San Francisco, is in the midst of an affordability crisis. People here are angry and afraid. The skyrocketing cost of housing comes up in seemingly every conversation and dominates local news and local politics.
The recent piece on San Francisco's housing crisis I wrote for The Atlantic Cities seemed to hit a nerve. But it was mostly devoted to describing how the city got to be a place with the highest housing costs in the country. Now, I want to turn to what we can actually do about it.
We face a complex problem. It has roots in income inequality, a national issue, as well as regional anti-growth attitudes that extend well beyond the city boundaries. But at the city level, there are a surprising number of things we can definitely do.
Protect existing rent-controlled housing units
San Francisco has roughly 172,000 units of rent-controlled housing. Rent control is the city's core tenant protection, allowing many people to stay here. The first thing the city needs to do is to make sure we don't lose those units.
As housing prices go up, there is ever more incentive for owners of rental units to find a way to get out of the landlord business and sell. One of the most often abused mechanisms is California’s Ellis Act, a state law that says that landlords have the unconditional right to evict tenants to "go out of business."
Tenant groups in San Francisco have developed a set of proposals to make it more difficult for landlords to use the Ellis Act as a tool to evict people. One of the proposed reforms that seems to make sense is to discourage the practice of buying rent-controlled units for the purpose of converting to Tenancy-in-common units (TICs) or condos by requiring landlords to have been in the landlord business for some set period of time before using the Ellis Act to “leave the business.”
There is a social compact in San Francisco that needs to be upheld: rent-controlled units should stay under rent control, while ownership opportunities should come from new construction.
Reinvest in San Francisco’s public housing stock
The San Francisco Housing Authority has 6,300 units of public housing and roughly 9,000 Section 8 vouchers (which help subsidize rents for low-income tenants). The city is in the process of compiling a broad public housing reform plan to better manage this housing stock and provide resources to upgrade many of its public housing buildings.
At the same time, the city is also working on an ambitious program to rehabilitate its most troubled public housing units as part of a program called HOPE SF. Through Hope SF, the city government is seeking to build in a comprehensive set of social services to give residents the resources to get out of poverty. San Francisco has started this process by identifying the highest-need public housing developments (such as those at Sunnydale and Potrero Terrace), pairing them with project sponsor teams, but much of the funding for both the redevelopment and the resident services still needs to be identified.
HOPE SF and the broader set of public housing renovations offer an opportunity to physically knit public housing back into the fabric of the city. But most importantly, it means we can keep all those affordable units habitable.
More here Via The Atlantic