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    Propositions on the November Ballot Concerning SF Housing

    zoeFive years ago, one of the largest issues facing San Francisco was its 9.5% unemployment rate. The economy was still in recession and people were looking for work. The real estate market in the Bay Area was also in trouble, and many development projects were on hold due to financing or other economic reasons.

    Today we are fortunate in many ways in that our unemployment rate is down to 3.5%. Many, but not all, of those new jobs came from the intentional recruitment of growing tech companies to locate their offices in the city. The issue facing the city became less about attracting jobs, and more about the challenge of housing these new workers. The fact that San Francisco continues to be a highly desirable place to live adds to the attraction and the challenges. Because our city is situated on the end of a peninsula, penned in by water on three sides, we can’t just spread out and add housing to new surrounding suburbs. There is precious room to build. With this combination of a robust economy, high demand, and limited opportunities to add housing stock to our current inventory, housing prices have soared to stratospheric levels. It is the number one issue facing our city right now.

    Given that, it is not surprising that nearly half of the propositions on this November’s ballot have to do with housing. There are many theories as to what is contributing to the crisis, and many viewpoints on solutions to those causes. Your choice of which theories you believe, and which solutions you find reasonable, will drive your decisions at the ballot.

    Prop A: If you believe the city is not doing enough, or spending enough, to build and protect affordable housing, Prop A is for you. If approved, Prop A will allow the city to issue $310 million worth of general obligation bonds to “finance the construction, development, acquisition, and preservation of housing affordable to low- and middle-income households…assist in the acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable rental apartment buildings…repair and reconstruct dilapidated public housing…fund a middle-income rental program; and provide for homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households.”

    This is a large bond that has the potential to make a meaningful impact to our housing crisis. The challenge will be to get the two-thirds of the vote necessary to pass. That is a pretty high hurdle to overcome, but Prop A has a lot of support, myself included. It is an investment in our housing infrastructure that will protect many at risk residents.

    Prop D: If you believe developers aren’t setting aside enough for affordable housing because height restrictions make development in some areas unworkable financially, Prop D has a nifty development project for you. Prop D, also known as Mission Rock, clears the way for a development in the Mission Bay area. If passed, it allows the city to increase the height limit for a portion of the Mission Rock site from one story to height limits ranging from 40 to 240 feet and encourages the development, provided that it includes eight acres of parks and open space and housing, of which at least 33% is affordable for low- and middle-income households. It is a solid plan, the neighborhood wants it, and it builds needed housing stock in what is now a parking lot. To me, it is a no brainer.

    Prop F: If you believe the short-term rental market (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) is exacerbating our housing shortage by taking housing units/rooms that could be offered as permanent housing for residents, and instead offering them as short term rentals to tourists, then Prop F may be for you. It requires the city to “limit short-term rentals of a housing unit to 75 days per year regardless of whether the rental is hosted or unhosted; requires owners to provide proof that they authorize the unit as a short-term rental; requires residents who offer short-term rentals to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented; prohibits short-term rentals of in-law units; allows interested parties to sue hosting platforms; and makes it a misdemeanor for a hosting platform to unlawfully list a unit as a short-term rental.”

    I have a couple of objections to this approach. Yes, there is abuse because the industry is fairly new and was unregulated for so long. However, there is recent legislation that took effect earlier this year regulating short-term rentals; we have not had a chance to see if it is working. I’m also uneasy about allowing “interested parties” to sue hosting platforms—it seems open for abuse. In an effort to stick it to the hosting platform (Airbnb), this proposition will ultimately harm good hosts who need to rent out a room or a unit in order to continue to afford to stay in San Francisco. I have heard testimony from many of these hosts, many of them widows, single moms, or retirees who need the supplemental income to pay the mortgage and to stay in this city. For many, renting their space out full time is not an option they’d consider; they want the flexibility to have their family or guests to stay with them, and don’t want a permanent roommate/tenant. I believe this measure goes too far. Let’s give the current laws a chance to work, and then make adjustments as necessary so as not to harm good hosts.

    Prop I: If you believe development is moving too fast, particularly in the Mission, and you want to focus solely on the development of affordable housing to the exclusion of all other development, then Prop I is for you. It suspends the issuance of permits on certain types of housing and business development projects in the Mission District for at least 18 months, and directs the city to develop a Neighborhood Stabilization Plan for the Mission District by January 31, 2017. I have heard the frustration of the residents of the Mission District, as well as other affordable housing advocates, and understand the instinct to try to “stop the madness” by issuing a moratorium on building there. At the end of this moratorium, all we will have is a plan and we will be another 18 months behind in actually building housing. The Mission is not exempt from the economic consequences of low supply and high demand. Put a halt to housing development and watch the rent for existing housing skyrocket even further. I believe this misguided effort will result in even more displacement of long-term residents, not less. For these reasons, I am not in support.

    Prop K: If you think using surplus property to build affordable housing will help, then Prop K is for you. It allows the city to expand the allowable uses of surplus property to include the building of affordable housing for a range of households, from those with very low income to those with incomes up to 150% of the area median income, depending on the size of the project. Surplus land usage is a fairly complex issue, and I’d prefer it be handled legislatively rather than at the ballot box. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on this initiative.

    The bottom line is that when the dust settles November 4, we will have a better sense of the blueprint for solving our housing crisis. I hope you vote and contribute to its design.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as a San Francisco Library Commissioner, and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.