Housing For All: 1-year Update

London Breed
7 min readApr 3, 2024

San Francisco is a City that is always changing. From the Gold Rush era that brought ships to our shores that would then become hotels, to the transformation of sand dunes into what we now know as the Sunset neighborhood, to the development of our Downtown and, more recently, newer neighborhoods like Mission Bay and Treasure Island. Despite these generations of growth in our 49 square miles, many parts of San Francisco were built for another time, with a smaller population, and designed for a world where cars were really our only option.

Our current housing and neighborhood infrastructure no longer fully meets our values or needs. San Francisco must continue to be a place where we can grow and welcome new residents, where young people who are born and raised here can stay, and where workers can afford to live near their jobs and businesses. In order to accomplish this we need to do what our City has always done: embrace change.

Last year, we started down a new path. I launched Housing for All, which set the course we needed to take to fundamentally change how we approve and build housing in this city. It was important to me that we not just issue some high-level policies or pass our Housing Element that made promises we didn’t plan on keeping. It was important to me that we act and that we make real changes.

I’m proud to say that over the last year, we’ve started to move San Francisco in the right direction on housing. We are not where we need to be, and there is much more work to be done. We continue to encounter obstruction and delay as we push these solutions forward, but we have made progress. We will continue to make progress.

Below is an update of the work that we’ve done over the last year, and what lies ahead. I’m grateful for all the city staff, the advocates, and the elected officials who have supported this work. It’s because of them that we are moving towards being a city that says yes to housing.

Housing for All: One-Year Update

In February 2023, Mayor London Breed issued her Housing for All Executive Directive 23–01 to fundamentally change how San Francisco approves and builds housing. Now, just over a year later, San Francisco has already delivered significant reforms. But much more work needs to be done and further changes are underway that will lay the groundwork for more housing construction in the years to come.

Under Mayor Breed’s leadership, the City has delivered on the key actions called for in Housing for All.

Removing Barriers to Housing Construction

In the past year, the City has adopted an unprecedented number of legislative reforms that remove barriers to new housing construction, including

  • Unlocking the Housing Pipeline: In March 2023, Mayor Breed signed legislation that enables a targeted form of public financing that will allow for the construction of critical infrastructure necessary for stalled housing development projects to proceed. Potrero Power Station, a 2,600-unit housing project located in the Southeastern part of the City, is the first project to opt into using this new tool.
  • Reducing Housing Fees: In September 2023, Mayor Breed signed legislation to reduce inclusionary housing requirements and other impact fees both for pipeline projects and new projects. This legislation emerged from the work of the Inclusionary Housing Technical Advisory Committee, which found that most projects were infeasible at the existing inclusionary housing fee rates.
  • Streamlining Housing Approvals: In December 2023, Mayor Breed signed housing constraint reforms that simplify the Planning Department approval process for new housing. These reforms eliminated unnecessary review and approval processes, removed restrictive standards and geographic limitations that impede new housing, and expanded incentives for affordable housing construction.
  • Supporting Downtown through Office-to-Residential Conversions: In July 2023, Mayor Breed signed “adaptive reuse” legislation that makes it easier to convert old, underutilized office buildings into housing. These changes can help bring new life to our downtown by making it a 24-hour neighborhood, where people want to live, work, and spend time. The Mayor also authored a ballot measure to eliminate the transfer tax for buildings converting from office to housing, which was approved by the voters.

Reforming Bureaucratic Systems

As a result of long-standing department practices, housing projects currently undergo a complex permitting process that involves the layered review of project plans by the City’s infrastructure and permitting departments. To improve the speed and predictability of housing permitting across City departments, the Mayor’s Office developed the One City Action Plan in close coordination with departments. This Plan describes the actions and strategies being implemented by a dozen City departments to adopt process improvements that streamline the City’s complex, interdepartmental approval processes, allowing projects to move forward to construction more efficiently.

