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 has been the most neglected position in San Francisco. Over the last 20 years, it has been inhabited by career politicians who don’t have the necessary housing background. This ignorance and lack of interest has taken a toll.

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 three fundamental parts. WHAT is being taxed, HOW MUCH is the tax and WHO owns it. 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 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. There 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 Why is the office using outdated rules?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.