Hearing could work out flaws in Lee's housing trust fund proposal

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Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed Housing Trust Fund charter amendment -- which he proposed during his inaugural address in January -- will be up for review before the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee tomorrow (Wed/11) in the hopes of making its way onto the November ballot. The meeting is at 1:30pm in City Hall Room 263.

The measure, which would guarantee money for affordable housing for the next 30 years, was drafted primarily by the Council of Community Housing Organization (CCHO) and the Mayor's Office, but included input from housing developers, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), and some supervisors.

Supporters intend the housing trust fund to provide a consistent stream of funding that guarantees $1.2 billion over a 30-year period for affordable housing. Each year the fund would take in between $20 million and $50 million. In addition to building new housing, it would create a $15 million homebuyers assistance program, doubling the current funds, and a $15 million home stabilization fund to help homeowners facing foreclosure. But Lee hasn't convinced his business community allies to adequately fund the measure and there are doubts about its revenue projections.

Sup. John Avalos is cosponsoring the measure and helped draft some content, but he isn’t ready to vote for it yet. He is concerned with some of the big concessions the measure grants to market-rate developers, which could end up actually hurting existing affordable housing programs.

“I am watching closely,” Avalos said, “to make sure we don’t give too much away.”

Here are the three concessions: 1) High-rise residential developers would be allowed to pay inclusionary housing fees for affordable housing after construction instead up upfront. 2) Low to mid-rise developers would have the percentage of onsite affordable housing unit requirements lowered from 15 percent to 12 percent. 3) Developers of small five-to-nine-unit buildings would no longer have the inclusionary housing fee or the onsite affordable housing requirement.

The housing trust gets its funding by trying recapture the disbanded Redevelopment Agency's bond repayments and hotel tax funds, but Fernando Marti of CCHO doesn't believe that would capture nearly as much as Lee hopes. Marti estimates that the money would eventually lead to $13 million a year, which is a far cry from the previous $50 million needed.

Marti said the rest of the funding he hopes will come from the two competing business tax reform measures developed by Lee and Avalos, although Avalos has make clear that the $40 million his measure would raise is intended for the General Fund to maintain city services that have been cut in recent years. Lee's measure would generate $13 million that he would earmark for the housing trust fund.

Marti said if the housing trust is approved by voters but the business tax reform fails, Lee has inserted language into the measure that would allow him to unilaterally abolish the housing trust fund. Marti said the CCHO doesn’t want the money for the housing trust to come out of the cash-strapped general fund.

Avalos is skeptical of Lee's approach, telling us, “That doesn’t sound like anything I’d vote for.”