The Assessor's Office Lost Golden Gate Park

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The Housing Crisis

If you are like a lot of people in San Francisco, you are experiencing the housing crisis in some form or another on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s the encampments you pass by on your way to work, the human excrement you step over to get coffee or the car you have to live in because you were pushed out of your home, this is no way for the people of San Francisco to live.

The Assessor/Recorder Position

Long historically been viewed as a revenue-generating office, the Assessor/Recorder is the most underutilized position in San Francisco. Over the last 20 years, it has been inhabited by career politicians who don’t understand or come from a housing background and the neglect as well as their inability to understand the complexities of housing has taken a toll on the office.

What Does The Assessor/Recorder Do?

In a nutshell, the job of the Assessor is to maintain the Roll for property tax purposes. The Roll is essentially a long list composed of two fundamental parts. WHAT is being taxed and HOW MUCH is the tax. It applies to real estate property as well as business property. The other side of the position is the Recorder. This part of the position “records” all of the important life events; Marriages, deaths, births and, if you are blessed, home purchases.

The Assessor’s Office Data

As a result of historical negligence on the part of career-politicians in the role of Assessor, the City’s understanding of our housing (the WHAT) has deteriorated to the point where the Assessor’s Roll data is unusable or unreliable.

I have analyzed the most recent Assessor Roll, the 2016-17 Roll. You can check it out here.  It is thick, meaty and rife with codes not easily understandable. However, I have an 8-year history with the office and am adept at navigating the data.

Here are some simple takeaways from the Assessor Roll data.

  • 64% of the houses in San Francisco have 0 Bedrooms. I have been in thousands of homes in SF as part of my appraisal business and I have never been into a house with no bedrooms. Condos, yes. Houses? No.

  • The Assessor’s office defines a bedroom as having a closet. here is no state or local law requiring a closet. The current edict from the Building Department is that it needs to be 70 square feet with a window and a door. Why is the office using outdated rules?

  • Around 93,000 houses are listed as 0 or 1 storey tall. While there are some houses (a very, very small amount) that are one story. Take a walk through the Sunset or Viz Valley, the vast majority of San Francisco houses are at least 2 storeys.

  • 6,000 acres are unaccounted for. When you take out the public land and other undefined items, it drops down to 1,200 acres of livable San Francisco land is missing from the Roll. That’s bigger than Golden Gate Park. What is the implication of this?

  • 2,495 square feet is the most common lot size in San Francisco. Which have dimensions 25 x 100. Simple math equals 2,500sf. Where did the 5 feet go?

  • 2,600 homes are listed as having 0 square feet of living space.

  • All of these errors put together have created a resource rife with inaccuracies, poor leadership and, in some cases, ineptitude on the part of the Assessor/Recorders over the past 20+ years.

Why Is This Important?

In order for a city to function, it needs to be able to draft effective legislation to curtail crises when they arise. The current housing crisis is no exception. As a result, many agencies look to the assessor’s data for guidance. Whether it’s new legislation promoting duplexes over single-family homes,  trying to understand family housing or a vacancy tax on units, city agencies come to the Assessor’s office for help. But instead of getting reliable information, officials hit roadblocks. Instead of drafting timely legislation in response to our crises, it takes exponentially longer leaving our city’s citizens vulnerable.

The Old Way Of Thinking

San Francisco is a city of innovators. It's a city of people who take an old paradigm and redefine it.  So, why are we still doing things the old way at the Assessor’s Office? The current Assessor/Recorder has stated publicly “My office touches everyone who owns a home, and they need a resource working for them,”. This position touches so many more than just homeowners. This archaic way of doing business no longer works when two-thirds of our residents are renters. As a city, we need to seriously rethink the role of Assessor/Recorder. The position needs works for San Francisco beyond taxes. The position can help all of San Francisco, not just those fortunate enough to own a piece of it.

Where Is The Affordable Housing Located?

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Campaign Season

Our mayoral election is in full swing and many of the candidates are talking about the housing crisis, its effects on San Francisco and how they plan on changing things. The housing crisis has been center stage with its pervasive homelessness, lack of affordable housing or the debate of Senator Weiner’s SB 827 bill. So, I decided to take a look at an affordable housing program in SF, the Below Market Rate (BMR) program.

Background

The BMR program started in 1992 and is a system that allocates a certain amount of new construction specifically for lower-income. Based on the code, if the condominium complex is larger than 10 units, the developer has a couple of options to fulfill the law. The developer can pay a fee into an affordable housing fund, it can dedicate a certain percentage of the units as BMR within the complex or it can build units at a separate location dedicated to BMR.

