San Francisco may be considered one of the country’s most progressive cities, but you’d never know it by looking at its land use policies. With nearly 75% of SF currently zoned for low density, it is currently illegal to build small fourplex homes in most parts of the city. This explains why our severe housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crisis has only worsened exponentially decade after decade and reveals a wildly irresponsible lack of leadership from our Board of Supervisors.
Instead of lagging behind a growing list of progressive Bay Area cities working to end exclusionary zoning and legalize the building of more affordable multi-family homes, San Francisco should be taking the lead in progressive land use by zoning for fourplexes everywhere. Maybe the Board of Supervisors thinks we’re still living in the 1950’s, or perhaps they aren’t actually as progressive in practice as they are in rhetoric. Whatever the case, here (again) are four reasons why zoning for fourplexes is good progressive public policy.
First, SF’s current exclusionary zoning laws perpetuate the intentional racial segregation that they were originally designed for. Allowing such discriminatory zoning laws to persist is effectively condoning decades-long efforts to exclude people of color from certain “desirable” communities. Zoning that welcomes more diverse neighbors from all walks of life should be the rule, not the exception, in our supposedly tolerant and welcoming city.
Second, our current zoning prevents the building of lower-cost multi-family housing and consequently excludes lower-income residents from living in “desirable” neighborhoods with the best schools, parks, and other community resources. San Francisco neighborhoods are not supposed to be country clubs, and allowing more homes that are affordable to residents of all incomes levels will contribute to more inclusive and equitable communities.
Third, zoning for multifamily homes will lower housing costs because fourplexes cost less to build – and house more people – than single family McMansions. One reason housing costs are sky high in SF is because of building costs, so building homes that cost less and house more should be a no-brainer in a city with a severe housing shortage. Legalizing fourplexes will also create more opportunities for first time home buyers, families who want their loved ones to age gracefully in place, and residents who desire multi-family living opportunities.
Fourth, but not least, zoning for fourplex homes is far better for the environment. Vehicle use accounts for 28% percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why HAC has always advocated so strongly for sustainably-designed, well-located, multi-family homes located near jobs and transit. It’s critical to our city’s efforts to combat climate change that we make it as easy as possible to shorten commute times or eliminate them altogether by building more infill housing close to public transportation. Zoning for fourplexes will go a long way toward accomplishing that.
So wake up, Supes. It’s 2021 and long past time for San Francisco’s housing and land use policies to reflect our city’s progressive ideals.