November 23, 2015 Housing Action Coalition

New Legislation Would Create Certainty for 100% Affordable Housing

Affordable HousingAffordable housing faces all the same regulatory and public process challenges as market-rate development. All these hurdles can add months or, in some cases, years to getting affordable housing approved. But new legislation introduced by District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener and the Planning Department would create more certainty and a more direct path for 100-percent affordable housing to be built.

The way it is now

Proposed low-to-moderate income housing projects that currently require exemptions from zoning controls such as for the allowable number of units, ground-floor use, or unit size must generally obtain a Conditional Use Authorization permit (CU). What does this mean?

“A CU is a type of land use that is not principally permitted in a particular Zoning District,” according the the Planning Department. A nonprofit developer may need to apply for a CU permit if a specific use in their project plan does not comply with the exact zoning of that site. This is not an uncommon request.

Obtaining a CU permit can take over a year with the SF Planning Department before even being scheduled for a vote at the Planning Commission. Worse, the project can then be appealed to the full Board of Supervisors which adds significant time, costs and uncertainty to its approval.

This was the case a few years for 800 Presidio Avenue, a 100-percent-affordable 50-unit project for transition age youth in Laurel Heights. Pat Scott, Executive Director of the Booker T. Washington Center and project developer, told the SF Chronicle:

“It was a nightmare. We are trying to build 50 units of all affordable housing. The neighbors were up in arms. They held us up in court for several years. It’s hard to explain how awful it was. They thought they would wear us down, but I was determined to build this.”

What would change

Under Supervisor Wiener’s proposed legislation, 100-percent affordable projects available to residents earning up to 120 percent of the area median income would bypass the CU process and be treated as “as-of-right” and only subject to a design review. A building’s density could be regulated by height and bulk, as opposed to arbitrary density limits that restrict how many homes can be built within the envelope, making underutilized sites more feasible to build affordable housing. This new legislation will not apply to building housing on city-owned land that is currently used as open space.

This legislation would benefit new developments such as the recently announced development at 17th and Folsom Streets. Through design review residents would still be able to provide input to developers and architects on the projects’ designs as well as retain the right to appeal it through a discretionary review.

How you can help

While this legislation sounds incredibly reasonable to us, it isn’t a slam-dunk and needs your help to get it approved. The Planning Commission will hear this proposed legislation on December 3rd. Using our one-click petition, send an email to the Commissioners or come speak in person at the hearing. Please RSVP to Rob Poole at to set this up.

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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