Eligibility

The BMR program is run by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD). The requirements for purchase are:

  1. First time home buyer;

  2. Are income eligible; (See here.)

  3. Take 6 hours of classes;

  4. Be pre-approved for a loan;

  5. And have enough savings for closing costs.

There is also a rental BMR program and you can read about it here.

Where Are They Located?

There are no restrictions as to where they can be located based on the MOHCD’s website. The homes can be placed anywhere in the city. The reality is, due to current zoning, the program is essentially boxed into small portions of San Francisco because of its reliance on multi-unit condominium complexes. 

Another limitation of the program‘s reach is it does not purchase homes off the open market and incorporate them. As a result of these two factors, you can see from the map above, the BMR units are mainly located in the SOMA, Civic Center/Van Ness and Bayview areas. This leaves huge areas of San Francisco unable (or unwilling) to help support this important population. 

Where Are We Supposed To Go?

Limiting the available land for low/moderate income homes to only a small portion of San Francisco and combining it with a severe housing crisis, you come across the current situation facing many San Francisco families. The middle to lower socio-economic classes are being actively pushed out of what was once a diverse city. With our artists, teachers, nurses, and hotel/restaurant workers unable to realistically see a future in San Francisco, you see the largest exodus of residents than any other city in the United States. We cannot let the hemmoraging of our working class continue.

The more I dive into the intricacies of past housing policies and how they are affecting the current housing dynamic, an HBO miniseries keeps popping into my mind. Show Me A Hero is about a New York town dealing with its past racist housing policies and the newly elected mayor has to deal with a court order to fix the city’s past segregation. Check out the character Mary Dorman from the mini-series. She is someone who I think we should aspire to be. 

Studies have shown that when the Fair Housing Act went into effect, zoning laws started to proliferate throughout the United States. San Francisco wasn’t immune and while it has changed throughout the years, we can still see the remnants of this racism in the map above.

How Can The Assessor Help?

For the last 20 years, the office has been run by appointees or career politicians with no understanding of the office or our housing market. This has taken a toll on our city’s understanding of its housing, part of which has led us to where we are today. I think this office can do more than taxes. This office can be a part of the solution.

As a real estate appraiser working in the SF housing market as well as with the Assessor’s office for the last 8 years, I will bring an understanding of the housing market to the Assessor’s office that’s been lacking for far too long. San Francisco is a city of innovators. It's a city of people who take an old paradigm and redefine it.  So, why are we still doing things the old way at the Assessor’s Office? For starters, the City Assessor’s Office has only worked for homeowners. That archaic way of doing business no longer works when over half of our residents are renters. If elected, I will work for every San Franciscan.

In times of crisis, it is up to everyone to contribute to the betterment of our society. I will bring more than the bare minimum to the office. By focusing the office on understanding our housing, the taxes generated will be more accurate and as a result, our city will be in a better position to help its citizens out of this crisis.

San Francisco Renters Are Angry

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People Are Angry

I have spoken to many people who are feeling the hardship of high rents. The people of San Francisco express frustration and anger at the impotence of City Hall against soaring rents. Repealing the Costa-Hawkins law would give cities all over California the option to implement rent control laws to protect citizens from out-of-control rents.

What is Costa-Hawkins

Costa-Hawkins is a 1995 law which hamstrings city legislatures in two ways. It prevents cities from creating rent control laws on certain homes. It also outlaws vacancy controls which allow a city to set the limit for market rent on a vacant unit. Curbed has a more in-depth explanation here.

San Francisco Is Different

San Francisco had already created its own rent control law prior to 1995 law. Rent control in San Francisco covers apartments located in apartment buildings built before June of 1979. It doesn’t cover condos or single family homes because of Costa-Hawkins. The map above shows where and how many units would be under rent control if the state ballot initiative repeals Costa-Hawkins. Over 100,000 units would be subject to current SF rent control laws. Most of these units are located in the west and south of the city. This would be a relief to many renters who fear their annual rental increase.

No More Bullying

The repeal would also remove the bully tactic of using extreme rental increases to force a tenant out, avoiding the relocation fees. Normally, when an owner evicts a tenant they must pay relocation fees that can run 10’s of thousands of dollars. A way around this is by raising rent so high that it’s impossible to pay rent. As a result, the tenant is forced to move. Unscrupulous landlords are basically evicting people without paying the relocation fees. Case in point here.

How Can The Assessor Help?

I am determined to push the envelope on the responsibilities for the position. The Assessor’s main job is to find all property eligible for taxation, fairly assign a tax and let the person know of their tax responsibilities. But this limited scope of responsibilities is the minimum that the Assessor/Recorder does. I plan on taking the position several steps further.

  1. I plan on cleaning up and improving our understanding of our housing stock. Currently, the information/data on our housing is so bad our city agencies who rely on it have to get additional data elsewhere. Imagine having an office that has a thorough understanding of how many homes, bedrooms and living space San Francisco has.

