San Francisco housing Photo: Rodrigo Paredes/Flickr

San Francisco is looking for a housing crisis hero. Conceptualized by the San Francisco Planning Department about a year ago, the proposal for the Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) is Mayor Ed Lee’s efforts to ease displacement caused by sky-high housing costs.

The Associate on Bay Area Governments forecasts an increase of 174,045 people by 2030, resulting in a need for 72,530 new homes by that year. According to an AHBP memo, the program is looking for “new ways to accommodate more housing units into the existing urban fabric in order to meet current and future demands without negatively impacting neighborhood character.”

Overview of Mayor Ed Lee’s three primary goals to address housing crisis as outlined in 2014:

  • Construction of 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes throughout the city.
  • At least one-third of those permanently affordable to very low, low and moderate income families.
  • The majority of those within financial reach of working, middle class San Franciscans.

To attain those goals, Mayor Lee formed a Housing Working Group with a subcommittee who focuses on the AHBP, which in turn focuses on the third goal: the working, middle class.

The four key policy goals of AHBP include:

  1. Incentivize greater levels of on-site affordable units. Instead of a project automatically paying an in lieu fee to avoid having to accommodate 12 percent of units as affordable as required by the San Francisco Planning Code, they would be tempted with a greater incentive. The incentive amount has not yet been released.
  2. Improve the feasibility of underutilized sites. Here they described this goal as a way to offer “zoning tweaks” for outdated zoning controls implements in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly referring to density limits and height controls. In short, they want to build up the avenues and other sleepy suburban neighborhoods.
  3. Establish a middle-income housing program. With the middle class swiftly disappearing from the city’s social landscape, the AHBP is promising to be the first program in the city “to secure permanently affordable housing for middle income households without public subsidy.”
  4. Facilitate the entitlement of 100 percent affordable housing projects. Rather than the affordable housing units getting tied up in legislative red tape, ABHP will expedite the process.

But what will these goals look like in practice? Well, according to The Examiner who reported from the hearing, it will “offer developers bonuses of two or three extra stories in exchange for building units affordable to those earning up to 140 percent of the median income for a family of four, which is $142,000.”

Additionally, Supervisor London Breed introduced an amendment that will protect existing affordable housing from demolition under the AHBP. However, this will not protect commercial spaces — small businesses — from building owners looking to rebuild completely under the program’s incentives.

The potential pros and cons of the program are hefty, and at a time when three voting city supervisors will be termed out this November. It’s too soon to predict which way the city’s balance of power will swing.

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