One of the unfortunate effects of the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2012 was the loss of local agencies to purchase and redevelop properties for housing. Yet there are vestiges of the agencies still left and there is still opportunity.
Case in point today is the plan South San Francisco officials have outlined to provide affordable housing on a 6-acre site next to where a new Civic Center is being proposed. The property was purchased by the city from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and is ripe for redevelopment since its location near the Chestnut Avenue and El Camino Real intersection is near BART. Transit-oriented development has been a key phrase for new construction in recent years but its need has become more pronounced because of the rapidly rising cost of living for many.
By parlaying a publicly-owned site into housing, there is an opportunity to deliver, in this particular case, hundreds of new units at below-market rates. While another way of phrasing BMR is affordable housing, or even subsidized housing, with rents for the average two-bedroom apartment going for $3,400 a month and the median home price is $1.25 million, such housing is key to ensuring this area remains economically and culturally diverse. Such diversity will help those with incomes that would be considered high in other areas of the nation but who struggle to remain here. That includes those in the service sector, utilities, public sector and really anyone who is not working for a technology or biotechnology company.
While some might be concerned by the traffic such a development might bring, think of the alternative — an increase in people traveling from more affordable areas and clogging our highways to do so. Being next to BART also helps for this particular project.
While we do herald this idea, there are other locations in other cities. The city of Belmont is proceeding with 81 units at the city-owned Firehouse Square, with 25 percent of the units at rates affordable to very low- and moderate-income households. The city of San Mateo is exploring housing possibilities for two city-owned sites at Fifth and Railroad avenues that were purchased through its former redevelopment agency. Both are near public transit.
Developing city-controlled properties into affordable housing is a smart decision overall, but particularly important as the cost of living rises. County officials are also grappling with how much Measure K money to set aside for affordable housing and these projects are important reminders that a few million in sales tax revenue can deepen the affordability and provide even more options. Such partnerships are important, along with money for new developments shepherded by nonprofits, purchasing aging buildings to keep tenants in place and even providing rehabilitation loans for property owners struggling to maintain their buildings.
Transit-based, below-market rate housing on city-controlled property makes an abundance of sense in this area and South San Francisco officials should be applauded and encouraged to continue planning for this particular development proposal.