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    LGBT Center Soiree, City College News, Inclusionary Wars

    1-Photo-Columnist-Mandelman_Rafael_housesZ (1)By Rafael Mandelman

    LGBT Center Soirée 2017!

    It is hard to believe it has been fifteen years since the LGBT Center opened its doors. And what years—by turns, challenging, tumultuous and exhilarating—they have been for our community and our Center! On the evening of April 8, the Center will be celebrating its fifteenth birthday at our annual Soirée. We will be returning to Terra Gallery at 511 Harrison once again, and the incomparable Juanita MORE! will be reprising her role as our Entertainment Director for the night. The next day, April 9 at 1 pm, the community is invited to join us for a ribbon-cutting celebration and open house to celebrate the re-opening of our re-modeled and much improved building at 1800 Market Street. More information about both events can be found on the Center’s website at http://www.sfcenter.org/events/15th-anniv-soiree

    City College Open, Accredited and FREE!

    After so many years of bad and worse news, City College has been more than making up for it so far this spring. In my February column, I wrote about the end of the College’s long-running accreditation crisis. Before that column had even gone to print, we learned that Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim had reached a deal to make City College free for all San Francisco residents starting in the fall of 2017.

    Supervisor Kim did not get everything she or the other Free City College champions had been hoping for out of the negotiation: the additional stipends for students already on financial aid but struggling with the costs of books and other costs are a pittance, and the uncertainties around federal immigration policy raise still-unanswered questions about whether and how some undocumented students will be able to use the program. Nonetheless, the program still represents a major commitment by the City and County of San Francisco to expanding access to City College and puts San Francisco at the forefront of the national movement to make higher education affordable to all. Abundant kudos and many thanks to Kim, who worked relentlessly along with organized labor and folks at the College, to pass Proposition W in November and then ensure that City Hall followed through on its commitment to the program.

    Inclusionary Wars

    A recent Chamber of Commerce poll confirms something we probably already knew: San Franciscans are increasingly concerned about the high cost of housing. More than half of us identify housing unaffordability as a major issue, up from 43% just two years ago. That the high cost of housing is a serious problem, we agree. The difficulty arises when we start talking about how to solve the problem.

    One of the proven strategies for creating more affordable housing is to require market rate developers to include a certain percentage of below-market housing in their developments, but going back to 2002 when then-Supervisor Mark Leno authored the City’s first inclusionary housing legislation, San Francisco developers have argued that inclusionary housing obligations kill projects, leaving policy makers struggling with the question of how much inclusionary housing is too much.

    San Francisco is not the only city struggling with this question. One issue is access to information: development is complicated, and public officials often have to rely on the development community for information about the economics of development. But, of course, developers are not impartial here; it’s in their interest to minimize publicly-imposed costs, and they cannot and should not be relied on for an unbiased information or analysis of the issue.  Another reason the question of how much inclusionary is too much is that the answer changes over time. In good times, when capital is easily available, development economics may allow projects to go forward that have a relatively high inclusionary requirement; in tougher economic times, developers’ pro formas simply may not be able to absorb the additional costs. In a downturn, those projects may stall out for other reasons.

    At any rate, San Francisco has been tinkering with its inclusionary requirements almost since they were first adopted.  Leno’s 2002 legislation required that, for developments with more than 10 units, 12% of those units would be affordable to low income households. In 2007, that requirement was raised to 15%. In 2012, as part of a grand bargain to pass a real estate transfer tax to fund more affordable housing production nonprofit developers, the inclusionary requirement for market rate developers was lowered back to 12% by a voter-approved charter amendment, meaning that any future changes would have to go to the ballot. But then just last June, Proposition C raised the inclusionary requirement for low income housing back up to 15% and for the first time added a moderate/middle income requirement, raising the overall below market requirement up to 25%, although the measure further provided that future changes to the law could once again be made at City Hall, rather than having to go back to the voters.

    On February 28, London Breed and Asha Safai fired the next salvo in the ongoing inclusionary wars, introducing a proposal to reduce the overall inclusionary requirement back down to 18% for rentals and 20% for condominiums, but in a double-gift to the development community, Breed and Safai are proposing to further reduce the cost of that requirement to developers by allocating more of those units to middle income earners, who can pay higher rents and sale prices, even if they cannot afford the market cost.

    In some ways, this measure seems to echo the realtors’ ill-fated Proposition U on the November 2016 ballot, which similarly sought to re-allocate developers’ inclusionary requirement to require more middle-income housing at the expense of costlier-to-produce lower income housing.  That measure lost overwhelmingly, and it strikes me as peculiar that Supervisors Breed and Safai think it is worth giving it another go at City Hall. Happily, Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin have an alternative, a little closer to the Proposition C formula. For us political junkies, it will be fascinating to see how this round of the inclusionary wars plays out, but it will be the low and middle income families desperate to find an affordable home in our City who have to live with the outcome.

    Rafael Mandelman is an attorney for the City of Oakland. He is also President of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.