In-depth: Amid housing crisis, San Francisco aims to create more affordable housing

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco is at the heart of the Bay Area housing crises.

You see construction everywhere, but most of us are priced out of being able to afford to live in a luxury high-rise.

The city, however, is looking at the different ways to create more affordable housing.

“We have 1,000 apartments that are in, what we call, the pipeline,” said Karoleen Feng, who is with the Mission Economic Development Agency. “Some of them are built out, and some of them–we have about 500 that are waiting to be kicked off.”

Recently, the agency bought an unoccupied building at 18th and Mission Streets in San Francisco.

By mid-2021, it will be renovated and turned into commercial space and at least 40 affordable apartments for low-income families.

“Buying property is part of a growing strategy to turn old and often unused buildings into affordable housing,” Feng said.

In addition, organizations like MEDA are taking advantage of San Francisco’s “small sites” program.

MEDA uses city subsidies to buy old buildings where tenants are on the brink of eviction and keep their rents at affordable levels–which for most families is under $1,000 a month.

In the last four years, MEDA has purchased 19 buildings through “small sites.”

By 2020, MEDA says it hopes to own at least 2,000 apartments in the Mission District.

“Having affordable housing is the first step to rebuilding this as a Latino hub,” Feng said.

A lack of affordable housing is a pressing issue all over San Francisco, including the Sunset Neighborhood where Board of Supervisors Member Katy Tang grew up.

It’s a district she now represents as a member of the board.

She says the Sunset has an abundance of single-family homes but not much density.

“People continue to get priced out of the city, and I think the Sunset is one of the last few districts that hasn’t seen any sort of development at all,” Tang said.

Supervisor Tang says the late former Mayor Ed Lee took notice of that, focusing on how the city is utilizing San Francisco Unified School District-owned properties.

And Lee looked at whether or not they were all fulfilling their potential.

The determination was made that the Playland at 43rd Avenue would be a great spot to keep teachers in San Francisco–by turning this land into affordable housing, specifically for educators.

“So, in the next couple of years, we should be able to see teachers being housed,” Tang said.

Projects like this, and legislation Tang sponsored last year called Home-SF, are all driving towards the goal of adding 5,000 new housing units citywide in the next two decades.

“Home-SF was designed to serve as an incentive, that if you build, you know, a certain number of affordable housing units for low and middle-income households, you get a density bonus–that means you get to build more units per square foot and you also get two extra stories above existing height limits,” Tang said.

Tang says at least four developers are actively seeking permits to take advantage of the program.

And for those granted the two-extra stories, Tang says 40 percent of those units must be two bedrooms or larger.

“And I think that’s really important because San Francisco, historically in the last few decades, has built one-bedroom units, studios,” Tang said. “Families can’t live and survive in studios and one-bedroom units.”

And they certainly can’t survive if the units are not affordable.

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