SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced new legislation Monday that will make it easier to build new housing along commercial corridors and the Westside of the city.

The tech-centric city is grappling with a large number of empty commercial buildings while tech workers continue working remotely and large retailers close up shop. At the same time, the city has sky-high rent prices, a housing stock shortage, a homeless crisis, and a public image problem.

The Mayor’s Office is trying to cut back red tape that blocked home builders for decades. By eliminating arbitrary residential density limits in mixed-use commercial districts, Breed said her proposal will create new housing in neighborhoods across the city.

“These arbitrary restrictions are hurting our ability to meet the housing needs of our city. Housing for All requires us to get to the heart of everything that is slowing and stopping housing in the city,” Breed said.

The legislation announced Monday is part of Breed’s “Housing for All Plan,” with the goal of permitting 82,000 new homes to be built over the next eight years.

“We need to incentivize development of housing where it makes the most sense, such as along commercial corridors near transit on the Westside. While preserving heights and existing neighborhood character, this legislation will make space for seniors to downsize into new housing and offer opportunities for new residents, including families and workers, to revitalize our neighborhood business areas,” said Supervisor Myrna Melgar who represents district 7.   

Currently, many areas have restrictions on the number of units that can be included in a proposed housing project, regardless of the existing height limits.

“This was a hallmark of conventional, exclusionary 20th Century city planning. For example, some neighborhoods in the Sunset limit a typical 2,500 square foot San Francisco lot to three units, despite building code requirements that would easily allow for more,” the Mayor’s Office wrote.

The proposed legislation will change the law so that certain areas of San Francisco with mixed residential and commercial uses – especially along our transit corridors – will no longer have arbitrary unit restrictions.

Starting in 2006, San Francisco began to apply form-based zoning in areas like the Dogpatch, SoMA, and the Mission neighborhoods. Breed’s 2023 legislation will expand the practice to focus on neighborhoods across the entire city, including areas that have traditionally seen less housing built.

“It’s past time to undo the exclusionary zoning limits of the 1970s,” said Rich Hillis, the City’s Director of Planning. “Increasing housing capacity along mixed-use transit corridors without changing the architectural character of our neighborhoods is consistent with the Housing Element and a critical step toward housing the San Franciscans of today and of the future.”  

“San Francisco’s incredible, walkable neighborhood corridors are dispersed throughout the city — Polk, Irving, Geary, Haight, Union, and more — yet for so long, city policy has put arbitrary limits on how many people can call these places home,” said Annie Fryman, Director of Special Projects for SPUR. “By removing density limits and allowing more San Franciscans to live on our neighborhood corridors, we will make our neighborhoods even more livable while helping small business and transit thrive.”

Jane Natoli, San Francisco Organizing Director for YIMBY Action, said, “Adopting form-based zoning in commercial districts allows us to move past the arbitrary restrictions of the past to bring more homes in walkable, transit-rich locations throughout the entirety of San Francisco.”  

The legislation will apply in two types of areas: 

  • Residential-Commercial districts, which combine higher-density residential uses with neighborhood-serving commercial uses. For example, the Van Ness Corridor.  
  • Neighborhood Commercial Districts which are mixed-use neighborhoods established around historical neighborhood commercial centers. Examples include: Polk Street, Irving Street and Taraval in the Sunset, Clement Street and Geary Boulevard, and 24th Street in Noe Valley.

The legislation will be introduced in June. In addition to this proposed legislation,  Breed’s Housing for All Plan has consisted of the following initial actions:    

  • Issued Housing for All Executive Directive which set the immediate and near-term actions the City will take to begin to make real change to how San Francisco approves and builds housing.    
  • Passed legislation to unlock the housing pipeline by initiating a targeted form of public financing that will allow the critical infrastructure at large projects to be built and get housing construction started faster.    
  • Convened an Affordable Housing Leadership Council, which will help the City chart a path forward for meeting affordable housing goals.     
  • Initiated a proposal to streamline city permitting by improving San Francisco’s Site Permit approval process that is expected to dramatically reduce development timelines.   
  • Introduced legislation to simplify office-to-residential conversions, which will amend the City’s Planning and Building Codes to ease requirements for converting existing office buildings into housing.  
  • Introduced legislation to remove barriers for new housing by cutting unnecessary processes and expanding incentives for housing.