Mayor’s call for housing seeks to speed glacial pace

POSTED: 2/5/18

Author: Heather Knight

Publication: San Francisco Chronicle

The Francis Scott Key Annex on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. City and school district officials are considering tearing down this site located at 1360 43rd Ave to build apartment units for teachers and other educators to help address the "housing crisis" in S.F. Currently, it's an open space used by families and others in the community. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2017

Mayor London Breed’s State of the City address last week was packed with plans, and one of them in particular grabbed my attention.

She proposed a charter amendment for the November ballot that would make it easier to build 100 percent affordable housing projects — teacher housing included.

If a proposed project fit the city’s zoning regulations and other requirements, it would get the green light. There would be no appeal, no way for angry neighbors to block it.

“If an affordable housing or teacher housing project is proposed within zoning, then build it,” Breed said in her address. “Build it now. No more bureaucracy. No more costly appeals. No more ‘not in my neighborhood.’”

It’s about time. This city has given far too much credence to complaining residents who apparently think time should stop once they move into a neighborhood. And then they complain when the resulting housing shortage means their priced-out friends keep leaving the city, their children’s teachers keep quitting and there are homeless people living on the sidewalks outside their front doors.

Even if Breed’s proposal becomes law, San Francisco won’t exactly be building housing at the speed of light. Far from it.

Her announcement serves as a good time to check in on the incredibly slow, but steady pace of the building of the city’s first, and still only, teacher housing development. It is still in the planning stages at 1360 43rd Ave., which is school district property.

After officials with the school district, teachers union and Mayor’s Office of Housing talked for ages about possibly, maybe someday building teacher housing with no real progress, the late Mayor Ed Lee had had enough. In May 2017, he announced he had chosen the Outer Sunset site and was allotting $44 million to the project.

“There is a level of frustration I have with the current conversation,” Lee said back then. “We have an immediate housing problem right now.”

So a year and nine months later, are teachers moving in? Yeah, right — not even close.

The chosen developer, MidPen Housing, submitted its preliminary plans to the Planning Department in November and expects to get approvals in about a year, according to Kate Hartley, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

She said groundbreaking should take place late next year or early 2021. Construction should be finished in September 2022, after which teachers can move in to 130 new units.

So, let’s recap: Even when the mayor finds money and selects a site, it still takes more than five years until anybody can actually move in.

As for future teacher housing sites, maybe Mayor Breed needs to pull a move like her predecessor did and just pick one, because there’s been no progress on that front.

Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh said Monday the school district will issue within a month a request for qualifications from developers and other possible partners to help it explore the pluses and minuses of building housing on any particular site.

There are several vacant, district-owned sites being considered, including the vacant lot at Seventh Avenue and Lawton Street in the Inner Sunset. It’s best known as Clancy’s pumpkin patch and Christmas tree farm.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said she’s been asking the Mayor’s Office of Housing for two years to look at redeveloping a district-owned site near 30th Avenue and Balboa Street into teacher housing. It currently houses the Richmond Neighborhood Center, and Fewer believes it could be rebuilt to house the center and teacher apartments above.

“At the very least, the city should be doing a feasibility study,” Fewer said, adding she’s gotten no traction on the idea.

Hartley said the city’s preference is to develop vacant land. At Fewer’s proposed site, the neighborhood center would have to be moved during construction, and the building would probably be considered a historic resource — meaning a full environmental impact report would be required, Hartley said.

It’s important to develop teacher housing in one of the world’s most expensive cities, but the slow pace demonstrates why it’s also crucial to raise teacher salaries in the meantime.

There’s still no agreement at City Hall over whether any of the $185 million in windfall money leftover from an education account should go to — you know — education, in the form of teacher pay.

Breed wants to spend it all on homeless services, while some supervisors and the school district want $60 million to go to ensuring the raises teachers got this year because of a voter-approved parcel tax don’t disappear while the measure is challenged in court.

The Chronicle crunched teacher salary data for all California school districts for the 2017-18 academic year and found that a San Francisco teacher in his or her 10th year of teaching and with a bachelor’s degree and 60 extra college units makes $77,010 annually — 236th out of 792 districts statewide.

That’s a lot better than when we first started crunching these figures three years ago — an improved teacher contract helped that — but it’s still below districts in much more affordable cities such has Merced, Salida (Stanislaus County) and Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County).

San Francisco’s spot on the list should rise quite a bit next year, if the raises ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 from the disputed parcel tax stay in place.

Susan Solomon, president of the teachers union, said her members are finally feeling more stable. A teacher at Visitacion Valley Middle School, for example, told Solomon she was able to quit her side job at Starbucks after receiving the raise. Another teacher told Solomon that, at age 55, she’s finally not in the red every month.

Jennifer Moless is a kindergarten teacher at Serra Elementary School in Bernal Heights and was named Teacher of the Year by the mayor in 2013. She and her husband, who works at the post office, were able to buy a tenancy-in-common in Visitacion Valley during the economic downturn, but hadn’t felt stable until her pay raise this year.

“It was a big relief,” she said. “For the first time, when the car broke down, we could fix it without using credit. We can take our cat to the vet and not worry about it.”

These aren’t luxuries by any means, and anybody teaching children in San Francisco should be able to afford them. Losing her parcel tax bump would be “an insult,” she said.

“If I commute, I could make considerably more money, and I’m choosing not to do that,” she said. “But taking a pay cut, I would have to wonder if my labor is actually useful.”

It clearly is. And she and her colleagues need to be fairly paid for it.

Chronicle staff writer Joaquin Palomino contributed to this story.

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