San Francisco leaders introduce legislation to streamline affordable housing production

Bay Area
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Buildings stand in the skyline of downtown San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will seek voter approval for the first housing bond since 1996 as his city becomes the least affordable U.S. housing market and uproar grows about gentrification fueled by the technology boom. Photographer: David Paul […]

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí announced they have introduced legislation to streamline the production of affordable housing in the city.

The “Affordable Homes Now” ballot measure for the June 2022 ballot aims to streamline the production of affordable housing in an effort to address the city’s growing housing crisis.

The legislation would provide streamlined approval for any new housing project that is at least 25 units and either 100% permanently affordable housing or provides 15% more permanently affordable on-site affordable units than otherwise required by the city.

If approved, affordable housing projects could be built months, and sometimes years, faster than the current process.

Mayor Breed says the measure would help reduce the cost required to build affordable housing projects — making way for more projects to be built and more affordable housing being built with limited city funds

“San Francisco should be a leader on creating new homes in California, and this measure will help us fundamentally change how we approve housing in this City,” said Mayor Breed.

“I’ve seen too many people I grew up with move away from this City or be pushed out because they can’t afford to live here, and I’m seeing that same thing happen with the next generation of young people,” Breed added.

“We need to get rid of the bureaucracy and barriers to new housing at all income levels so San Francisco can be a city for working people, for families, and for seniors who want to remain in their communities.”

Streamlined process

Affordable Homes Now aims to remove significant delays in the process of building new homes by exempting projects from the discretionary review process, which can add months, and often years, to the creation of a project.

The existing review process results in delays that prevent new homes from being built and increases the overall costs of projects.

According to a study from the Terner Center at UC Berkeley found that the average time for a development to be permitted in San Francisco is roughly four years.

Under Affordable Homes Now, qualifying projects would be required to be permitted within six months.

“San Francisco is in the midst of a serious housing crisis. Our working families are being forced to leave the City because of the scarcity of affordable units. It is imperative that we build more housing and build it fast, said Supervisor Safaí.

“This measure will ask for greater affordability and strong labor protections in exchange for a streamlined approval process – that is fair. The Mayor and I authored this legislation with working families in mind and I’m proud to support the measure as we move it toward the ballot.”

According to the measure, projects that comply with existing zoning requirements, are at least 25 units, employ union labor for construction, and meet any of the following criteria would be subject to ministerial, or streamlined, approval:

  • Any project that is 100% affordable housing (up to 140% of Area Median Income),
  • Any project that includes 15% more affordable on-site permanently affordable units than otherwise required by the city.

For projects to qualify under Affordable Homes Now — they must include prevailing wage requirements for employees who work on the project.

All projects must also continue to comply with all building code requirements, life and safety requirements, and all other objective standards of the Planning Code.

More affordable housing units

Currently, San Francisco is in the process of building some affordable housing for lower-income levels but housing for middle-income residents is largely not being built at all.

Affordable Homes Now aims to reduce the timeline for new housing projects, making them cheaper to build and therefore able to be marketed at rents that are more affordable to middle-income residents.

Additionally, it would result in more affordable housing units being constructed for low-income residents in smaller projects that otherwise may not be required to include them.

In 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development estimated that the average length of time saved for eligible projects would be between six and 18 months per project.

As a result of rising construction costs over time, the delay results in average project costs increasing by $1.5 million to $6 million — which equates to a loss of anywhere between six and 22 affordable homes per project.

“San Francisco’s bureaucracy not only delays new housing from being built, but also drives up the cost for every new home,” said Todd David, Executive Director of the Housing Action Coalition.

“Affordable Housing Now will reform that system to cut through years of delays and save millions of dollars for new affordable housing, which will help the City address its housing shortage.”

The measure was introduced at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and will require six votes to be placed on the ballot for the June election.  

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