YIMBY Ballot Proposition

The YIMBYs submit a ballot measure at the Department of Elections.

Pro-development activists partner with affordable housing developers to streamline affordable housing construction. So how does it work? 

Earlier this year the San Francisco Chronicle profiled Etoria Cheeks, a San Francisco public high school math teacher and badminton coach. Despite earning about what the average San Francisco Unified School District teacher did for the 2015 school year ($65,240), Cheeks was homeless.

In San Francisco, the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment is $3,500. This eats up 64 percent of the average teacher’s salary. San Francisco’s teachers must pay a greater percentage of their salaries to afford rent than in any other city in the nation, according to Apartment List.

In one of America’s richest cities, our credentialed public school teachers can hold graduate degrees, yet live one misfortune away from sleeping on bunk beds in hostels, homeless shelters, or friends’ couches.

One group is seeking to address the fact that middle-income families can’t afford housing in San Francisco.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving members of YIMBY Action, SFHAC, and Mission Housing submitted the first YIMBY Ballot Measure to the Department of Elections. According to the press release, Affordable Housing for Teachers and Working Families seeks to make regulatory changes to get more 100% affordable housing projects built in San Francisco.

As well-paid entrepreneurs and software engineers move to San Francisco for high-paying tech jobs, the city hasn’t built enough housing to keep pace, shooting rents sky-high. According to Tim Coyle of Coyle Consulting, CA is home to 13% of the nation’s population. Over the past 20 years, California has only issued permits for 8% of the housing it’s needed.

But as little luxury and market-rate housing as we’ve built, we’ve built far, far less housing that middle-income San Franciscans can afford. Between 2007 and 2014, local governments in the Bay Area permitted 99% of the needed housing units for Above Moderate income households, but only permitted 28%, 26%, and 29% of needed Moderate Income, Low Income, and Very Low Income housing units (respectively).

“We haven’t built middle-income housing in SF in 30 years,” SFHAC Executive Director Todd David said. Rising rents are pushing our firefighters, EMTs, and nurses hours away from the city.

That includes people like Erin Hanlon, a social studies teacher at Lowell High School, who could only afford “flophouses” in San Francisco. “You weren’t allowed to use the kitchen,” Hanlon said. “You had your room in his house, and the bathroom, and that was it.” Hanlon ended up in Pacifica, living with her friend’s mom. Other teachers take night jobs driving for Uber and Lyft.

During our interview with David, a man named Marty came over and told us that his father recently sold the house he was raised in on Dolores Street for $2.3 million dollars. “My dad was a carpenter,” Marty said. “He could never buy a house here today.”

Soon after the Chronicle story came out, Mayor Ed Lee announced a plan put $44 million toward 150 units of educator housing on the site of the Francis Scott Key Annex in the Sunset.

This isn’t the first attempt at building homes for teachers. Earlier this year San Jose rejected 16 affordable apartments for teachers because housing teachers would erode the tax base. Around that same time San Jose residents chanted “build a wall” in a city council meeting to protest a plan to build emergency housing for their currently unsheltered population.

The YIMBY groups are hoping their ballot measure would help more 100% affordable housing projects actually get built. It allows 100% affordable housing projects that meet all existing applicable zoning and planning codes to bypass arbitrary hearings.

Most cities give home plans that comply with all existing applicable zoning and planning codes permits automatically, or “by-right.”

In San Francisco, residents have a lot more opportunities to block new homes. Neighbors can appeal a permit, file a CEQA lawsuit, or even gather signatures to put blocking new homes on a city ballot. CEQA is environmental protection legislation, but streamlining it would likely be better for the environment on net. CEQA reform is a widely supported way to ease the crisis.

Residents often claim to oppose homes for middle-income earners due to aesthetic, zucchini, and parking concerns. But they also often include dog whistles like preserving “neighborhood character” and preventing “urbanization.”

“Neighborhoods that don’t want affordable housing are able to fight it tooth and nail, and I don’t think that’s right,” said Laura Foote Clark, who heads up the organization YIMBY Action.

This process makes living here more expensive. According to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders, around 10% of the cost of building a new home can be attributed to “excessive regulation, needless red tape, and regulatory delays.” California’s 2014 Affordable Housing Cost Study found that “projects with 4 or more community hearings were on average 5 percent more expensive to complete.” CEQA appeals alone can make a project up to $1 million more expensive and tend to be politically, rather than environmentally, motivated.

For example, a five-year discretionary review process increased the cost of the Booker T. Washington Community Center affordable housing project by $10 million.

Currently a senior housing project at 1296 Shotwell St. is suffering numerous delays as neighbors appeal based on height, traffic, and concern that senior housing will bring more crime to the Mission.

According to Sam Moss, Executive Director of Mission Housing, the city will still need to complete the Environmental Impact Report to verify that new homes won’t adversely affect the surrounding environment. However, once the city does so, neighbors won’t be able to endlessly appeal that decision in order to delay or avoid having new neighbors.

David gave an example of what the ballot measure could accomplish in his neighborhood. The long-vacant Real Foods in Noe Valley recently changed hands. It’s already zoned for teacher housing. With less red tape, an empty building can become teacher housing faster and cheaper, but it can’t be developed into luxury housing any faster—the ballot measure does nothing to expedite market-rate housing.

“San Francisco isn’t geared for me,” Cheeks said in May. “It’s not built for someone like me.” YIMBY Action hopes this ballot measure will result in more homes for middle-income San Franciscans. They’re hoping we can build a San Francisco for people like her.

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