State Housing Review: Time for Change

London Breed
5 min readOct 25, 2023


Today, the California Department of Housing and Community Development issued a review of San Francisco’s housing policies. This review evaluates our long-standing policies and processes that have contributed to our lengthy approval timelines and high construction costs and mandates the City to do better by passing key legislation and reforms.

I believe state intervention not just in San Francisco, but in cities across the state, is critical. Too many cities, including our own, have for too long held up obstructionist laws and policies to housing production at the local level. When I’ve proposed ballot measures and reforms in City Hall, we’ve seen pushback and resistance. That has to change. For those interested in the Policy and Practice review, you can read it here.

But the short end of it is that the state sent a clear message that San Francisco needs to do better on housing. No more delaying and denying the changes we’ve committed to make in our Housing Element to build housing faster.

And there are very real consequences if we don’t take action. Here’s what’s at risk.

If San Francisco fails to implement the required actions in the timelines specified in the Policy and Practices Review, the state may decertify the City’s Housing Element.

Decertification of the Housing Element would be disastrous. It would mean that the City will no longer qualify for many sources of state housing and transportation funding, estimated to be tens of millions of dollars per year. Additionally, the City will lose its land use authority, bringing into effect the so-called “builder’s remedy.”

This is in addition to the ongoing and very real consequences of not building housing, which we’ve been experiencing for years. People will continue to be displaced from the city they grew up in. Workers will not be able to live here and work in our restaurants, shops, and offices. Families will leave the city when they can’t find enough space.

When we approved our City’s Housing Elemente earlier this year, we committed to a course of action. We committed ourselves to dramatically changing how we approve and permit housing in the city. We knew it was not going to be easy, and that it would take time, and there would be challenges. But committing yourself to action means taking steps aggressively to make that change step by step. It does not mean endless hearings with no clear end goal. It does not mean ignoring the work we need to do.

As soon as we approved the Housing Element, I immediately issued an executive directiveHousing For All — that set the course for what we need to do to put that plan into action. It laid out the plan for departmental changes as well as legislative changes that we need. We immediately began making those changes and introducing legislation.

I’ve directed city staff to fully review this report to understand if there is anything we are not already doing as part of Housing for All, and to fold that into this work. But most of what is in this report is already part of the Housing Element and already part of our housing agenda. That’s the good news. We have already started all of this work. The bad news is we are not acting with enough urgency to fix this Issue.

We are not moving fast enough. And that is what the state is telling us. We are clinging to the past way of doing things. Of delaying hearings, slow-walking legislation, and not being aggressive in implementing new policies. That has to change, and we can change it.

First, the Board of Supervisors must pass my housing constraints legislation.

This legislation was introduced in April. It was approved by the Planning Commission in June, and it’s been sitting waiting for almost four months for approval. And now, in the Board Committee, amendments are being proposed that would weaken it. That’s not acceptable. The HCD review issued says this must be approved within 30 days. I agree it should be approved within 30 days.

Second, departments must continue to implement the recommendations that they have made in the One City proposal quickly and aggressively.

We asked our departments as part of Housing For All to propose reforms to cut permitting time by 50%. They immediately went to work to develop plans, which we finalized in July and those plans are being put into action. Our departments — all of them — must continue to do that work.

Finally, we must commit to being much more aggressive with any proposed changes we need to make.

All legislation related to the Housing Element, after being introduced, should be heard expeditiously at the Planning Commission and then immediately scheduled at the Board of Supervisors for hearings and then be approved. No more months and months of delays. No more amendments that undermine our goals. There is too much work to do.

And frankly, that work shouldn’t wait until the legislation is before a committee. For example, currently, the Planning Department is conducting community outreach around rezoning legislation for much of the city. That outreach has been going on for months and it will continue for the next few months until we introduce legislation in January. Everyone should be engaging on these proposals now. Not when it’s introduced, not when it’s pending at the Planning Commission, not when it’s finally pending the Board of Supervisors. When we engage early and do the work to focus, we can get important work done.

We know we can do this — because we just did it.

As part of Housing for All, we committed to reducing the inclusionary percentage required for market-rate housing so we can get more projects moving and deliver more housing, including affordable housing. To achieve this we introduced legislation in June. The Board passed it in July and I signed it into law. This was a major victory for housing, but it was one of what needs to be many.

Every single piece of housing policy proposal must be treated with the same sense of urgency, or frankly, the state won’t be wrong in revoking our Housing Element. We have to show that we are serious in our purpose, and committed to a future that cares about housing.

There is so much work to do around housing that when we have plans and solutions that are ready to go, let’s get them through and start working on the next ones. That’s how we change things quickly. Otherwise we are going to be in the same boat for years and years. And people are gonna be forced out of living in San Francisco as they have for years and years.

The State’s plan says that San Francisco can, and should be a leader on housing. I agree with that. Let’s show what we can do. Let’s act with real urgency and vision, not keep doing things the same way. That’s how we make real and lasting change.