Building Affordable Housing Without the Perks

We’ve discussed local measures addressing affordable housing and zoning, but what’s being done at the state level? Let’s see what our local assembly members have on the docket for housing.

Assemblymember Phil Ting represents Assembly District 19, which roughly covers the western half of San Francisco and Daly City. While his district mostly consists of homeowners and families, he has introduced a bill regarding new affordable development requirements. Unlike the Mission District or SoMa, the west side has yet to see a swell in new developments,. though there is a growing discussion over increasing development there.

Ting’s Assembly Bill 915 (AB 915) states that developers in any city or county that has adopted an ordinance requiring an affordable housing minimum percentage must build the affordable units within the new development. Simple enough, but if developers are already required to build a minimum of 12 percent affordable housing in San Francisco, why do we need this law?

Presently, developers can set aside 20 to 33 percent affordable housing units to a city fund, or build the units offsite. Developers often choose the former, setting aside funds into a city budget. New housing developments are rarely built with the funding, as the land set aside for affordable housing developments becomes more and more expensive to build on. With Ting’s bill, developers would be required to build the 20 to 33 percent affordable housing (based on number of total units in the building) onsite. Building affordable housing within new units means more affordable housing is being built within various neighborhoods — ensuring diversity and affordability in all communities.

YIMBY Action penned a letter in opposition to AB 915, arguing the bill would repeal the state density bonus law by reducing economic incentives, forcing municipalities to pass new laws, and effectively reducing the supply of new housing. In the first reading of the bill, AB 915 authorized local governments to require developers applying for a permit to build affordable housing, and developers would not receive any incentives or density bonuses.

This may seem counterintuitive, as the debate around affordable housing is that it is too costly for developers to build. Between state and county loopholes, below market rates, and the cost of building in California, developers should be provided some incentive to build affordable housing.

However, what we are seeing in San Francisco is the potential to abuse the state density bonus — developers can utilize the incentive to build above the height limit, but move the affordable housing off-site.

As it stands today, Ting’s bill is a supplement to the state density bonus, ensuring the percentage of affordable housing already required by city or county ordinance to be built on-site. Therefore, the developers cannot have their cake and eat it too — they have to build the minimum percentage of affordable housing on-site, period.

Affordable housing is often built in neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic status, which lack access to amenities that wealthier neighborhoods take for granted — grocery stores, parks, transportation, and so on. In addition, building affordable housing units separate from market-rate development reinforces the sense that those who rely on affordable housing are lower-class and undesirable to have as neighbors. In reality, those who benefit from affordable housing include teachers, nurses, and firefighters — members of the workforce who are also feeling the rental squeeze.

By requiring developers to build the amount of required affordable housing within their project boundaries, it expedites and encourages affordable housing production, while creating diverse and equitable communities. Developers should not take advantage of incentives to build as high, as expensive, or as luxurious housing units to extract additional profits at the expense of affordability.

If you agree to what AB 915 is proposing, please voice your support and email Assemblymember Ting via his website.

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