By Natalie Spievack (click here for the PDF)
San Francisco faces a dire affordable housing crisis, which disproportionately affects low-income residents and residents of color (San Francisco Planning Department [SF Planning], 2020b). But, wide disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes are an equal threat to the city’s future economic vitality (Matthews, 2017). The persistent link between where students live and where they go to school means that these issues cannot be solved in siloes.
As a result of discriminatory policies and practices that have limited access to housing and wealth-building opportunities, students of color and low-income students in San Francisco are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods and attend low-performing schools (SF Planning, 2020b). Despite the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)’s decades-long attempt to break the link between neighborhood and school quality through its choice-based school assignment policy, many students in low-income neighborhoods continue to attend schools close to where they live (Knight, n.d.). The resulting patterns of school segregation are exacerbated by San Francisco’s concentration of new affordable housing in the eastern part of the city, which tends to be lower-income and have lower-performing schools, and by the rising cost of living in the neighborhoods where high-performing schools are located (SF Planning, 2020a).
The current moment offers a unique opportunity for San Francisco to meet its goals of housing affordability and equity while promoting school integration. The city is currently updating its Housing Element for the next eight years (2022-2030), and SFUSD is implementing a new zone-based school assignment policy for elementary schools starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the details of which are still under consideration (SF Planning, 2021; SFUSD, 2020). Both plans center racial and economic justice and integration as key goals. Additionally, the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and the state AFFH law have introduced stronger requirements and accountability for cities to address segregation through their housing policy.
SFUSD’s new school assignment policy is a promising attempt toward integrated schools, but housing policy will remain salient because where students live will still affect the school they attend. A “diverse” zone is defined as having a student body within 15% of the district’s average for free and reduced-price meals, which allows for greater divergence within individual schools in each zone. Lower-income parents may continue to prioritize schools that are closer to their homes due to lack of transportation and lack of time and information to navigate the application process (Knight, n.d.). And, the policy will have a limited impact on the district as a whole because middle and high schools will retain their full choice-based process.
San Francisco’s draft 2022 Housing Element aims to “Support and incentivize housing, especially permanently affordable housing with multiple bedrooms for families, near existing high-rated public schools” (SF Planning, 2021). This acknowledgment of the schools-housing nexus is laudable, but a comprehensive and detailed plan is needed to bring this goal to fruition. The following are recommended to address the schools-housing nexus:
1. Strategies for the City of SF to increase affordable housing near high-performing schools.
a. Purchase existing multi-family rental properties near high-performing schools and support developers to remove them from the market and restrict them as permanently affordable housing.
b. Acquire land near high-performing schools and facilitate development of affordable housing on those sites.
c. Target areas near high-performing schools for upzoning to enable denser construction.
d. Increase inclusionary zoning requirements in areas near high-performing schools to generate additional affordable units.
2. Strategies for the City of SF to strengthen housing policies and supports that help low-income families live near high-performing schools.
a. Pair new affordable housing units built in areas near high-performing schools with project-based vouchers (PBVs).
b. Provide voucher holders with information about units near high-performing schools through mobility counseling.
c. Increase voucher exception payment standards for areas near high-performing schools to the highest level possible.
d. Remove barriers to moving to neighborhoods with high-performing schools by providing families with grants for security deposits and moving expenses.
e. Offer a one-time cash payment to landlords who rent properties near high-performing schools to voucher holders.
f. Incorporate waitlist preference for families with young children to maximize the effects of moving to high-opportunity neighborhoods and enrolling in high-performing schools.
g. Increase the level of first-generation homeowner downpayment assistance offered to families buying homes near high-performing schools in order to increase the feasibility of moving into more expensive neighborhoods.
3. Increased coordination by City of SF with SFUSD and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to pursue strategies that increase access to high-performing schools for students living in assisted housing.
a. Collaborate with SFUSD to identify priority for students who live in assisted housing or historically underserved areas in the new zone-based school assignment policy.
b. Collaborate with SFUSD and SFMTA to ensure the provision of efficient transportation options for students living in affordable housing who want to attend high-performing schools outside their neighborhood.
While these strategies have the potential to substantially improve both housing and educational equity, they must not crowd out investment in low-income communities because building affordable housing in these neighborhoods has opportunity-enhancing effects on the surrounding area and is critical for meeting the housing needs of all families (Diamond and McQuade, 2019). Additionally, housing policy alone cannot achieve educational equity. Education policy must continue to pursue school integration strategies that promote genuine inclusivity for students of color and ensure that every school is well-resourced. ▀
Natalie Spievack (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student in the Master of City Planning program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Diamond, R., & McQuade, T. (2019). Who Wants Affordable Housing in Their Backyard? An Equilibrium Analysis of Low-Income Property Development. Journal of Political Economy, 127(3), 1063-1117. https://doi.org/10.1086/701354.
Knight, H. (n.d.). Learning Together, Living Apart: Is desegregation dead? San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/schools-desegregation/.
San Francisco Planning Department. (2020). Affordable Housing Funding, Production, and Preservation. San Francisco Planning Department. https://default.sfplanning.org/plans-and-programs/housing/affordability-strategy/HAS_Affordable%20Housing%20White% 20Paper _Final.pdf.
San Francisco Planning Department. (2020, March). San Francisco Housing Affordability Strategies. San Francisco Planning Department. https://default.sfplanning.org/public ations_ reports/Housing_Affordability_Strategies_Report.pdf.
San Francisco Planning Department. (2021, September 9). Housing Element 2022 Update. San Francisco Planning Department. https://www.sfhousing element.org/.
Mathews, V. (2017, November 14). The First Ninety Days – Listening and Learning Report. San Francisco Unified School District. https://www.boarddocs.com/ca/sfusd/Board.nsf/files/ AT54FG0B5476/$file/SFUSD%2090%20Day%20report%2017-1114%20v1.docx%20(3). pdf.
San Francisco Unified School District. (2020, December). San Francisco Unified School District and County Office of Education, Board Policy 5101.2, Elementary School Student Assignment. San Francisco Unified School District. https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/$file/0School%20Student%20Assignment.pdf.