It’s not surprising that the SF Board of Supervisors spent nearly five hours debating a state-mandated housing requirement that the city build 82,000 new housing units by 2031. What is surprising is that we might actually achieve the goal.
One of the biggest high-stakes dramas going at San Francisco City Hall, and really at city halls all over the state of California, is a state requirement that each city build substantial new housing, with the plan being named a “housing element.” (In San Francisco, this requirement is that we build 82,000 new housing units by 2031. That’s a lot!) Should we fail to submit this plan to the state’s liking, the city could potentially lose billions in transit and affordable housing funding, and developers would be allowed to build in a free-for-all with no zoning rules.
The SF Planning Commission hopes to finalize their housing element plan by December 15, and the supervisors' up-or-down vote will not happen until January 2023. But the plan is so massive, and so important, that the Board of Supervisors held an informational hearing on the matter Tuesday. And considering that there are a ton of big housing projects in the pipeline, and the Planning Commission is considering reasoning the west side for 34,000 new unis on the west side, dare we dream that SF could actually hit that goal?
How close are we? Supervisor Catherine Stefani came right and asked, and the answer was shockingly encouraging.
“I believe our last pipeline report was Quarter Two, and there were about 68,000 units in the pipeline,” Planning Commission director Rich Hillis told the supervisors Tuesday.
Whoa! 68,000 in units in the pipeline, with 82,000 required? That means we’re more than 80% there, right? Not so fast, according to Hillis, who cautioned that those are only projects on paper, and on paper is not reality.
“Construction costs are high, rents are low, [developers] talk about city fees being considerably higher than other jurisdictions,” Hillis told the board. “Market conditions are not hospitable at this point.”
Supervisor Dean Preston argued that the plan ought to focus more on affordable housing than market-rate housing, noting that’s where we’re really behind. He pointed out that SF has met “150% of our market-rate housing goals in this cycle, and not even half of our affordable housing goals.”
But Hillis noted that the state doesn’t really differentiate between affordable and market-rate housing goals. “Their focus has been on the broader number, on constraint removal,” he said. “Their focus has not been on the affordable numbers,.” he added, noting that SF focuses on affordable housing goals “more than other jurisdictions.”
Supervisor Hillary Ronen shared Preston’s frustration. “The state doesn’t care if we build a single unit of affordable housing,” she fumed.
“The state has not done right by San Francisco,” Ronen added. “There are no consequences nor benefits from the fact that San Francisco builds way more affordable housing than any surrounding county, that we do so by constantly taxing ourselves, that we get very little help from that state or the feds, and recently we’ve been punished by the state when it comes to affordable housing, despite our willingness.”
The hearing was just informational, there was no vote. But it was the supervisors’ last chance to comment before the Planning Commission finalizes the final housing element plan, which has to be completed and submitted in just about 75 days.
“We have the option of being an example to other municipalities in the state.” Supervisor Matt Dorsey said Tuesday. “We could gain billions if we live up to our obligations.”
Related: City Hall Is Haggling Over an Ambitious Housing Plan, Hoping the State Doesn’t Yank Billions of Dollars [SFist]
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist