Legislation would fast-track affordable housing

San Francisco nonprofit housing developers and advocates for increased development turned out Monday to support legislation that would reduce the time needed for affordable housing to win approval.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee today and forwarded to the full board for a vote.

The proposal would exempt 100 percent affordable housing projects with units affordable to people with low to moderate incomes from the need to apply for a conditional use permit, a process that requires a planning commission hearing and can add months to the approval process and increase costs, according to Wiener. Only around six projects since 2010 would have qualified for the exemption, according to planning staff.

Projects would still need to go through design review and neighborhood notification processes and residents could still ask the planning commission to review the project.

Wiener said Monday:

“We need dramatically more affordable housing and we need it not tomorrow or a year or 10 years from now but we need it as quickly as possible.”

The legislation drew opposition at a recent Planning Commission hearing from residents who said it would short circuit public input into affordable housing projects, prompting Wiener to introduce an identical ballot measure as a backup. He has stated that he would prefer to see the legislation passed by the board, however, and has until March 4 to withdraw the ballot measure.

A few speakers at today’s hearing again voiced concerns about reduced public review, but they were outnumbered by nonprofit housing developers and their supporters testifying to the difficulty and expense of developing affordable housing in San Francisco.

Pat Scott, executive director of the Booker T. Washington Center, told the board that the approval process for the center’s 50-unit affordable housing project, which broke ground last year despite vigorous neighborhood opposition, was a “nightmare.”

She joked that the project began 10 years ago:

“… when I was 25 years younger. It took some time off my life, but more importantly it sends a signal that we don’t support people who can’t afford the high price of housing in San Francisco today.”

Supervisors London Breed and Aaron Peskin both spoke in favor of the legislation at today’s meeting, although Peskin warned that the conditional use process remained important for many types of projects and public input often led to better final results.

Peskin said:

“There is an increasing push to streamline more and more, and I think we need to understand the value of having an interactive process. … I think 100 percent affordable housing developments are different.”