San Francisco must provide 80,000 housing units. Where will they go?


Think San Francisco’s housing war is intense? You have not seen anything yet.

On Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission will hear an update on the city’s housing component, a state-mandated planning plan that will guide development over the next several years. The hearing represents a small step forward in a process that promises to reshape the urban landscape: California law requires San Francisco to re-zoning to accommodate approximately 82,000 new homes between 2023 and 2031. West density neighborhoods – Sunset, Richmond , West Portal – which have seen few new developments for decades.

Although the rezoning plans remain largely conceptual, significant points of contention are already emerging. A coalition of social justice organizations and nonprofit housing organizations have fundamental criticisms of the role of market-rate housing in the draft plan.

A neighborhood association has a different review. He says the plan amounts to a “redevelopment”, turning the city into “a crowded, airless, gardenless, architectureless, charmless, mostly viewless place”.

Meanwhile, YIMBY groups, which helped guide the state law underlying this process, are fighting to ensure that the housing element actually produces as much housing as promised.

By absorbing these differing viewpoints, the City has the discretion to decide where new development should go, but not if it should happen. One way or another, San Francisco must find room for more than 80,000 homes.

Although the Planning Department has gone through this process before – this is the city’s sixth 8-year housing element cycle, or Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) cycle, this time is different in several respects.

Senator Scott Wiener’s recent state laws designed to address California’s chronic housing shortage increased significantly the number of homes cities need to plan for, and the real-world additional consequences for cities that don’t meet their targets.

Another state law requires cities to actively reverse existing patterns of racial segregation and concentrated poverty. Following its 2020 apology for racist practices like urban renewal in the Fillmore, the Planning Department took this anti-segregation imperative even further, adding a formal commitment to advancing racial and social equity through the bias of the housing element.

After soliciting feedback on the current draft of the housing element, the Planning Department will release another revised draft this spring, setting in motion final state approvals no later than May 2023.

There are dozens of recommended policy actions in the current draft, touching virtually every aspect of housing in San Francisco, including strategies to reduce evictions, preserve existing affordable housing, and reduce housing construction costs.

However, the most controversial and transformative policies relate to zoning: how many houses can be built where.

Half of the city’s total housing production during this cycle would be concentrated in “well-endowed” neighborhoods, which encompass nearly the entire western half of the city, from the Marina down to St. Francis Wood, and s ‘extending through Richmond and Sunset to the ocean, according to the draft plan. This would represent a dramatic departure from the development patterns of past decades, when new construction was largely concentrated in eastern neighborhoods like SoMa, Mission and Bayview.

(Courtesy of SF Planning Department)

The draft plan identifies several major transit corridors that could see more intense mid-rise or even high-rise development, including Lombard Street, Geary Boulevard, Judah Street, Ocean Avenue, Taraval Street, 19th Avenue, West Portal Avenue , Divisadero Street, Castro Street and Van Ness Avenue. It also calls for legalizing up to four units on every residential lot in the city, building on a proposal that is currently languishing with the Board of Supervisors.

Already, the plan is attracting fierce recoil.

“The housing element relies too heavily on market-based strategies and places too little emphasis on changing public policy and shifting public investment to solutions that achieve true affordability,” said Joseph Smooke, gatekeeper. word of the Race and Equity in all Planning Coalition (REP), which submitted detailed responses to the Planning Department. The more than 30 organizations in the coalition include leading nonprofits like Glide, the Chinatown Community Development Center, and the Mission Economic Development Agency.

Smooke points out that the city has not met its affordable housing targets in the current housing element cycle and wants affordable housing to be a priority this time around.

The REP coalition wants only 100% below market price buildings to be built along major transit corridors. He also wants more neighborhoods to be designated as “priority equity communities,” which would see more affordable housing resources and more limited market rate development. Smooke said these areas were mapped “without any sort of verification or involvement from actual communities.”

(Courtesy of SF Planning Department)

(Courtesy of SF Planning Department)

The REP Coalition is currently working with Supervisor Connie Chan to take a more full map of equity communities that would include most of Richmond as well as large parts of Sunset and Northeast neighborhoods like Mission Bay and North Beach. There are low-income homeowners and renters in these neighborhoods who need to be protected from changing market rates, Smooke said.

“The Housing Element has gone to great lengths to describe the historic issues of redlining, redevelopment and other mistakes we have made through our government actions,” Smooke said. “We think our city and state governments are making the exact same mistakes now.”

Based on feedback from the REP Coalition and 22 focus groups with members of low-income communities, the Planning Department agreed to add metrics to measure displacement to the housing component and to study the equity impacts of market rate housing development.

Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, agrees that the housing element should focus on “development without displacement” and include strong tenant protections. “But we don’t need to protect the owners of a single-family home from their neighbor building a 10-unit building,” she said. Foote touted other benefits of increased density, such as more vibrant retail corridors and more housing options for people of all ages in appropriately sized homes.

Foote also pointed out that allowing market rate development is legally required. San Francisco’s housing allocation includes approximately 33,000 low and very low income units, 14,000 middle income units, and 35,000 moderate income units. If the state deems the plan insufficient to achieve those goals, San Francisco could be stripped of land use authority, meaning any subdivision that meets basic safety regulations could be built.

“You may not like market-priced housing, but to comply with state law, we have to build a lot of market-priced housing,” Foote said. “So the question is where. The question is not whether.

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