A Green Light for Social Housing
How can SF drastically bring down rents? Cities around the world – including Vienna, Berlin, Singapore, and Hong Kong – make housing affordable through social housing: deeply affordable housing for a broad range of incomes that is separate from the private real-estate market. These programs have been highly successful. For example, in Vienna, Austria, 62% of residents live in social housing and spend no more than 20-25% of their income on rent.
Proposition K authorizes up to 10,000 units of municipally-owned social housing. The authorization is on a flexible timeline and subject to funding limits, and will therefore begin as a pilot. While this measure raises no new taxes itself, there is a separate transfer tax on the ballot, Proposition I, that would partially fund this measure and seed the pilot program.
Clearing a Segregation-Era Hurdle
Before the City can even pilot a single unit of municipal housing, it has to clear a legal hurdle: Article 34. Article 34 of the California Constitution was added by segregationists and the state Realtors’ Association in 1950, and requires a local vote before any low-rent housing can be created in a locality like San Francisco.
We don’t have any requirement like this for high-income housing! Only low-income housing is discriminated against. Article 34 very clearly intended to keep low-income tenants in public housing or other affordable housing — especially Black tenants — out of affluent areas, and was passed amid fears of public housing's racial integration.
Passed with 50.8% of the vote in 1950, Article 34 has worsened segregation on race and class lines. Until it is repealed statewide, we need voter approval for even a pilot program to start.
A Structural Solution
The economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects low-income residents and people of color – especially Black and Latinx San Franciscans. Our city has had an affordable housing crisis for decades. We need to pass Prop K to bring municipal social housing to SF, guarantee deeply affordable rents, and create a structural, internationally-proven solution for affordable housing.