For example, internal improvements across departments have enabled the implementation of a new State law with predictable response timelines, including a 15-day completeness check and a 30 or 60-day review, depending on the project size.

Funding Affordable Housing:

The Mayor’s Office and the Planning Department convened a group of affordable housing leaders to help formulate strategies for delivering on the City’s affordable housing targets. This Affordable Housing Funding and Financing Recommendations Report, recently released in February 2024, sets forth a variety of strategies for (1) advocacy for more regional, state, and federal funding sources for affordable housing, (2) improved coordination and capacity within the City’s affordable housing ecosystem, and (3) innovative and alternative approaches to delivering affordable housing, such as new financing tools or cross-sector partnerships to create affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. Many of these efforts are already underway, and the City will continue to advocate for many of the proposed changes in the upcoming months.

For example, Mayor Breed has already created two funding opportunities in the past year. She worked with Senator Scott Wiener to pass a new state law, SB 593, which authorizes a new financing tool for building new affordable housing to replace the 5,800+ of units demolished in the 1950s-1970s during the era of so-called “urban renewal.” She also worked with the Board of Supervisors to place a $300 million bond for affordable housing, Proposition A, on the March 2024 ballot, which the voters overwhelmingly approved.

Next Steps on Housing for All

In addition to implementing the above work, including continuing permitting reform and making it easier to convert office space to housing, the Mayor’s vision for Housing for All includes the following next actions:

Refining the Rezoning Proposal to Better Deliver Housing

Since 2019, the Planning Department staff has led extensive community outreach and analysis to develop San Francisco’s Housing Element, for which the pending rezoning proposal is a necessary next step.

In her Housing for All Executive Directive, Mayor Breed called on the Planning Department to present a draft rezoning proposal for her review in 2024. Mayor Breed has reviewed this draft proposal, which concentrates zoning changes on major transit and commercial corridors, with the largest height increases along streets such as Geary, Lombard, and Van Ness, among others. While this draft marks good progress, there is still work that needs to be done to deliver the kind of housing that will provide badly needed homes across our city.

Mayor Breed is now requesting that the Planning Department revise this proposal. More specifically, she is asking the Department to create a plan that prioritizes mid-rise housing in more locations adjacent to high-capacity transit corridors and major institutions, while also revisiting the extent of certain height increases on corridors. This reformulated plan will enable the type of housing construction most likely to be built in the next decade and ensure that we exceed our state obligations.

Removing Arbitrary Density Limits

As an immediate step forward as the Planning Department revises its comprehensive rezoning proposal, Mayor Breed will continue to advance her proposal to remove arbitrary density limits on commercial corridors across San Francisco. This legislation was introduced with Supervisor Myrna Melgar nine months ago and has already been approved by the Planning Commission. It is a necessary step towards meeting the City’s Housing Element goals, and it need not wait for the broader rezoning to proceed. The Board of Supervisors has held hearings on this legislation but has not yet taken action to approve it. The Board should advance this proposal without further delay.

Advancing Major Housing Projects

While creating opportunities for more housing in our neighborhoods is a key part of adding new homes, a large bulk of the City’s housing obligations will come from continuing to deliver major housing projects. Advancing these projects, especially in the current challenging economic climate, requires focused work and meeting changing circumstances.

Mayor Breed, along with Supervisor Dorsey, has introduced legislation to ensure that Treasure Island, the single largest source of new housing in the Bay Area, stays on track and continues to deliver new homes at all income levels.

Securing Affordable Housing Funding

With the passage of Prop A by the voters in November, San Francisco has $300 million more to fund more affordable housing projects. But the need is far greater and the Mayor is pursuing more opportunities for funding, including on the regional, state, and federal levels.

An immediate next step to achieve this is the City is currently pursuing a pro-housing designation from the state. If approved by the state, this would immediately help to unlock up to $150 million in affordable housing funding for three pipeline affordable housing projects awaiting funding, while also making San Francisco more competitive for state funding in the future.