HOME-SF: The Good, The Bad, The Downsized

To increase housing production in transit corridors across the city, District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang has proposed legislation known as HOME-SF (formerly the Affordable Housing Bonus Program), which aims to increase affordable housing production, especially for middle-income families, along transit corridors. Previously, Supervisor Tang attempted to pass this legislation last year, but only the exemptions for building heights on 100 percent affordable housing ordinance was passed.

ahbp_map_mixed-use_1200x900px
In the map above, most of the Affordable Housing Bonus Program units (AHBP) are in already dense neighborhoods primarily in the northern half of the city. Since the AHBP is focused around transit districts, availability is sparse in the sunset and other western neighborhoods.

Middle-income families are defined in the legislation as earning between 60 and 150 percent area median income (AMI). The legislation also requires a minimum of square feet and number of bedrooms per unit, building affordable housing not usually available to families.
The Planning Commission cites that under HOME-SF:

  • 30 percent of all new housing is required to be permanently affordable
  • All new housing includes units affordable to middle-income, working class families
  • 40 percent of new units are required to include two or more bedrooms
  • No displacement of existing tenants

Let’s take a look at each of these programs and how they will impact residents and small businesses.

30% of all new housing is required to be permanently affordable.

As mentioned in our earlier article, the issue with non-protected affordable housing is that landlords/developers/owners price out tenants who are paying below market prices for rent, and the units are subsequently converted into market rate housing.

Additionally, the 30 percent of permanent affordable housing depends greatly on which inclusionary proposal passes. The proposal Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim proposed requires affordable housing to include lower- and middle- income residents, whereas Supervisors Tang, Ahsha Safai, and London Breed’s proposal includes almost entirely middle- to above-medium income residents. Whichever proposal passes will designate these units be permanently affordable for the respective residents earning a certain income.

All new housing includes units affordable to middle-income, working-class families. Previously, those who qualified for affordable housing were capped at 90 percent AMI, so certain working families were excluded from applying for BMR units. Teachers and other working class individuals often earn between 75 and 90 percent AMI, and with a combined income their family would not qualify for affordable housing. This new legislation means they would qualify for affordable housing — especially designed for families by providing more than one unit — under HOME-SF.

40% of new units are required to include two or more bedrooms.
However, if a teacher happens to be a single parent and needs to rent a unit with two bedrooms, they wouldn’t qualify for a BMR rental unit under HOME-SF. Additionally, households would need to earn 120 percent of AMI qualify for ownership of these set aside units under HOME-SF.

Finally, space is compromised in the density bonuses allowed to developers. Open space, residential and commercial parking, and yard sizes are permitted to be reduced. Suffice to say that single unit sizes will be between 600 – 1,000 square feet, resulting in small units for families to cramp into. Between smaller living space and reduced sizes in amenities, it doesn’t make for a comfortable living space.

No displacement of current tenants.
In order to build higher, existing buildings need to be retrofitted or replaced entirely. Also, to account for increased height limits on buildings, new residential units will need exit stairs and elevators to comply with safety code. However, lots on the west side will need to be combined to accommodate for the additional amenities. What will happen if a property owner wishes to add additional units to his building, but cannot do so without purchasing additional land? The tenants who reside next to the property must be accounted for, for if they are evicted or priced out to make way for additional housing next door, the legislation does not protect tenants.

Furthermore, existing businesses will be displaced. To build additional housing on top of commercial space will require those businesses to be torn down, or moved out for remodeling. Often, the landlords can refuse to renew the businesses’ lease or increase rent dramatically.

So what does this mean for housing policy?
While HOME-SF addresses the need for middle-income housing, San Francisco must focus its policy on permanent affordable housing for all. San Francisco currently leads the rest of California in housing production per resident. However, most of these new units are either market rate, or if they are BMR units, they are not permanently set aside for affordable housing, and tenants can effectively be priced out.

This legislation also hinges upon which inclusionary legislation passes at the Board of Supervisors. Assuming the Planning Commission’s recommended 18 percent inclusionary legislation passes, this will essentially price out low-income families from being able to apply for BMR units in San Francisco. The 18 percent inclusionary that Supervisor Tang is a co-sponsor of gives a bigger piece of the inclusionary housing pie to those who make middle- to above-median incomes, while the lower-income residents receive less. This only continues to fuel the separation of low-income and section 8 housing units and market-rate housing, creating segregation.

While Supervisor Tang’s legislation does well in addressing housing needs for those who normally “make too much income” to qualify for BMR units, its execution leaves much to be desired. The specifics in the legislation allow for loopholes for developers to displace corridors of small businesses, build tall buildings while compromising unit and amenity size, and cause undue hardship for businesses and residents in these highly renter-populated areas.

3 thoughts on “HOME-SF: The Good, The Bad, The Downsized

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  1. Tax Credit/low income 2 Bedrooms are typically 700-750 square feet. Explain why you’ve never written to complain about low-income families living in “cramped” spaces but now that market rate and middle income families may be its become a thing.

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    1. Hi Sam! Well, in our defense, we’re about four posts into this blog but hope we’ll return to the topic 🙂

      There is a degree to which one has to accept that the quality of market-rate BMR housing is not going to hold a candle to quality in nonprofit affordable constructed developments, not simply in terms of size but also available resources, because a private builder is naturally incentivized to economize the BMR square footage they’ve been granted by HOME-SF in favor of the MR units. Still, form-based density allows for corner-cutting not just in the size of the BMR units themselves but also in the size of common spaces for the children that’ll ostensibly be moving into these units, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about what the apartment space will look like for a 3-4 person household since the developer ultimately will make those determinations and are receiving concessions in yard size, court size, etc. in exchange for constructing the units in the first place.

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  2. I get that it’s reasonable to be concerned, I truly do, Mission Housing builds high quality tax credit units governed by much more than SF Planning so that’s valid. What I’m worried about is that you’re not so much concerned as that you are assuming they’ll be SH*$ units from the get go. SF BMR rules state you can’t provide something for the market rate units that you don’t for the BMR units. Also, as much as I agree open space and all that is awesome, how do you explain places like NYC, where families live through generations in 700+/- SF and still the world turns?

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