Armed With Own Ballot Measure, Supervisors Kill Breed’s Teacher Housing Plan

Because one teacher housing measure isn't enough, City Hall came up with three dueling initiatives.

Teachers rally in support of affordable housing in 2017. (Photo by Jessica Christian)

When Mayor London Breed first proposed a charter amendment in April to boost affordable housing for the city’s educators, teacher unions were surprised, as outreach to hear their thoughts had been slim. But when the city supervisors began crafting their own, rival ballot measure, they were offered a seat at the table. In the end, that made all the difference. 

On Thursday, Breed’s proposal was officially booted out. At a special Rules Committee hearing, supervisors killed Breed’s amendment, which would have limited appeals over planned developments from nearby neighbors, in order to speed up certain affordable and educator housing projects. It ultimately failed to receive the six votes needed to change the city’s charter, which functions like a tough-to-amend constitution.

In both supervisors and educators’ eyes, the mayor’s charter proposal has a fatal flaw: it locks in a new definition of “affordable housing” to include people with higher incomes without requirements to build for lower incomes. The United Educators of San Francisco had concerns with the plan to reclassify affordable housing qualifications to include up to 140 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) — $121,000 for a one-person household in San Francisco. This could ostensibly be subsidized by wealthier non-educators allowed to occupy one-third of market-rate housing in projects built on public land for educators.

Supervisors at the hearing were quick to point out that the proposal lacked support from the very constituency it intended to benefit. Plus, they argue, it’s ultimately not needed due to state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 35, which already streamlines certain affordable housing projects.

Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Shamann Walton, and Matt Haney worked with UESF to put forward a regular ballot measure that would keep the definition of up to 120 percent AMI while making teacher housing projects exclusive to educators. Fourth-fifths would be reserved for educators making between 30 to 140 percent AMI and the final fifth would allow educator households making up to 160 percent AMI.

The same day supervisors introduced their measure mid-June, Breed introduced a ballot measure for November — separate from her charter amendment  — that would also allow such housing to be built on public land. However, it still raises the definition of affordable housing to 140 percent AMI like the charter amendment, which UESF felt wouldn’t provide as much educator housing as the supervisor’s measures.

“We started in good faith negotiations with both side of the legislature here in City Hall,” said Ken Tray of UESF. “The bottom line is the Board of Supervisors’ initiative represents the ideas the educators brought to the table and the mayor’s initiative doesn’t, from our perspective, do that.”

Minutes after Breed’s charter was killed, she called the city’s affordable housing development process “fundamentally broken.” 

“I’m tired of people saying we’re in a housing crisis and then rejecting solutions that will actually make a difference,” Breed said. “The status quo means less affordable housing will be built, more people will be priced out, and the crisis will only get worse. This is unacceptable and we have to do better for the people of San Francisco.”

Whether that takes the form of Breed or the supervisors removing one educator housing measure from the November’s ballot remains to be seen. But either way, housing advocates like YIMBY Action are delighted that there’s competing measures accomplishing something they’ve been advocating for — as long as one succeeds. If approved by the voters instead of the Board of Supervisors, zoning changes would go into effect more quickly.

“Keep your eyes on the prize,” Sonja Trauss, a YIMBY leader, told supervisors. “If we mess this up and we can’t get this before the voters, something that is a real goal for everyone here is a real loss.”

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