Q: Can San Francisco really do this?
Absolutely. Quality public or municipal (City-run) housing of this form is common across the world. We've created this vision for a just housing system by researching programs across the world, and have also been involved in dozens of community meetings to create something specific to our city.
Q: How is rent so low, at 25% of income?
In part because the richer tenants will subsidize poorer tenants, just like health insurance does with the healthy subsidizing the sick. We set rents high enough to cover operating costs, renovation costs, and loans, with an extra margin for reserves. And, of course, the City doesn't have to make a profit.
On top of all of that, tax revenue can provide a big City subsidy to acquire or construct buildings, meaning the City has to take out fewer loans and would pay less in total interest on those loans. That helps keep your rent low!
Q: The affordable housing sounds good, but why childcare and public transit?
Our vision isn't the sort of short-term, single-issue solution you're used to seeing in politics. We're looking holistically at what causes communities to thrive or struggle. Working families need full-day childcare nearby so that parents can keep their careers, and so children can gain equal footing in school. Frequent and reliable public transit are necessities for the working class and reduce our collective carbon footprint.
Q: How is this different from what we're doing now?
Right now, the city doesn't invest enough in affordable housing. Some of the money for affordable housing comes from "feeing out" of actually building affordable housing; when a developer builds a luxury tower, they're required to set aside at least ~15% of units for below-median-income households, or pay a fee. But that means we have to build around 85 overpriced units for every 15 units that start off affordable to the median San Franciscan! A program like that can never meet our affordability needs at scale or create a permanent affordable housing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the federal government has also been under-funding HUD over several decades, from Reagan to Trump.
So we're changing the rules — we'll get our own local funding (independent of HUD), and we'll renovate and build homes for our community.
Q: How is this different from our old public housing?
In many parts of the world, including parts of Europe, Asia, and South America, public housing is the backbone of no-income, low-income, and moderate-income communities. This effort originated from the experiences of immigrants from Europe and Asia who grew up in municipal housing. Over more than four years, we've met with former SF Housing Authority staff, SF planners, public housing tenants and organizers, City departments, environmental groups, labor unions, and other policy wonks to find out exactly where we were going wrong with HUD public housing. The difference boils down to investment and accountability.
In SF, we couldn't hold our local elected officials accountable for federal public housing, and the federal government seriously defunded maintenance over several decades. The federal government also didn't account for the high cost of land and labor in cities like San Francisco, an issue that plagued the SF Housing Authority from the very beginning. This effort changes who's accountable for the housing — instead of the federal government, you and the Board of Supervisors have a say. On top of that, we've written the measure to ensure that housing complexes remain self-sustainable in terms of rent covering costs, so the City can keep expanding its stock of municipal housing each year.
Q: If this succeeds, how do I apply to live there?
For vacant units (new construction or folks moving out), there will be an application process, and you'll have to live or work in SF as described in our "Details" page. Specifically, you'll have to prove SF residency status, work status, or Certificate of Preference status, and pledge not to own a "second home" or rent a unit elsewhere in the city if you're accepted. After that, you'll be entered in a lottery, and may qualify for a preference if you live in the same neighborhood as a unit or are a displaced tenant.
If you're currently renting and your building is bought by the City to keep it permanently affordable, you will be guaranteed your original unit, regardless of your income.
Q: Does this measure put more land back in the public trust?
Yes, absolutely! We require public ownership of the land used for housing, with all profits reinvested back into creating more municipal housing under this program. The City will hire qualified staff to help manage properties and its portfolio. We also ensure public accountability with annual financial audits, as well as a performance audit every three years to check the program is on track to meet its goals.
Q: Why is this separate from the San Francisco Housing Authority or the HUD system?
The HUD public housing that used to be managed by the SF Housing Authority has been privatized, and in fact the Housing Authority has been taken over by the City and County of San Francisco (largely for administering Section 8 rent subsidies).
To give more context: The SF Housing Authority is a state-chartered and federally (under-)funded entity, entirely separate from the City and County of San Francisco. The SF Housing Authority Commission used to be appointed entirely by the Mayor (due to state law) and lacked adequate oversight. It largely could not be regulated by the Board of Supervisors.
What have we learned from history? Our measure ensures adequate funding for maintenance in the long run. We also introduce democratic oversight and accountability from both tenants (Community Councils) and the Board of Supervisors, and use the City's examination and hiring process to ensure qualified, unionized employees are retained and paid well.
We do need to reform the SF Housing Authority and properly re-fund the federal public housing system, but that is outside of the scope of what we can do with City legislation alone.
Q: Who are you? Which group is organizing this effort?
The SF Community Housing Act is an effort coordinated by the San Francisco Berniecrats Housing Committee. We have been organizing since November 2016, and in earnest since 2017, to create thousands of units of green municipal housing for everyone. We believe the solution to our housing crisis is to apply the same ideas that underlie all universal public infrastructure — public schools, public transit, and single-payer healthcare — to housing.
We attempted to pass a ballot measure in 2018 to create and fund a public social housing program: the SF Community Housing Act of 2018. Unfortunately, we were unable to gather signatures then due to escalating signature gathering costs. We aimed to file again in 2020 with a broader coalition of supporters, but had to suspend that campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing signature gathering.
We've had many successes since 2020. We passed Proposition K in November 2020 with 74% of the vote to authorize 10,000 units of Public Housing for All, clearing a segregation-era hurdle known as Article 34 of the CA Constitution. On the same ballot, we also helped pass Proposition I, an increase of the transfer tax on properties worth over $10,000,000 to raise $200 million/year for social housing, including municipal social housing. In 2021, we organized to get half of Prop I's revenue allocated towards Small Sites acquisitions, despite the Mayor's opposition and veto threat.
In June 2022, we successfully funded studies for a Public Housing for All agency through the San Francisco budget process. We also worked on amending AB 2053, a statewide Social Housing Act by Assemblymember Lee to create a California Housing Authority, which could partner with local agencies and leverage state funds.