SF needs a stronger foundation for affordable housing 

Within the next week, my wife, Lisa, and I will bring a second child into the world here in the Mission. He will be born as the debate intensifies as to whether this next generation of San Franciscans, as well as the longtime families and residents of the Mission and other neighborhoods, will endure the current housing affordability crisis and continue to weave the vibrant fabric of this city.

In our neighborhood and across San Francisco, affordable housing is widely seen as the key to sustaining our communities. We are hungry for the type of housing-policy innovation seen on other fronts such as job creation. For example, working-class communities have received a major boost from The City's landmark local-hiring law that, thanks to a partnership between community groups, building trade unions, contractors and The City, has helped thousands of blue-collar workers stay in San Francisco over the past several years.

We now find middle-class San Franciscans united with low-income residents in experiencing heightened tensions around the feasibility of homeownership in The City and the question of whether housing options will be available for renters in the event that a landlord seeks to evict.

In somewhat competing visions of how to resolve this crisis, supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos recently editorialized in the press regarding the role of supply and demand in housing-policy discussions. The chief distinction between the perspectives of these two policy makers seems to be in their view of the role of market-rate housing in the funding of new affordable housing.

The undiscussed supply in the supply and demand debate is the question of supply of resources with which to build new affordable housing: How do we secure the funding necessary to build tens of thousands of units of new affordable housing? Market-rate housing, with its potential for on-site affordability and fees with which to build affordable housing is one component of the solution. Government also offers affordable-housing resources to a degree. I am honored to serve on the board of directors of one of The City's oldest affordable-housing nonprofits, where we have recently secured funding from the federal and state governments in order to build ground-up affordable housing in 2015 and beyond.

However, public-sector resources are limited and diminishing for a variety of reasons. In 2012, voters passed Proposition C, thus creating the San Francisco Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The trust is funded through in-lieu fees paid for by market-rate developers as one of the affordable-housing options required before a market-rate development can obtain approvals. A majority of these resources are in use to preserve approximately 5,000 affordable units previously under Housing Authority management.

The politics surrounding the housing debate too often promotes division and discourages inclusion of new diverse and creative stakeholders. Equating Wiener, a former San Francisco Democratic Party chairman, with Ronald Reagan is unproductive schoolyard fare. It would be similarly unfair to solely blame Campos for the fact that just 7 percent of the units approved for construction in our neighborhood will be affordable.

Efforts to build new affordable housing require the advocacy of an expanded coalition of advocates. This includes workers who are neither wealthy nor low income, but stuck somewhere in the middle. We must include those who have chosen to create their own affordability challenges by raising children in The City.

My family and many more like us look forward to engaging in these conversations. The present and future of affordability in San Francisco depends on us coming together as one city.

Joshua Arce is a civil-rights attorney, community liaison for Laborers Union Local 261, and a member of the Mission Housing Development Corporation board of directors.

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Joshua Arce

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