Housing Priorities — Fall 2022
San Francisco, like cities across California, is currently undergoing an update to our Housing Element — which is an every eight-year process to determine how much housing we should be building. The number we need to meet, as set by the state housing goals, is 82,000 homes over 8 years. That’s 10,000 homes per year, which is more than double what we have been doing in recent years.
To say that this will require significant changes in how we approve and build housing in San Francisco is an understatement. And this isn’t just a number — these are homes for workers and families. These are the homes we need to support the people of this City. While there is important work on this November’s ballot around housing, there is still a lot to be done inside City Hall.
Earlier this week, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) sent a clear message that San Francisco residents and decision makers need to hear: when it comes to housing, the status quo in this city is simply not acceptable, and we must prioritize bolder action when it comes to planning for and building housing here.
The state demonstrated this in two key ways: it provided the city with formal feedback on the initial draft of the Housing Element, and it announced a review of our long-standing policies and practices relating to housing. Each of these two review processes provides a long-overdue opportunity for San Francisco to diagnose and address critical barriers to housing construction that I hope other decision makers in the city will take seriously. I know that the Planning Department is already working to incorporate HCD’s feedback in the next draft of the Housing Element.
Taking Immediate Action on Zoning
But even as our Housing Element is being finalized over the coming months, we shouldn’t be waiting to start making changes to how we approve and build housing. Every conversation we have about housing production at the local and state level should be an answer to the question — how will this make dramatic changes to help us reach that 82,000?
For example, take our ongoing conversation around fourplex legislation that ends single-family zoning. Making this basic zoning change is a good policy and I support it. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman proposed this several months ago, and I supported what he was trying to do in his original legislation. This is one small piece of that larger puzzle of how we get to 82,000.
Unfortunately, this measure got weighed down by too many additional requirements amended in during the legislative process and I could no longer support it. That’s why I chose to veto the legislation. But that veto is not the end. It’s a step towards working with leaders like Supervisor Mandelman to pass a fourplex policy that creates more opportunities to build housing and helps us reach our goals. Not one laden with bureaucracy and requirements that will allow for little to no housing to be built.
Or take my Cars to Casas legislation. This is good policy that gets rid of the long and unnecessary bureaucratic process currently required to say that it’s ok to build housing on what used to be a parking lot or other automotive use and removes suburban-style density restrictions on these lots, which means we can add more homes on these sites without changing height limits. This is another piece of the puzzle of how we get to 82,000 homes. And yet, the legislation has been delayed again and again. Introduced back in October 2021, it’s been almost 10 months and there still hasn’t been a vote at the Board. Hopefully in September the Board will take it up, but we need to act with a greater sense of urgency to meet the goals of our Housing Element and our obligations under state law.
Scaling Up Our Housing Response
We also need to look ahead to tackle even more ambitious zoning reforms if we are going to meet that goal of 82,000 new homes. We have to move beyond months long debates over incremental increases to housing density. Instead, we need policies that allow more housing at every income level where we most need it: along major transit corridors, in commercial areas, and in high-resource areas that have historically blocked new housing development. Creating new homes in these areas will ensure that more San Franciscans can live in walkable, transit-rich communities that help our local businesses thrive, while also distributing housing development more equitably across San Francisco. I’ve directed the Planning Department to work on these proposals now so we can start seeing these changes as soon as possible.
These policies will also serve to increase affordable housing, either through affordable housing that is required to be built on-site or through fees for affordable housing. For example, our recent purchase of the lot at 1979 Mission Street, which will now be affordable housing, was the result of funding from a private development near City Hall. By increasing housing across the entire city, not only will we increase the overall supply of housing, but we will also increase funding for affordable housing.
We have also worked with state partners to find interim solutions to help fund affordable housing, such as the California Housing Accelerator Fund, to allow certain projects to move forward. However, the need remains for a reliable source of state affordable housing funding that recognizes San Francisco’s unique challenges and opportunities. We are continuing to work with our partners at the state and federal levels for more funding that will complement our local funding programs to boost affordable housing production, expand supportive services, and extend rental subsidies to more San Franciscans.
As we do all of this, we will also continue to deliver the housing we’ve already approved, prioritize our work around preservation of existing affordable housing and keeping tenants stable in their homes. We can implement multiple strategies as part of our overall goal of making housing affordable and stable for everyone.
Pushing Forward Our Large Projects
When it comes to moving forward approved housing to get to our 82,000-unit goal, our large-scale projects like Mission Rock, Treasure Island, and the Potrero Power Station must be a significant part of the solution. Over the eight-year cycle, they could produce more than 20,000 new homes, as well as stunning waterfront parks and innovative retail and commercial spaces. These new communities will mirror the success of Mission Bay, where the City has added 6,000 homes — 25 percent of them affordable — over the last twenty years. But these projects can be challenging since they require huge upfront infrastructure investments in new streets and utilities, and complex coordination between more than a dozen City departments and our private partners.
That’s why we have focused on cutting through the bureaucracy to get these projects moving. Mission Rock will deliver more than 500 new homes in the next year or so. On Treasure Island, the first phase of infrastructure work is nearing completion and as many as 1,000 units could be done or under construction in the next year. And at the Potrero Power Station, which was approved just over two years ago, what used to be a polluting smokestack is already beginning its transformation into a new neighborhood. But with other projects stalled or moving slowly, we have to recognize that the new homes will not be built — and City revenue will not be generated — unless we come up with creative solutions to fund the infrastructure that supports the new buildings.
We must also maintain momentum on the large-scale projects like Stonestown, Plaza East, and Freedom West that are in the early stages of their approval negotiations. Once approved, these projects will add as many as 5,000 more units to our housing pipeline.
Preserving our Existing Housing
Housing is expensive to build, which is part of the reason it’s so critical we preserve the housing we do have. That’s why we are investing $67 million dollars from our recent budget to rehabilitate our stock of single-room occupancy hotels that primarily serve are formerly homeless residents. While we are working to invest in adding housing as part of our Homelessness Recovery Plan where we are adding 3,000 new units of permanent supportive housing to our portfolio, we also need to invest in our existing housing stock. This is critical funding that will preserve housing and make it better for existing residents.
We are also reforming our small sites program, which prevents displacement of residents by converting privately owned buildings to permanently affordable housing. These reforms will prioritize racial and geographic equity, supporting the preservation and rehabilitation of affordable housing in neighborhoods across the city. These reforms will also help support smaller affordable housing organizations — especially those that serve the Black community in San Francisco — so we have more participants in this program.
Keeping tenants stable in their housing is also an important part of our response. For much of the last two years during COVID, there were state wide eviction protections in place. Those protections expired at the end of June, and now we’ve enacted local emergency eviction protections prohibiting landlords from evicting residential tenants for non-payment of rent that originally came due on or after July 1, 2022 and was not paid due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure tenants are protected, San Francisco is continuing its work to fully fund our Tenants Right to Counsel, which ensures that all residential tenants facing eviction in San Francisco have a right to legal representation, regardless of income. Since 2019, the City has invested more than $10 million annually in the TRC Program. In our most recent budget, we upped our investment so the City now spends nearly $17 million annually on its eviction legal defense system.
Since the implementation of the City’s TRC Program, nearly two-thirds of fully represented tenants were able to remain in their homes, as compared to only half as many tenants who only received legal advice or partial representation. The City also saw a decrease in the number of eviction filings, and despite universal access to the TRC Program.
We look forward to partnering with the state to design and implement solutions needed to get rid of barriers and the bureaucracy that stand in the way of building new housing. For years, this City has made it too hard to approve and build new homes, and that must change.