Two Ballot Measures Take Aim at San Francisco's Affordable Housing Crisis

San Francisco's downtown and North Beach neighborhoods. (Craig Miller/KQED)

When Jane Kim first ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 2010, she made the creation of more affordable housing her top priority.

"But I don't think at that time, when we were at the bottom of a recession, I could have predicted the affordability crisis," Kim said.

Kim's district is a microcosm of the city's housing extremes. It includes the Tenderloin and Civic Center area -- home to some of the city's poorest residents. Meantime, gleaming new condominiums and apartments in SOMA, Rincon Hill and Mission Bay house some of the city's wealthiest.

Last summer, Kim proposed slowing development whenever affordable housing construction dipped below a certain threshold. Developers balked, and Mayor Ed Lee threatened to kill the proposal. Kim backed down.

"In exchange for pulling that measure, the mayor's office has committed to working with our office to invest more of our city dollars into affordable housing," Kim said.

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Proposition K, Kim's compromise measure, basically reinforces the mayor's pledge to build or rehabilitate at least 30,000 housing units by 2020, and reserve a third of them for low or moderate-income residents.

Kim admits Prop. K lacks the force of law;  however, Proposition G -- another housing measure she supports -- could shake things up.

On a recent Saturday in San Francisco's Richmond District, about two dozen young Chinese-American volunteers gathered tote bags full of "Yes on G" door hangers. Among them was Karyn Smoot, 22, a recent college graduate and San Francisco native concerned about the exodus of longtime residents.

"Yes on G" volunteers prepare to distribute campaign literature in San Francisco's Richmond District. (Stephanie Martin Taylor/KQED)
"Yes on G" volunteers prepare to distribute campaign literature in San Francisco's Richmond District. (Stephanie Martin Taylor/KQED)

"A lot of the people I went to school with can't afford to move home. A lot of their families are leaving the city anyway," Smoot said. "It definitely feels like an issue where people need to take responsibility for their neighbors and stand up for each other."

Prop. G attempts to cool the housing market with a tax on multi-unit properties bought and resold in less than five years. It is intended to deter "flippers" -- speculators who buy buildings, clear out the tenants and quickly re-sell at a profit.

The real estate industry has so far spent close to $1.5 million to defeat the measure. Opponents say the Prop. G tax -- up to 24 percent of the total sale price -- is far too high and could hurt small property owners.

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell called the tax a "blunt tool instrument" that, while well-intentioned, could have a variety of unintended consequences. For example, he said, let's say you're investing two million dollars in a building -- all your savings -- with the intention of growing your nest egg.

"And let's just say you lose your job and your parents get sick from out of state. And you sell that within the first year, you owe the city an extra $500,000? To me, that is ridiculous."

Real estate agents in San Francisco prepare to campaign against Proposition G, a tax supporters say would curtail real estate speculation and house "flipping." (Stephanie Martin Taylor/KQED)
Real estate agents in San Francisco prepare to campaign against Proposition G, a tax supporters say would curtail real estate speculation and house "flipping." (Stephanie Martin Taylor/KQED)

But Prop. G supporters argue that exact scenario is unlikely and point to a number of exemptions to protect those who are not out to make a quick buck. For example, if you make that two million dollar building your primary residence, and live in it at least a year before you sell it, you're off the hook.  Properties with more than 30 units, are also excluded,  as are those designated as low income housing.

Prop. G supporters like Angelica Cabande with the South of Market Community Action Network say, yes, the measure is strong -- and it needs to be.

"It's going to be really hard to just build our way out of the housing crisis," Cabande said. "We need to make sure that people that are already in existing affordable housing are not going to be part of that competition."

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Whatever the outcome for the two measures, it's likely supporters will be looking for other solutions to San Francisco's housing crunch soon after the election is over.

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