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Politics & Policy

San Francisco slashes red tape blocking new multi-family homes

Casa Adelante, an affordable housing complex on Shotwell Street between 26th and Cesar Chavez streets. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved three bills promising a significant pivot in housing policy as the city faces continued pressure from Sacramento to build more homes. The bills were deemed urgent and expedited through the board process.

Two of the bills form a package aiming to ease construction of more multifamily housing by temporarily easing affordable housing requirements and changing impact fees that developers blame for making many projects too expensive to build. The other would ease conversion of single-family homes to smaller multi-unit plans. 

Inclusionary Housing and Impact Fees

The two bills making up the “Housing Fee Reform Plan”—part of Mayor London Breed’s “Housing For All” plan and co-sponsored by board President Aaron Peskin—were approved by a 10-1 vote with Supervisor Dean Preston dissenting. 

Both bills were previously recommended in a 2-1 vote by the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday. 

Voting against the bills in committee, Preston called them “a significant policy shift” and questioned whether they would produce more housing as it could increase land values and instead make affordable housing sites harder to acquire. He reiterated those concerns Tuesday. 

Supervisor Dean Preston | Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Former Supervisor John Avalos, now executive director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, an affordable housing advocacy group, argued Monday that passage should be made conditional upon replacement funding for affordable housing projects. 

When Peskin discussed the legislation at the July 20 Planning Commission meeting, he also talked about a bond measure for affordable housing planned for the 2024 ballot, as “the other part of the package.” 

In voting for the package Tuesday, a number of progressive supervisors said they did so despite not wanting to set a precedent for further reductions in affordable housing or impact fees. Supervisor Connie Chan noted the sunset date on the reductions as a factor in supporting them.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin | Justin Katigbak for The Standard | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

At Tuesday’s board vote, Peskin called the reductions “a significant haircut” that was a “temporary stimulus” based on “real numbers that were not arrived at arbitrarily,” implying the legislation was the beginning of a regular review process for development fees. 

Jake Price, an organizer for the Housing Action Coalition, told The Standard the changes “are a necessary and strong step in the right direction, but are not sufficient on their own to address feasibility concerns,” noting the need for additional improvements to the planning process. 

“While some of the barriers to housing development are outside of the city’s control, reforms such as the fee deferrals/reductions and constraints removal help to set a strong foundation for needed housing development as the market recovers,” Price added. 

‘Gentle Density’ for the Neighborhoods

Supervisor Myrna Melgar | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

A third bill sponsored by Supervisor Myrna Melgar along with Supervisor Joel Engardio, which would create a citywide “family housing opportunity special use district” that would ease replacement of single-family houses with smaller-scale apartment buildings, was approved unanimously. 

“This legislation will give homeowners options to age in place or growing families to expand by adding more private units on the same lot,” Melgar said in a statement. “This is one small piece of a plan for San Francisco to grow into the future that makes sense for the Westside.” 

That bill was originally set for approval by the board last week, but got sidetracked by last-minute changes at theJuly 17 Land Use Committee. It was passed out of committee with a positive recommendation Monday. 

Support for Bridge Toll Hikes Affirmed

In other news, a resolution in support of State Senate Bill 532, which would raise Bay Area bridge tolls by $1.50 over the next five years to help fund struggling transit agencies, was approved in a 10 -1 vote with Chan opposing.

The resolution was also originally scheduled for an approval vote at the July 19 board meeting, but was sent back to committee by Supervisor Shamann Walton with Chan’s support, both representing constituencies concerned about burdening car drivers.

A man in black-rimmed glasses and a dark blue suit walks through a gate inside City Hall's Board of Supervisors' chambers.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman | Camille Cohen/The Standard | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, BART Board President Janice Li and Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffrey Tumlin presented on the resolution at Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, where it passed again with positive recommendation. 

Neither Walton nor Chan were present at Monday’s committee meeting. 

The votes took place as supervisors closed out business before going on an August recess. Supervisors also voted on a second reading of the city budget, approving final adjustments negotiated June 28 in a marathon session with 10 votes in favor, and Preston dissenting. 

Mayor Breed plans to sign the budget Wednesday in a public event at City Hall.