San Francisco Chronicle
S.F.’s ambitious housing plan approved by state
State housing officials have given preliminary approval to San Francisco's housing element, an eightyear plan to produce 82,000 residential units that the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on this week.
In a letter to the city's planning department, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, known as HCD, said the latest draft of San Francisco's plan “meets the statutory requirements” set forth in state housing law.
“This finding was based on, among other reasons, programs and actions to affirmatively further fair housing and reduce governmental constraints to facilitating housing production,” stated the letter from Paul McDougall, HCD's program manager for planning grants and incentives.
The finding came ahead of Monday's Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee on the housing element. The full board will take up the matter on Tuesday.
While the potential punishments for not having a certified housing element are severe — they include losing out on state funding for affordable housing and transportation — approving the plan is just the start of what will likely be an intense and politically controversial three-year process of rezoning entire neighborhoods in order to allow multifamily buildings.
Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for Mayor London Breed, called the state approval of the housing element a “very good sign” but said it is “just a first step.”
“There is a lot of work to do to actually implement this plan and make it real. We've got to reduce barriers, change laws, undergo rezoning, all of it,” Cretan said. “The Mayor has already directed staff to develop immediate and longterm policies so we can actually change how we approve and build housing in this city.”
Specifically, the plan commits to an October 2026 deadline for a rezoning program that would allow at least 36,282 units. New regulations will need to be passed that will permit multifamily buildings — at least 20 units per acre — without the “discretionary review” process that is used to stall and kill many housing developments in San Francisco.
“The city should pursue the most aggressive rezoning strategy to ensure that adequate sites will be available throughout the planning period,” the HCD letter says.
While the 82,000 unit number is ambitious — the city has averaged 2,550 units a year over the past two decades — the most challenging aspect of the goal is that more than half of the new homes, some 46,000, must be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
The rezoning will also represent a geographical shift in where the city is focused on producing housing. For the past two decades, 85% of residential development has been built in the eastern and central zones of the city, with clusters of mediumand high-rise buildings popping up in SoMa, the South Financial District, Mission Bay, Hayes Valley Dogpatch and other areas.
In contrast, the focus of the rezoning will be along transit lines in historic residential areas, including California Street, Lombard Street, Geary Boulevard, Judah Street, Noriega Street, Ocean Avenue, Taraval Street and 19th Avenue.
At a hearing Monday afternoon during the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, many residents praised the plan but said it is unrealistic and that the city has not been proactive in spending available money to buy and land-bank potential sites.
Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, called the housing element process “state blackmail.”
“The state is frankly passing the buck,” Sherburn-Zimmer said. “They are telling us we have to build housing without giving us the money that we need to build it.”
Supervisor Dean Preston blasted the Mayor's Office of Housing for failing to buy affordable housing sites with money raised through Prop I, a 2020 ballot measure he sponsored that increased transfer taxes. He blamed “political games and retribution.”
“I'm not hearing any strategies — I'm hearing a lot of reason we are not land-banking,” he said. “It is really clear and concerning that despite what is in this housing element we are not going to be anywhere near the goals we are proposing two years from now.”
Eric Shaw, who heads up the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, said the agency is focused on getting the pipeline funded and built as fast as possible. He said his department is also preparing a NOFA — notice of funds availability — some of which will go toward acquiring parcels.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve the housing element at Tuesday's meeting.