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Governing Affordability - By Nuala Sawyer - November 21, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Governing Affordability

One of the most important offices in City Hall received a new director last week. Kate Hartley will now lead the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which is responsible for the not-so-tiny task of monitoring the city’s affordable housing portfolio. Hartley, who has served as interim director since June, takes over the position from Olson Lee, who retired earlier this year.

“I am extremely honored to have this great opportunity,” Hartley says. “My colleagues at MOHCD and I are fully committed to providing San Franciscans with the best possible housing and community-development resources, and we strive every day toward our goal of keeping San Francisco a diverse and equitable city. I would like to thank the mayor for his unwavering support of this work.”

In the past year, MOHCD has gotten the ball rolling on a number of large projects. It bought a parking lot in SoMa from the federal government for $1, on which it plans to construct 250 modular units for the homeless. Negotiations are in the works for the purchase of the McDonald’s lot on Haight Street, which could be used for at least 90 units of affordable housing. And plans keep inching along for the conversion of the Outer Sunset’s Francis Scott Key Annex lot into dozens of units for public school teachers.

Some local nonprofit leaders view Hartley’s promotion as a win.

“Kate has a big heart and the smarts to get affordable housing done in this city,” said Rev. Norman Fong, executive director of Chinatown Community Development Center. “As interim MOHCD director, one of the first things she wanted to do was to see our SROs [single-room occupancies] in Chinatown. As I took her around, I could feel her empathy. She has already started to work on a few projects that could help SRO families in the city. She has won over my heart, and has given hope to the SRO families she has visited.”

But the task Hartley is assigned is no small one. MOHCD oversees $1.5 billion in public money, with a $69 million operating budget. The office is in charge of fulfilling Mayor Ed Lee’s 2014 pledge to construct or renovate 30,000 homes in San Francisco by 2020 — with 10,000 of those dedicated to low-income residents, and another 5,000 for middle-income households. Meanwhile, vacant lots are fast disappearing, and construction costs are only rising.

Still, it’s hard to think of someone more qualified for the position. Prior to joining MOHCD, Hartley worked for 25 years in both nonprofit and for-profit housing development.” And it does seem she grasps the problem from not just a logistics issue, but a human angle.

“Affordable housing — or the lack thereof — affects everyone in our city, in one way or another,” Hartley told the San Francisco Business Times earlier this year. “The general livability of our city is greatly enhanced when teachers, first responders, artists, restaurant workers, among others, can live close to their workplaces.”