Deal prioritizes affordable housing for at-risk residents

A compromise with federal housing authorities will allow San Francisco to set aside spaces in affordable housing projects for residents at the highest risk of displacement, city officials announced Wednesday evening.

In a letter to Mayor Ed Lee Wednesday, U.S. Department of Housing officials said that while they could not allow The City to give priority to neighborhood residents for spaces in affordable housing projects, they could allow an alternate plan prioritizing residents at risk of displacement.

The U.S. Department of Housing notified The City last month that an ordinance setting aside 40 percent of units in new affordable housing projects for residents living within the same supervisorial district violated federal housing discrimination laws and could not be applied to projects using federal money.

The neighborhood preferences ordinance, approved 9-2 by the Board of Supervisors in December, was intended to reduce the displacement of low-income and minority residents, particularly in The City’s black community, which had declined from 13.4 percent of the population in 1970 to 5.5 percent by 2014.

Following HUD’s decision, city officials including Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who co-authored the legislation with Supervisor Malia Cohen, flew to Washington, D.C. to ask housing officials to reconsider. With the backing of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, The City was able to negotiate a change in policy.

HUD officials said they would allow a policy designating 40 percent of units for residents living in neighborhoods determined to be at a high risk of displacement “where residents from throughout The City are eligible for the preference and where race is not considered in the selection process.”

Those neighborhoods will be determined using an analysis by the University of California at Berkeley, and include portions of the Western Addition, Bayview, Russian Hill, Mission and South of Market areas.

Today’s announcement will have an immediate impact on the allocation of spaces in the Willie B. Kennedy Apartments, a senior housing development opening this month in the Western Addition neighborhood. The lottery for the 96-unit project, which has drawn more than 6,000 applicants, had been delayed while the city waited for HUD’s decision.

Lee said the decision was important progress in The City’s efforts to halt displacement of residents at risk of being forced out by high housing prices.

“This is a lifeline for many seniors in the Western Addition who were hoping to remain in the neighborhood by obtaining an affordable unit.”

In a statement, Breed called the decision a:

“… monumental victory for everyone who — like me — is struggling to stay in San Francisco. … The housing policies of the 1960s cannot solve the problems of 2016, and we can’t let them stand in our way either. … This is San Francisco — we don’t give up.”