San Francisco

San Francisco Housing Top Priority, Mayor Lee Says in State of the City Speech

With San Francisco's home prices soaring, Mayor Ed Lee unveiled plans Thursday to try to increase the city's stock of affordable housing and help more people buy homes.

Lee, calling housing the city's "No. 1 priority,'' said in his State of the City speech that San Francisco has made progress in building new homes and protecting tenants, but it needs to do more.

"Now more than ever, we must make sure to ensure that everyone shares in the city's prosperity, that this city is where everyone belongs,'' he said, speaking at a produce market in the Bayview district, one of the city's grittier neighborhoods.

Lee proposed partnering with the private sector on a new housing fund and putting a bond measure on the ballot to build and rehabilitate more housing for poor and middle income residents. He also proposed an additional $100 million over 10 years for a city program that loans first-time home buyers up to $200,000 for a down payment.

"We all know that home ownership is out of reach for too many San Franciscans,'' he said.

The city's economy is booming with strong growth in the technology sector fueled by the success of companies such as Twitter. But that growth has also put upward pressure on rents and home prices, which have become unaffordable for many residents.

San Francisco's median home price is around $1 million. A $90,000 income for a typical young worker in the city would be enough to buy only 28 percent of homes for sale, according to an analysis by online real estate firm Trulia. Rents have seen similar increases.

The surging prices have fueled tension between technology workers and other San Francisco residents, with periodic protests around the company buses that carry technology workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. The buses are viewed as a symbol of economic inequality.

Lee pointed to the construction or rehabilitation of 4,000 homes in the city last year – double the number in 2013 – as a sign of progress in addressing the housing crisis. Lee has committed to building or rehabilitating 30,000 housing units by 2020.

He said Thursday he also wants to continue pushing the state Legislature to modify the "Ellis Act,'' which allows landlords to evict all tenants in a building when they want to sell a property and get out of the rental business. Efforts to change the law last year failed.

Lee's plans deserve support, but they are not going to end the housing problem, said Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, which advises the mayor.

"It's taken us a long time to get to where we are today, and we're not going to solve it quickly,'' Colen said, citing "deeply entrenched reasons'' for the soaring housing costs.

Colen said the city needs to spur even more housing construction with a focus on cheaper wood-frame-over-concrete buildings as opposed to high-rises.

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