Tale of Two Cities: Tale of Two Housing Measures

Everyone agrees we have a housing affordability crisis in San Francisco. Every public survey for a decade puts "housing" at the top of the list of voters' concerns. The data makes that unequivocally clear: The City has far exceeded its market-rate housing needs, having built 151% of its market-rate production goal, but only 48% of its affordable housing goal for lower income and moderate- to middle- income households. Those numbers reflect a very real “tale of two cities” – an imbalanced, if not broken, housing market in San Francisco.

This November, San Franciscans will have an opportunity to support the Affordable Housing Production Act, a ballot measure led by Supervisors Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, Shamann Walton, and Dean Preston, and backed by a coalition of labor, teachers, and affordable housing providers. This measure will create an accelerated path for the production of educator housing and mixed-use family housing of significantly increased affordability.

Fast and guaranteed approval is worth millions to developers, especially as San Francisco prepares its Housing Element update to increase development capacity throughout the City. The community-led Affordable Housing Production Act links those added profits to real requirements for housing that is affordable for working families.

The bill requires projects receiving the benefits of expedited approval to actually produce two- and three-bedroom units for low- and middle-income families desperately in need of affordable housing. It also invests in our workforce, requiring developers to hire a minimum number of state-certified skilled and trained workers and pay them a fair wage, health, and retirement benefits. This provision boosts our local economy, creates a pipeline for growing the workforce needed to build the housing we need, and ensures these workers can afford the housing they build with their own hands.

However, those who promote YIMBY (Yes in my Backyard) “trickle-down” housing economics are attempting to undermine this effort by pushing forward their own measure, which doesn’t require actual affordable housing, homes for families, or immediate development of new housing. Why would the YIMBYs want to undermine the coalition’s efforts with their own, separate measure?

It’s about the profits that can be made.

YIMBY, an organization funded by speculative real estate developers and Big Tech, has been historically against pro-housing policies including rent control, tenant protections, and improving the living conditions of those in single room occupancy hotels. While they market their ballot measure as providing “affordable housing,” what is actually happening is yet another deceptive scheme to maximize developer profits.

The YIMBY-backed “Affordable Homes NOW” measure will ask voters to change the legal standard of “affordable housing”, allowing individuals who earn over $130,000 per year to qualify for “affordable” units. If enough voters fall for this deception, affordable housing will be pushed further out of reach for working families, allowing market rate developers to receive expedited approval to build studios priced at $3,000 per month without any incentive to build family housing.

Further, this YIMBY proposal doesn’t even require the units to be built “now”. A project could be approved in an expedited fashion – but wouldn’t have to begin construction for up to three years. A developer could even sell their approved and entitled property during that time. To maximize profits, a developer could sit on their project for many more years to deliver homes only at their own convenience. For the majority of the public that is housing insecure, the AHPA would require projects to break ground immediately and within 24 months of approval.

Everyone today says they are for “affordable homes” because they know that’s what voters demand. But look beyond the self-promoting market-rate-driven developer arguments – projects that don’t help our low- and middle-income families shouldn’t get special treatment. And they certainly shouldn't get quick approval to sit on valuable land that could be better used to actually build housing NOW.

To stand for truly affordable housing and avoid succumbing to YIMBY deception, voters will need the alternative that this measure provides. It is championed by the San Francisco Labor Council, the San Francisco Building Trades, and leading affordable housing organizations, all who have a vested interest in housing working people.

If you believe in affordable homes now, there’s only one measure to support this fall – the Affordable Housing Production Act – and it’s the one backed by labor, community advocates, and affordable housing builders.

Rudy Gonzalez is the Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Building Trades. Kim Tavaglione is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. Frank Lara is an educator at the San Francisco Unified School District. John Avalos is the Executive Director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.