Citizens to voice affordable-housing concerns 

Tonight’s housing discussion in San Mateo, "Affordable Housing: A Place for All," may remind visitors of the words of President John F. Kennedy.

While members of Peninsula Interfaith Action — 25,000 families from 30 congregations — plan to ask Mayor Jack Matthews what the city can do to help its people with the housing problem in the area, Matthews said he plans to ask the people what they can do to help their city with the same problem.

Interfaith volunteer Karyl Eldridge said that although San Mateo has a viable below-market-rate program, housing is still unaffordable for many.

"Right now San Mateo’s [below-market-rate] unitsare affordable to moderate and low-income earners, but there are a number of people who are very low- and extremely low-income workers who are essential to helping our community run," Eldridge said.

Matthews said affordable housing for the teachers and other service providers in the community may require higher density housing projects and higher prices for market-rate homes to offset the cost and other sacrifices that will reverberate throughout the community.

The meeting coincides with the final meeting later this month of the city’s technical advisory committee on housing and land use. Eldridge said the committee has three suggestions for dealing with the demand on below-market-rate affordable housing in the area.

The key step, she says, is for the city to take a harder look at increasing the number of below-market-rate homes required in housing developments. South San Francisco, Colma, Half Moon Bay and East Palo Alto all have a 20 percent requirement, and many other cities have at least a 15 percent requirement. San Mateo requires developers to build 10 percent of their units for sale at below market rates.

But raising the number of affordable houses in a project reduces the money made back through housing sales to developers, which could make building in San Mateo a less attractive proposal for businesses.

"We have to look at who is paying in the end — it’s not the developer, it’s going to be the people who buy the market-rate housing in the rest of the development," Matthews said.

One possibility, supported by both sides, is to levy more fees to developers. Housing projects of 10 or fewer units have no mandatory affordable component, and commercial development that raises the need for local housing does not contribute at all.

Levying a "linkage fee" to commercial developers or extending requirements to all housing developments could bring more money into the city’s housing fund, which Matthews has suggested could then be used to offset the cost to developers for building more affordable units.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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