Social Housing: A Conversation San Franciscans Should be Having


San Francisco Window Replacement

Berlin’s recent request of their local government to eminent domain 220,000 apartments, which is ​​the right of a government or its agent to expropriate and pay for private property for public use, had some San Franciscans ponder the efficacy of social housing.

As reported in the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco’s Real Estate Division is the owner and property manager of seven office buildings including City Hall while the San Francisco Public Library owns and manages 27 branches across the city and the school district owns and manages 114 school buildings.

San Francisco also has federally-owned social housing. An estimated 3,000 people live in 1,100 housing units in the Presidio. The residents pay market rate rent and their landlord, a federal agency, uses the rent from residents and from office buildings, hotels, and a golf course in the Presidio to maintain the public park.

While there are several examples of our local government and a local branch of the federal government being good landlords, local proponents and opponents of social housing agree that social housing should only be available to low-income residents.

But you may wonder what mixed-income social housing looks like and what the advantages are.

In Vienna, for example, 40% of the housing is social housing open to residents of all incomes. Generally, nearly half of residents are high income and pay market-rate rents. Those rents then subsidize the below-market rents paid by their lower-income neighbors. This is especially advantageous in promoting economic integration.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency proposed to use the rents to help fund public transportation. However, the SFMTA initially planned to build more than 500 units of housing and use the revenues from the rents to pay to rebuild and renovate the bus yard, which San Franciscans may support.

Unfortunately, general public aversion to market-rate housing has halted the project from becoming a reality as the housing project has to be 50% below market rate. The San Francisco Muni now has another capital project awaiting funding. The hope is that the more the public learns about how social housing works, the city will see more support for social housing for middle- and high-income residents to one day become a reality.

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