A Prop. M for housing - Page 2

New projects should be judged on the basis of how much the housing will cost

People who work in this city have to leave town to find housing they can afford; a lot of people who are moving into new housing here don't work in town. It's environmental psychosis.

There's only one way to change that — the environmentalists and the housing activists and the progressive policy makers have to acknowledge an incontrovertible fact: sound environmental policy in an urban setting like San Francisco has to start with sound social and economic policy, and in San Francisco that means abandoning developer-driven housing and starting over. It means testing all new projects not on the basis of how close they are to jobs or bus lines or how many cars they will allow underneath or what their density is, but on the basis of how much the housing will cost and who will be able to rent or buy it.

And by those standards, none of the new high-rise buildings in the planning pipeline is even close to a good idea.

In this week's cover story we describe an alternative approach to housing policy. It's a three-part program, and the first two elements — preserving existing rental housing and finding a new funding mechanism for affordable-housing construction — are either already on the progressive agenda or rapidly moving forward. The third element is something new — but it deserves serious discussion.

It's the idea, first put forward by Salomon, of adopting a comprehensive, citywide housing policy that would resemble the 1986 ballot measure known as Proposition M. Prop. M was designed to limit the impact of runaway commercial office development, and it set specific priority policies for all new projects, including the preservation of neighborhood character. It also strictly limited the amount of new office space that could be built in any one year and mandated that developers compete for the right to build. The projects that best suited the city's needs (not the developers' needs) would get the go-ahead; the others wouldn't make the cut.

Imagine how that would work for housing. Say the voters passed a measure that limited new for-profit, market-rate housing to 500 units per year. The developers who wanted to win that lottery would have to come to the table with good offers — plenty of affordable set-asides, green buildings, structures that weren't out of synch with the area, money for parks, schools, and other neighborhood services.... What could possibly be wrong with that?

San Francisco needs a cap on new housing for the rich and a mandate that all housing meet community needs. A well-crafted Prop. M–<\d>style ballot measure might energize the neighborhoods, force elected officials to talk seriously about housing ... and save San Francisco. That ought to be on everyone's agenda.*