San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee unveiled a plan on October 21 to address one of the city’s most vexing problems: how to keep teachers living in the city when they cannot afford rents on vacant apartments or the purchase price of a home. While 70% of teachers currently live in San Francisco, this number will steadily diminish as teachers retire and new teachers have to deal with a much more expensive housing market.
The plan follows 16 months of meetings between the Mayor’s Office of Housing, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF). It relies on four strategies to stabilize housing for 500 teachers by 2020: new construction of affordable housing, rental housing assistance, mortgage counseling and the inclusion of $5 million in Prop A, the affordable housing bond, to replenish the now empty Teacher Next Door downpayment loan program for first time homebuyers.
I described in August (“3 Ways to Help SF Teachers”) why San Francisco desperately needs subsidized housing for teachers. The Mayor alluded to how difficult it is for teachers to be available for after school programs, parent meetings and school events when they are commuting an hour to and from San Francisco each day.
School Board Vice-President Matt Haney noted, “It’s incredibly hard to recruit and retain teachers in San Francisco when they can’t afford to live here. I’m happy to see Mayor Lee leading on this issue, as after talking about this for too long it’s exciting and encouraging to see some real action and progress.”
Details on the rental subsidy plan are still being worked out. The mayor said there would be at least 100 units built for teacher housing, and that at least 100 teachers would get rental assistance. $250,000 per year for five years is earmarked for mortgage assistance counseling to at least 100 households. The new funding for Teacher Next Door will cover the cost of at least 200 forgivable loans.
Of course a plan helping 500 teachers will not alone solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. That’s why Prop A, the $310 million affordable housing bond, is on the ballot. It’s also why the city is pushing several initiatives to get more affordable housing from private developments and while also increasing funding to keep longterm tenants in their homes.
Skepticism Over Housing
The acute housing crisis has left many skeptical over even the most ambitious affordable housing plans. These feelings of distrust and doubt are found in cities across the nation, all of whom are negatively impacted by the federal government’s abandonment of its historic role in ensuring safe and affordable housing for all Americans.
And if you think San Francisco’s response to crisis is inadequate, it’s far superior to other high rent cities.
Consider New York City, where planner AnMarie Rodgers alerted me to the strongly negative response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rezoning proposal for the working-class North Brooklyn neighborhood known as East New York. While the plan pledges to build thousands of affordable units by imposing a 50% inclusionary housing requirement—which is even higher than the 40% mandate San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim won from the Giants—East New York residents aren’t buying it.
Why the skepticism? After all, de Blasio needs East New York’s working-class African-American and Latino votes to win re-election.
Well, one reason residents are skeptical is a provision in the mayor’s plan that allows developers to reduce their affordable housing obligations by pleading “hardship” to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeal. And if you are familiar with the history of pro-developer shenanigans that routinely occurs in New York City, East New York residents’ concern over this provision’s impact is understandable.
The San Francisco progressives constantly bashing Mayor Lee’s housing record should compare Lee’s approach to what de Blasio—elected by NYC progressives– is proposing for one of the last major non-gentrified sections of New York City. Not only is inclusionary housing not required anywhere in New York City for projects that don’t require a rezoning, but even with a massive rezoning developers in East New York would still be able to avoid affordable housing requirements by winning a “hardship” appeal.
The community group Real Affordability For All criticized de Blasio’s plan as “a failure for those who most need it.” Housing advocates see new housing in at risk low-income neighborhoods like East New York and the South Bronx as needing much deeper affordability.
For his part, Mayor de Blasio insists that “Powerful developers will not decide the future of these communities. The people will decide, and the people will set the rules.”
From San Francisco to New York City, the historically unprecedented gap between what people can afford and the actual cost of building and operating housing makes solving the affordable housing crisis more difficult than ever. San Francisco’s plan to retain teachers is only one part of a larger puzzle, but it is an important one.
The plan sends a message to those considering becoming public school teachers in San Francisco that help is on the way. At a time when teachers continue to be demonized by anti-union forces, San Francisco is sending a message that it values its teachers and sees addressing teacher housing costs as a top city priority.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His two children teach in the SFUSD. He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, which he will be speaking about on a panel with Gordon Chin and David Talbot at the Howard Zinn Book Fair on November 15.San Francisco News