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State housing officials slam San Francisco over housing delays

The California Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter to the San Francisco Planning Department questioning recent decisions by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to delay more than 800 units of new housing. 

Calling the delays an “effective denial” of housing at two sites—469 Stevenson Street and 450 O’Farrell Street—the agency’s housing accountability unit asked the city to turn over more documentation regarding the decisions. The Board of Supervisors voted to overturn the planning department’s earlier approvals of the Stevenson and O’Farrell sites, which would amount to 495 and 316 new housing units, respectively. 

Last month, the Board of Supervisors’ decision to block the Stevenson development over supposed environmental concerns sparked outrage among housing advocates, who called the decision arbitrary and spurious. The development had been opposed by TODCO, a politically influential affordable housing operator, and only three of 11 supervisors voted to move it forward. 

Just weeks prior, the board unanimously rejected a proposed development of 316 small apartments on O’Farrell Street, citing concerns that they would become “tech dorms” instead of family housing. 

In the letter, the state agency questioned the rationale behind those votes and said that San Francisco supervisors had not provided any written findings to support those decisions. 

“While these projects have sought different types of approval, they share the circumstance of having prior Planning Commission approvals of significant housing projects being overturned by the BOS—without any documented findings,” wrote Shannan West, head of the agency’s housing accountability unit. “We are concerned that this represents a larger trend in San Francisco.”

West cited a state mandate that will require San Francisco to build some 82,000 new units of housing by 2031 and pointed to the city’s ongoing efforts to hammer out a plan to build those homes. That plan, called a Housing Element, is set to be finalized next year. 

The element “must also demonstrate local efforts to remove government constraints that hinder the locality from meeting its share of the regional housing needs,” West wrote.