Linking Office Construction to Affordable Housing—S.F. Ballot Initiative Would Try

Proposition E, a ballot initiative up for vote in San Francisco in May, is one of the most radical planning positions in recent years, attempting to reduce housing costs by limiting housing demand.

2 minute read

January 15, 2020, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

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Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

Joe Eskenazi reports on a game-changing proposition on the ballot in San Francisco in March, called Proposition E, which will cap the amount of office space the city can construct based on whether the city meets state-mandated affordable housing targets.

As noted by Eskenazi, Proposition E expands the powers of Proposition M, which the city approved in 1986 to cap the amount of office space in the city.

Prop. E would take things further. It would directly tie the amount of office space this city can construct to the amount of affordable housing it produces. And if the city comes up short on the latter — as it almost always does — then it will be proportionally restricted on the former.

According to Eskenazi, it's hard to imagine a San Francisco where the ballot initiative fails. "San Francisco’s electorate in March of 2020 would arguably vote for 'less office space' even without the 'more affordable housing' tie-in." The question then becomes what will happen if and when the city approves the proposition. The mayor's office is making the case that the proposition would reduce office construction and "bleed away fees intended for affordable housing." Proposition supporters point to a 2019 study that found that "fees for affordable housing reaped via the construction of office space are actually dwarfed by the affordable housing needs induced by that office space," writes Eskenazi [emphasis from the original].

A follow up article by Sarah Holder and Kriston Capps picks up on the same questions about whether the proposition will help or hurt the city's housing affordability crunch.

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