SF grand jury looks into feasibility of mayor’s 30,000-unit housing goal 

click to enlarge The condos at 8 Octavia St. could contribute to Mayor Ed Lee’s goal of having 30,000 new housing units by 2020, something questioned by the civil grand jury. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.f. Examiner file photo
  • The condos at 8 Octavia St. could contribute to Mayor Ed Lee’s goal of having 30,000 new housing units by 2020, something questioned by the civil grand jury.

Mayor Ed Lee in January said 30,000 housing units would be built or rehabilitated in San Francisco by 2020.

That goal, which included making 10,000 of those units permanently below market rate, was in part a way to dampen the impacts of ever-rising housing costs.

Since then, many have questioned not only if the goal can be met, but also if it will have any impact on prices or help middle- and lower-income San Franciscans stay here.

Now the goal, and specifically its impact on the bottom third of units to be built, was a question the civil grand jury recently took up. In a July 7 report titled "The Mayor's Office of Housing: Under Pressure and Challenged to Preserve Diversity," the jury's findings were a mixed bag.

"It is doubtful that the City can build its way out of the current affordability crisis, and one should not expect market rate rental housing and ownership prices in the City to decrease even if the target is met," the report said. "However, the Jury does subscribe to the principle that the availability of housing that is affordable to a spectrum of socio-economic levels fosters a more vital and dynamic urban environment and is in the best long-term interest of all its citizens."

While the report commended efforts by city departments heading up the push for more housing, it also raised concerns that the handful of programs and incentives already in place will fall short of the needs for many San Franciscans.

"Actual housing production needs to better reflect the income distribution of the City's population," the report noted. "[T]he Jury fears that current funding streams and inclusionary housing policies will not be able to create enough affordable housing to maintain any balance in the ratio between market rate and affordable housing."

What's more, the report pointed out that a good deal of housing that is below market rate in the plan already exists.

If, noted the report, one excludes the rehab of 4,575 Housing Authority units from "the 10,000 affordable units" and only counts newly built below-market-rate units, the plan falls short of its promise.

The Housing Authority rehabilitations will not add any units to the housing stock, said the report.

Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office, said that while her office is still reviewing the report, the mayor remains committed to the 30,000-unit goal, which she said will help San Francisco meet its housing needs.

But others said the report was a fairly accurate depiction of the challenges ahead.

"At first blush, I think it is a relatively accurate assessment" Sarah Dennis Phillips of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development said.

While she admits that meeting the mayor's goal will only help alleviate housing pressure for some, something must be done to increase the overall housing stock.

The grand jury, a government oversight body, is an all-volunteer jury convened each year to investigate the workings of local government. Its findings are nonbinding.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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