Prop K: Use Surplus City Property for Housing

by TJ Johnston

A Timeline of Surplus Property Efforts

San Francisco passes Surplus Property Ordinance.
Swords to Ploughshares opens 150 Otis as Veteran housing.
Chinatown Community Development Center opens Broadway Sansome Apartments.
Prop K placed on ballot; may push City to realize the goals of 2002’s original ordinance.

Imagine 4,000 housing units becoming open to homeless families using land owned—but not being used—by the City.

That’s something that could be realized if San Francisco voters approve Proposition K, the Surplus Land Ordinance, in the November 3 election.

Earlier this year, thanks to an anonymous $3 million donation, vacant property from the San Francisco Unified School District in the Mission District was converted to short-term shelter for people living on the streets.

Now, the City is poised to provide permanent housing for many, many more homeless families and individuals, as well as for many middle-income households, by opening multiple unused properties if Proposition K passes. The proposition, authored by District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, would enhance legislation passed in 2002 and expand affordability criteria to include mostly people making 120% average median income, and in some cases, 55% AMI. It would also expand the definition of “homeless” to include families doubled up or in single-resident occupancy hotels.

The measure would also keep the City from making deals with developers on City-owned properties for 120 days unless the Board of Supervisors approves.

At a Rules Committee hearing in July, Kim noted that when she was on the School Board, the underfunded School District was land-rich from unused properties.

“Why not just leverage the land to not just bring back revenues, but to bring back value to the School District?” she said.

Since the current surplus land ordinance took effect, only two City-owned properties—one on 150 Otis Street, the other on 201 Broadway—have been developed for affordable housing.

But at least 4,000 affordable units could open by 2020, according to the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes the Street Sheet. Fernando Martí of the Council of Community Housing Organizations says that several City properties would be eligible for use as low-income housing if Proposition K passes. The Municipal Transportation Agency holds a property at Fourth and Folsom where it’s constructing underground utilities for the Central Subway, and will construct housing upon the subway construction’s completion. If Prop K passes, “it will be the voters’ will that the space above the subway station be affordable housing,” said Martí. SFMTA also holds a property called Kirkland Yard, north of Telegraph Hill, which occupies a full City block, all of which could best be used as housing for people with lower incomes.

The Unified School District, too, holds properties that could be converted into deeply affordable housing, such as an old school in the Sunset that has most recently been used as a principal training facility, but which has not served as a school in years. Balboa Reservoir is a 17-acre site belonging to the Public Utilities Commission which affordable housing advocates have eyed as a potential site to be affected by Prop K: The Planning Department already plans to use the site as housing, and is in a rush to sell the plot to market-rate developers. If Prop K passes, it would be required that the housing be affordable to low-income and middle-income people.

Martí says, “The main goal is to make sure that there’s transparency, that the Board of Supervisors have a chance to know about attempts to sell public land [by departments], and that there be public hearings so that members of the public can come forward to speak about properties that could be used for affordable housing.”

Implementing Proposition K would have no impact on the cost of government, according to the Controller’s Office.

The Coalition on Homelessness recommends a yes vote for Proposition K.