Pursuant to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s executive directive 13-01, a working group comprised of individuals from the SF Public Utilities Commission, City Attorney’s Office, Planning Commission and Building Inspection, SF Apartment Association, Rent Board, Small Property Owners, and the Housing Rights Committee, among others, collaborated to address what, to many San Franciscans, is the most pressing problem plaguing the city today – affordable housing, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof.

San Francisco is no stranger to the spotlight, and recently media all over the country has focused on the effects of the lack of available affordable housing.  Headlines such as “Backlash by the Bay: Tech Riches Alter a City” in The New York Times indicate the nation is watching.  Lee took notice and commissioned the working group to put together a plan with the goal of creating 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes by 2020.

To accomplish this goal in the next six years, the working group recommends the following measures:

  • prioritize development on projects based on the amount of affordable housing proposed;

  • reduce the loss of housing – legal or otherwise – by requiring a Planning Commission hearing when such housing is proposed to be eliminated;

  • coordinate the city’s permitting and asset-holding agencies to gain efficiencies in housing productions; and

  • improve public information and transparency related to the city’s development procedures and pipeline housing project.

This idea of “priority processing” is perhaps most interesting to developers of property in San Francisco.  The working group proposed revising the Planning Department and Permit Processing’s agenda to prioritize 100 percent affordable housing, followed by projects with at least 20 percent on-site or 30 percent off-site affordable housing.  To help expedite the planning and construction of these projects, the plan also proposes concurrent review to ensure that city agencies (Planning, DPW, MoD, DBI, Fire) review applications simultaneously and that developers arrange pre-application meetings with city agencies before permits are filed.  The vision is that developers of projects prioritizing at least 20 percent on-site affordable housing can expedite their pre-building plan review and permit process. Currently this process can take years as many local developers know.

The second task addressed in the plan is the protection or emphasis on reducing the loss of existing housing units. The working group cites the “exceptional and extraordinary circumstances created by the affordability crises” as its motivation to mandate review for loss of any current dwelling units, legal or not.  Any permit to remove an unpermitted unit where there is a feasible path to legalize the unit will be denied. Whether this means your neighbors will soon convert their carport into an official apartment remains to be seen. This is an interesting issue that should be closely monitored moving forward.