  2. The second way I plan to help our citizens during the housing crisis is to start a public information program where property owners can effectively understand and predict their tax increases if they install/legalize an In-Law unit in their home. Empowering property owners is a top priority with my campaign.

  3. I will work with City Hall to start a program of property tax forbearance. This would allow property owners who choose to install an In-Law and rent it at below market rates to not incur the property taxes of the new In-Law.

These are just some of the ideas I will bring to the position. I feel there is more to this position than just money. For too long, the bureaucrats running this position have been focused too narrowly on money when they could have been also helping San Francisco in its time of need. It's time to change that. It's time to put someone in the position who has a better understanding of housing in San Francisco.

Where’s all this new San Francisco construction going?

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Talking With San Francisco Residents

While discussing my vision for the Assessor’s office with the people of San Francisco, many residents have expressed frustration at being stuck where they are and fearful of their home being sold to out from under them. From my conversations, there are many people who feel as if they are weathering a storm and are barely holding onto what they have. This is no way to live.

These conversations made me think about how much housing we are actually building and where in the city it is being built. San Francisco is about 49 square miles with all possible vacant land already developed. This leaves little room for new home construction, which, if done right, might ease the storm people are weathering.

Where is all the new construction going?

The above map shows where all of our new homes have been built since 2010, based on Assessor data. As you can see, only about 4200 new homes have been made available in San Francisco during the last 7 years of record economic prosperity. The vast majority of these homes are made available at market rate, which is only available to a much wealthier portion of San Francisco residents. These homes are often called luxury housing because of the price tag attached to buy one.

What is striking about the map is most of the construction is concentrated in a small part of San Francisco which is already highly developed. Our city center and the immediate surrounding areas are bearing the brunt of supporting the new construction of our city. With the southern and western areas hamstrung by archaic zoning laws from the 1970’s.

The Gentrification of The Mission

What also stands out from the map is the high density of new housing being built in the Mission. The new luxury housing being built in the Mission requires an income level well above the median income of local Mission residents. Long been a Latino working class neighborhood, the Mission is under intense pressure to get rid of its long term tenants and flip the neighborhood shops to higher priced Valencia style boutique shops to support the new style of money flooding to the area. I can totally understand why the residents of the Mission are so angry and feel so helpless. Their neighborhood is being sold out from under them.

How the Assessor can help

While the Assessor is unable to legislate housing laws, it can be a voice at City Hall in support of progressive housing ideas and can work with supervisors to help ease the housing crisis. An example idea would be to try and use our already built housing infrastructure to foster new affordable rental units. There are new laws on the books allowing people to legalize the ubiquitous downstairs In-law unit (also known as an Accessory Dwelling Unit ADU). Could City Hall bring these units out of the shadows while at the same time creating affordable housing? I think so.

When I speak to homeowners around the city as part of my appraisal business, I ask them why they don’t legalize their In-Law unit. They often state the additional unknown property tax burden they will incur as a main reason why they don’t.

My idea is to create a program where someone could legalize their In-Law and not pay any additional property tax if they offer the unit to rent at affordable rates (taxes the city already does not collect because the unit is illegal). The trade-off would be a legalized unit with no additional tax while helping people find affordable housing. When I offer this idea as a possibility, they often say they would think about it. When I point out that the city cannot rip out a permitted In-Law (because the city can require it to be removed if discovered), they definitely give it serious consideration.

These types of ideas are win/win as the homeowner gets what it needs in a secure in-law with no additional taxes and renters have affordable options to live in SF.

About me.

A little information about me. My name is Paul Bellar and I am running for County Assessor. If you are interested in more ideas how the Assessor can do more than just tax its people, please visit me at AccessSF.org.

What if San Francisco Truly Valued Its Public Transportation?

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Update

Looks like State Senator Scott Weiner saw my map and was inspired. However, the legislation he introduced would take my idea too far for a lot of communities here in SF. My idea is to put the power in the hands of the property owners. Mr. Weiner's would put the power in the hands of those who have the money for large scale developments. When the power is in the hands of developers, this can to lead to gentrification which is not in the interests our communities. If we can bring down the scale of his legislation to a more community-friendly version similar to mine then I can see more communities getting behind it.

San Francisco Loves Public Transportation

Public transportation has always been an amenity of living in San Francisco. Whether it’s BART, Muni, Light Rail, or even the cable cars, there has always been a way to get around the city inexpensively. And this is what many SF lovers want. They want an easy way to get around the city that doesn't include looking for parking, parking tickets or being towed. People have expressed they want to live near public trans.  So I went to our housing data to see what it would look like if we had more housing near it.

