Y’all Come Back Now Ya Hear?

City leaders invite back those pushed out of S.F. due to housing crisis.

Photo by Nuala Sawyer

The moderate and progressive members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors reached a compromise earlier this month on two pieces of legislation that would change the city’s affordable housing requirements to include middle-income residents. Now, when new residential buildings with more than 25 units (to rent or own) are built, 18 percent of them must be dedicated below-market-rate. Of those, 10 percent must go to those earning $32,300 to $52,450 — or between $17 and $27 an hour, which encompasses the city’s food and drink servers who earn minimum wage plus tips.

Four percent of the units are dedicated to those earning between $52,450 and $72,650, a range in which San Francisco’s public school teachers — who, according to Glassdoor, make an average of $58,176 per year — fall into.

Another four percent is for people making $72,650 to $104,925, which, on the lower end, is the starting salary for an entry-level city firefighter.

The policy is expected to bring an additional 800 and 2,000 affordable units onto the market in the next three years — not a huge amount when dealing with a housing crisis of epic proportions. And while supervisors pushing for affordable housing always comes off well in the press, it’s important to note that the 18 percent requirement is actually less than what voters pushed for in June 2016’s election. Under Prop. C, developers of market-rate housing were required to designate 25 percent of new rental units as affordable. So while this latest move opens up the housing market to those middle-income earners who were formerly exempt, the entire pool has gotten smaller.

But that’s not what the supervisors focused on in last week’s press conference. “This means that our janitors, firefighters, bus drivers, servers, educators, and nurses can continue to call San Francisco home,” says Supervisor Ahsha Safai, listing occupations whose typical salaries exceeded the previous income thresholds for affordable housing.

Keeping people in the city is one thing, but at a press conference to announce the legislation, many speakers celebrated the move by inviting those who’d been pushed out of San Francisco to return.

“I want to tell all my friends — especially the ones who don’t live here anymore — I want you to apply, apply, apply,” said Board President London Breed, citing both family members and friends who’d been pushed out of the city by rising housing costs.

Olga Miranda, president of the SEIU Local 87 janitors’ union, made a similar call.

“You can afford to come back to S.F. and live here,” she said. As supervisors behind her cheered, she confirmed, “You can afford to live here, right?”

Whether or not those who have left the city due to steep housing costs will be able to return thanks to this legislation remains to be seen. But for those janitors who share a studio apartment among seven, earning too much to qualify for low-income housing but not enough to pay market rate, this offers them a chance at succeeding in a city where the average one-bedroom goes for $3,500 a month.

“We haven’t cracked the door wide open, Miranda said, “But we count this as a victory.”

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