Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

SF planning commission sends affordable housing density proposal to supervisors

Under the density program buildings, such as the one depicted above, could go from four to six stories in height.

Under the density program buildings, such as the one depicted above, could go from four to six stories in height.

The city’s planning commission sent a proposal to boost affordable housing in San Francisco to the Board of Supervisors after a marathon meeting Thursday.

After taking several votes to amend various sections of the proposal, the commission opted on a unanimous 6-0 vote to forward the program on to the supervisors without a recommendation on if they should adopt it.

It was the fifth time the commission had taken up the program, and tonight’s hearing last nearly six hours. Planning commissioner Rich Hillis said he felt the program would “work better” on wider transit corridors in the city than on narrower residential streets.

Commissioner Michael Antonini expressed his support for the program being adopted.

“We are trying to provide more affordability using the private sector to do it without public funds,” he noted. “No one else is going to be able to afford to build middle-income housing in San Francisco.”

It is unclear if the program will survive review by the supervisor’s progressive majority. It continues to be vociferously opposed by residents in neighborhoods across the city as well as affordable housing activists.

Should city leaders opt not to adopt the local measure, then developers could request higher density in their projects under a state law that allows them to provide less affordable housing in return. The city program would require 30 percent affordability, whereas the state density bonus program calls for 12 to 18 percent affordability in projects.

“We are trying to figure out ways to better utilize under-utilized sites in our part of town along transit corridors,” said District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, who worked with Mayor Ed Lee’s office and planning staff to develop the program. “I applaud planning staff for the hard work they did listening to the community to make this better.”

The aim of the city program is to allow for “a strategic in-fill approach across the city,” said Gil Kelley, director of citywide planning in the planning department. “I urge you to keep in mind the basic tradeoff here is not to use public subsidy but to harness private investment to get higher affordable units in tradeoff for height and density bonuses.”

Kelley stressed that “the state program does allow people to ask for the same equivalent of bonuses without the same number of affordable units.”

But Lorraine Petty, with San Franciscans for Community Planning, had urged the commissioners to recommend that the supervisors not adopt the proposal and instruct the planning department to go back to the drawing board.

“We are opposed to the density bonus program,” she said. “We do not oppose development. We are very much in favor of building new affordable housing. But a massive new government plan, first and foremost, has to preserve what we already have.”

Some residents have spoken out in favor of the program. They argue it would provide housing for those who are middle income yet can’t afford to live in the city.

“I urge you to support this,” said Noe Valley resident Daniel Camp, who bemoaned the city’s high housing costs mean he is unlikely to ever be a homeowner here. “We are in a crisis level housing shortage.”

As the Bay Area Reporter has noted, the Affordable Housing Bonus Program would award projects that include higher amounts of affordable housing than what is currently required with such development incentives as increased density, heights, and limited reductions in other zoning requirements, according to city planners.

The city’s planning department estimates the program would produce 5,000 permanently affordable units over 20 years without any public dollars and solely through private investment. It is estimated that the program could generate upwards of $99 million in new transportation funding.

The Western Addition, Bayview, and Richmond neighborhoods would be among those most impacted, while several blocks along Castro Street would also be covered. Properties along upper Market Street would not be covered as they fall under the Market Octavia Plan.

In response to public complaints, the program has been amended since it was first rolled out last fall so that it would not cover buildings with rent-controlled units or that are considered to be of historical significance. The commission voted Thursday night to also exclude from the program any project that demolished existing housing units.

And they suggested the program be phased in over time, starting with vacant lots or abandoned gas stations, with planning staff doing a more in-depth review of the other properties eligible for the program that includes community input. That amendment passed 4-2, with commissioners Cindy Wu and Kathrin Moore opposed.

The commission also on a 4-2 vote, with Wu and Moore against, added a design guideline to maximize light and air to the sidewalks and frontages along the streets, including alleyways, of projects given extra density. They also asked planning staff to further look at lot merger rules under the program.

Moore expressed concerns that the new buildings adhere to the design guidelines already in place for the various neighborhoods.

“I do caution we do not make this one size fits all,” she said.

— Matthew S. Bajko, February 26, 2016 @ 12:51 am PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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