The SF Planning Commission spent Thursday afternoon debating a “housing element” plan on which billions in state aid is contingent, but so far, state authorities have rejected 97% of other cities’ housing plans.

San Francisco City Hall has done a few pretty impressive things to build up its housing stock, particularly during the pandemic. The homeless hotels program has amazing potential. We’ve seen affordable housing move forward in neighborhoods that have traditionally shunned it. We’ve seen the city buy properties for housing, notably the purchase of the El Rio building that kept this historic club open.

But that all depends on billions of dollars in funding from the state, which the state can yank, and then suddenly we can’t afford these wonderful things. We have to prove to the state that we can meet our housing goals, through a 774-page document called the Housing Element. But as the Chronicle reports, the state has lately been rejecting 97% of cities’ housing elements presented to them.  

“In Southern California, which has earlier deadlines than the northern part of the state, just six out of 196 housing plans have been deemed in compliance with state laws,” according to the Chronicle. "The rest, including the one from Los Angeles, were sent back to the drawing board and those cities could lose local control — not to mention billions in affordable housing money — if they can’t whip their housing elements into shape.”

In San Francisco, meeting these requirements means building 82,000 new units by the year 2031, which would require us to triple our current rate of housing development. As you see above, this new housing has not been particularly well spread out! Zoning changes could help spread out the load, as could the recent push for four-plex conversions.

But in Thursday’s SF Planning Commission meeting, where the 774-page housing element was discussed, some commissioners wondered if we could look at different forms of conversions. That is, the tons of downtown office space that nobody wants.

“Is it possible we could see owners of office buildings downtown want to convert them to residential?,” Planning commissioner Sue Diamond asked Thursday afternoon. “I think we should consider whether we should be creating incentives for a conversion of some of these office buildings downtown where office space may not be in as much demand, shifting patterns to residential use, so we have a 24/7 population downtown that could better support the retail that is there.”

The stakes are certainly high, but this being both San Francisco and California government, the pace of decision-making will be astonishingly slow. According to the Chronicle, “The draft’s Environmental Impact Report is scheduled to be published on April 20, and the planning commission will vote on it in the fall.” On top of that “The state mandate for a fully adopted housing element in San Francisco is May 2023.”

Related: In More Fourplex Legislation Drama, SF May Un-Streamline the New Streamlined Approval Process [SFist]

Image: @pixeldan via Unsplash