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.
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.
Access San Francisco
Access San Francisco is engaging San Francisco and Bay Area residents to try and make San Francisco accessible to everyone who wants to live here.