publicly-owned land: overview » introduction » prioritize affordable homes » san francisco ordinance

San Francisco, California
, is an example of a community requiring suitable publicly-owned land to be used for affordable homes. In 2002, the City of San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring the transfer of underutilized or surplus property to the Mayor's Office of Housing for the development of affordable housing, particularly housing for the homeless. The City's Real Estate Division maintains a list of surplus properties which can be accessed through the documents section of its web site.

Properties that are suitable for housing development are to be sold or leased to a non-profit for the development of:
  • affordable housing for the homeless and households earning less than 20 percent of AMI,
  • on-site services for the homeless or non-profits serving the homeless, or
  • affordable housing for households earning less than 60 percent of AMI.
Properties that are not suitable for housing development are to be sold in order to generate financing for affordable housing.

Although the ordinance has not generated as much development as anticipated, the city is on target to achieve the goal of at least 100 new affordable housing units developed on publicly-owned land by 2010.
What properties are included in San Francisco's requirement?

Three definitions in San Francisco's ordinance are particularly important for understanding what properties are included in the requirement:

Property excludes "land and buildings reserved for open space or parks purposes," various rights-of-way, and any property owned by the school district.

Surplus property is "any Property that is not required to fulfill the mission of the City department, commission or agency with jurisdiction or control of such Property or that is not required to fulfill the mission of another government agency...."

Underutilized property is "an entire Property or portion thereof, with or without improvements, that is used by the City only at irregular periods or time or intermittently, or that is used by the City for current purposes that can be satisfied with only a portion of such Property, or that is not currently occupied or used by the City and for which there are no plans by the City to occupy or use such Property within the next fiscal year." [1]

The San Francisco ordinance places the responsibility for determining which properties are underutilized or surplus with each individual department, and does not audit departments or provide incentives for turning over property for use as affordable housing. Some argue that this has been a limiting factor in the compilation of developable sites.

The ordinance specifies that any homes created as a result of the ordinance will remain affordable "for the useful life of the property." [2] Covenants restrict developers' ability to resell or lease at a profit, and any affordable homeownership housing developed will remain affordable through a shared equity approach.

Continue learning about policies that require the use of suitable unused public land for affordable housing.

[1] See Section 23A.4 of San Francisco's Surplus City Property Ordinance.

[2] Ibid.