The hail-mary effort to fix SF housing affordability, backed by Ev Williams & others

Housing prices in San Francisco are soaring. Since 2012 the city has seen a 103% increase in the median home prices. According to Zillow by June 2016, the median home price in the city had reached $1.135 million.

Only 11% of San Francisco residents can afford an average home

According to the California Association of Realtors, only 11% of San Francisco residents can afford to buy an average home. In the rest of California, that number rises to around 30%, and for the entire country; it’s 58%. The rental market has followed this upward trend with the average one-bedroom apartment renting for $3,500 in February. Want a two-bedroom? The number rises to an average of $4,800 a month.

If these numbers sound crazy to you, then the good news is that there may be something you can do about it. There is a proposed ballot measure that needs to gather 10,000 signatures from city residents in the next two weeks to qualify for the November ballot.

A last-minute effort to get on the ballot

Greg Ferenstein, a technology journalist and educator, has decided to do something about the problem and has submitted a ballot initiative, the Build More Housing Initiative, for the November ballot. Ferenstein acknowledges that the ballot measure “is not perfect,” and represents a starting point for solving San Francisco’s long-term housing problems, rather than a complete solution. 

As of now, Ferenstein has raised $18,450 from donors including Twitter & Medium founder Ev Williams, and 500 Startups founder Dave McClure.

If the initiative passes, it will clearly demonstrate the political voice of San Franciscans that the price of affordable housing has reached a critical stage and that the city government needs to join forces with the creators of the initiative to create a new citywide planning code to present to the voters in 2017.

Bureaucratic red tape lengthens regulatory approval

The measure does not call for using public funds to build housing. Instead, what it does is bring San Francisco’s complex regulations that prevent high-density apartment construction in line with the building codes in other major cities.

Construction of new apartments in San Francisco can take 8 to 10 years to approve, compared to just 17 weeks in Seattle.

Interest groups can tie up a housing project for many years by using an outdated regulatory process to delay projects. Construction of new apartments in San Francisco can take 8 to 10 years to approve, compared to just 17 weeks in Seattle. Sure, San Francisco is a unique city, but so is Seattle. Approval of the proposal will not let apartment construction run amuck in the city. Rather it will instill some much-needed common sense to the process.

The proposed initiative has four key provisions:

1. Enact “as-of-right” zoning. This will ease the regulatory process that allows a few people to stop a project for years.

2. End density regulations — much of San Francisco effectively prohibits anything but 2-story single-family homes. There are many areas of the city where increased density can be added without harming the unique feel San Francisco.

3. Raise height limits in each neighborhood.

4. Ensure each new building creates the maximum number of affordable units for residents making less than the median income. 

Want to get involved?

Time is short. If you want to help to get the Build More Housing Initiative on the November ballot, you can:

1. Learn more about the measure here

2. Volunteer to collect signatures from San Francisco residents. Click here for additional information on how to volunteer.

3. Donate

If the ballot measure gets on the ballot, you can pledge your vote for (or against) it here on Openvote. 

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