Using Assessor-Recorder Role data, I was able to create a map showing how many units could be created if we did small tweaks to our housing density near our major transport lines. Currently, the city has only made this possible, for the most part, on the street where the transit line is located. I thought, since people can walk farther than half a block, let’s expand our housing and create a larger transit buffer promoting more homes near our public transport. As a result, we could possibly increase our housing by almost 70,000 units. Wow.

New Housing Won't Happen Fast

While new homes will not be built overnight, it is a way for San Francisco to say it cares for its residents, a way to reduce its ecological footprint and way to show forward thinking beyond today.

This, combined with other ideas such as In-laws and density ideas I have mentioned at AccessSF.org, San Francisco can work for its citizens to ease the economic pressure causing Ellis Act, Owner Move-In and other no-fault evictions. These ideas are a win-win for San Francisco.

The lack of productive dialogue and constructive debate on possible solutions was one of the main reasons for me to run for County Assessor. From my experiences, and those around me, I hope to show possible outside-the-mainstream approaches to the housing crisis.

San Francisco needs City officials with the backbone to stand up for what is good for the city. This is the voice I will bring to City Hall. Seeing how the Assessor’s office can help bring housing laws out of the 1970’s and into the modern era.

- Paul Bellar for Assessor- 2018

Here's How You Ease Housing In SF

Everyone knows San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis. There just aren’t enough rooms for everyone who wants to live here, and that means rents are too high, families get pushed out of the city and commutes get longer. But there are thousands of potential rooms all across the city that can’t be rented because of existing zoning laws: Granny Units.

These studios or one-bedroom spaces, which you might also know as In-Law units, can be found in just about every garage in the city. In looking finding possible solutions to our housing crisis through data, I have identified possibly over 30,000 homes with a potential Granny Unit attached. Can you imagine what would happen if 30,000 new units, controlled by homeowners and not career landlords, came on the market? There’d be almost no wait time for these new rooms--many of these structures already exist or a close to being updated, meaning no new construction or change to the look and feel of our neighborhoods.

While San Francisco has got with the times and updated some of the laws allowing Granny units, there is no robust effort to motivate owners to build them or legalize them. This, combined with the fact that owners don’t want to pay more in property taxes has left this potential solution going nowhere.

As assessor, I would communicate with owners about how this would impact their assessment if they chose to create a granny unit. Also, I would work with city hall to try and find ways of mitigating the additional tax. Maybe we can do what San Jose did and find funding to help with the additional tax if they rent to low income families.

Other cities recognize the housing crisis and are paying people to install them or offering low interest loans. This is the leadership San Francisco desparately needs.

Take a look at the map AccessSF.org put together to illustrate just how much untapped potential there is in San Francisco’s housing market. Portland and Los Angeles are already on board with this idea, and with the challenges San Francisco is facing only expected to get worse, we desperately need to some creative solutions.

To find out more about this, and Paul Bellar’s other ideas for reforming San Francisco housing, visit Paul Bellar for Assessor - Recorder at AccessSF.org. #VoteTallPaul

How To Hack The SF Rental Market

Trying to find a place to live in San Francisco that is affordable? Is that even possible anymore? That’s a question Paul Bellar, who is running for SF Assessor/Recorder 2018, is trying to answer.

 Number of space bedrooms in San Francisco.

Number of space bedrooms in San Francisco.

Bedroom Hack

The map shows some of the potentially available bedrooms owned by baby boomers in San Francisco. Using Property Roll Data made available by the Assessor/Recorder’s office and combining it with census data, I was able to map the areas of SF showing all of the potential bedrooms that have been underutilized in San Francisco.

How do you get one of these rooms? Paul recommended “Nextdoor is the modern version of fliers, I would start there.” That's hoping the boomers are tech savvy. “I would also recommend putting out fliers in the local markets. Sounds out of date but it's possible."

Maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea. According to Paul, he tried this while living in Alaska during graduate school. “Yea, I put fliers out at Safeway and other markets saying I would house sit or watch the dog while they were away. I only got one response, but that was all I needed. It helped me score a room in Juneau for the summer.”

While a novel idea, other cities like Portland and Boston are keen to the idea as well.

In collecting this data, Bellar also is finding major gaps in the data maintained by the Assessor/Recorder’s. For example, based on the numbers in the data, 58% of San Francisco homes are recorded to have no bedrooms. That would mean that over half of all housing in San Francisco are studio apartments. “That's impossible. Clearly, we have a city-wide housing data problem. I'm aiming to change that.”

Well, if it helps me get a place that won’t break the bank. He’s got my vote.

If you are interested in getting involved in AccessSF.org’s mission. Contact them.

Helpful Flier if needed.