendment, calling its existence “unfortunate.”

Dorsey, whose district covers the Stevenson site, pointed to state-mandated housing quotas as a reason to speed up construction. San Francisco is severely deficient in constructing affordable units, and Dorsey said that the proposed 495-unit development planned for 496 Stevenson which was voted down by the supervisors is an example of the perfect being the enemy of progress.

“If it complies with the law, let’s build it,” Dorsey said.

Local 22, which represents construction workers, lauded Breed’s ballot prop over others for a provision it contains that would require that workers building housing would be unionized but not have to graduate from apprenticeship programs.

Chan was not available for an interview, but issued an email statement through her office in response to criticism of her ballot measure’s provision which calls for skilled union labor to be used for streamlined housing construction.

“On May 24, I introduced a ballot measure to accelerate the process to build real affordable housing that San Francisco working families can afford. This measure will be a safeguard against any deceitful attempts to mislead San Franciscans about market-rate housing as affordable, and further displace working people,” said Chan.

Chan’s amendment must be approved by a majority of the Board of Supervisors, and the board is expected to consider the measure in the coming weeks.

Chan isn’t the only supervisor calling for changes to housing policy: Another proposed charter amendment from District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin would require that new housing units built in upzoned areas are subject to rent control.

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston also introduced a charter amendment which would create a new department, the Housing and Community Development Department, to supersede the Mayor’s Office of Community Housing and Development.

Correction: June 30, 2022
An earlier version of this article misstated the contents of Affordable Homes Now and Affordable Housing Production Act.