(BCN) — California is launching an unprecedented review of San Francisco’s housing approval process, aimed at analyzing and removing obstacles to the construction of new residential developments. The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development said Tuesday that it would focus on San Francisco in its first “housing policy and practice review.”
The process is intended to dissect why the city has the state’s longest timelines for housing projects. It also receives the most complaints to the state’s Housing Accountability Unit, which was created last year to combat California’s housing shortage by working with cities to make sure they follow state laws in permitting new housing.
Tuesday’s announcement came a day after state housing officials informed the city that the department had rejected the first draft of San Francisco’s Housing Element. The document is legally required once every eight years by the state to lay out how and where California cities will construct housing, and calls on San Francisco to build more than 82,000 new housing units by 2031.
The city must revise the Housing Element plans based on the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s feedback. On Tuesday, state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, vocalized his support for the state’s decision.
“For far too long, San Francisco has flouted state housing laws and made it difficult or impossible to build the housing we need. It’s time for San Francisco to follow state law and create a system that actually prioritizes building enough housing,” Wiener said.
“I applaud the Governor and state housing officials for holding San Francisco city government accountable for following the law. This unprecedented step by the state — a top to bottom review and evaluation of San Francisco’s broken approach to housing — will send a loud message across the state that housing is a priority,” he said.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed echoed the desire for change in the city’s efficiency in approving housing.
“For years, San Francisco has made it too hard to approve and build new homes. That must change,” Breed wrote on Twitter.
The review will last at least nine months and state housing officials will collaborate with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development, according to a statement from the housing department.
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“We are deeply concerned about processes and political decision-making in San Francisco that delay and impede the creation of housing and want to understand why this is the case,” Department of Housing and Community Development director Gustavo Velasquez wrote in a statement. “We will be working with the city to identify and clear roadblocks to construction of all types of housing, and when we find policies and practices that violate or evade state housing law, we will pursue those violations together with the Attorney General’s Office.”
In response to the pending investigation, the Race and Equity in all Planning Coalition (REP-SF) has also vocalized support for it and encouraged San Francisco planning officials to be more focused on equity than profit when it comes to housing. The coalition of 35 grassroots organizations is comprised of representatives from San Francisco neighborhoods who advocate for affordable housing.
They agree that the current Housing Element draft fails to present a solution for years of inadequate housing production, but agree with its focus on housing equity. They warn that the recent efforts by the city to plan such housing may be disturbed by the state’s investigation. Either way, they are dedicated to working with state and city agencies to put together a comprehensive plan toward a more equitable city.
“While the state may criticize San Francisco for not being more aggressive with its strategies to meet its mandated housing development target of 82,000 new units over the next eight years starting in 2023, REP-SF feels that this critique would severely undermine what Planning has stated is its goal to center its housing policies on equity,” they wrote in a statement. “It is time to reverse this trend and commit to an aggressive development plan for truly affordable housing.”
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