A nearly year-long housing policy battle appears to have come to a surprisingly harmonious conclusion, as the SF Board of Supervisors just unanimously passed a state-mandated housing element, and in an unexpected surprise, the state says it will approve the plan.
If you’re into San Francisco housing discourse, the January 31 deadline for passage of the state-mandated Housing Element plan was shaping up to be your Super Bowl. The State of California is requiring ambitious housing growth goals for each different county, and for San Francisco, that mandated goal was 82,000 new housing units over the next eight years.
What's going to be your job when San Francisco misses its housing element deadline and builder's remedy projects turn the city into San Fransokyo? pic.twitter.com/bYAvTGALKv— M. Nolan Gray (@mnolangray) October 16, 2022
And it has been an article of faith on Housing Twitter that San Francisco would fall short of this goal, and/or miss the deadline entirely, and/or have its plan rejected by the state. Should any of those outcomes have happened, the city would lose out on hundreds of millions (or billions) of dollars in affordable housing and transportation funds, could have set off a “builder’s remedy” free-for-all where zoning laws went out the window, and those intransigent supervisors would finally get theirs and reap what they sowed by not approving enough housing projects.
And the low expectations were justified. The Chronicle reported last spring that “just six out of 196 housing plans have been deemed in compliance with state laws,” meaning that out of the first couple hundred individual housing elements submitted, only 3% were being approved by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
Housing update. The Board of Supervisors has just voted to pass San Francisco's Housing Element. https://t.co/MjgQk5GLg9— TogetherSF Action (@TSFAction) January 24, 2023
Surprise! On Tuesday afternoon, the SF Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Housing Element plan. But more shockingly, the state had already approved it before the board’s vote. The Chronicle reported Monday that HCD approved the draft SF Housing Element, saying it “meets the statutory requirements” of state housing law.
There was no discussion at the board level Tuesday, and the unanimous vote was a rubber-stamp. But there have been rancorous five-hour-long meetings in the lead-up.
The Housing Element plan does not specifically say where the 82,000 new units would be built, just submits a plan for how that could happen. And a large percentage of them would come from rezoning the west side neighborhoods. And another controversial component involves using funds from 2020’s voter-approved Prop I real-estate transfer tax for offsets to help market-rate projects achieve “economic feasibility,” which detractors call a “develop dirty bomb.”
With Prop. I, voters taxed the rich & raised over a quarter of a billion $ for affordable housing. It's identified as a affordable housing revenue source in the Housing Element. Yesterday, Mayor’s housing director refused to support using Prop I money for affordable housing. 2/7— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) January 24, 2023
There are still some longshot possibilities this approval could falter. The board has a second vote scheduled for next week (most legislation does require a “second reading” vote), so the vote could theoretically change. Mayor Breed could veto it, but she has spoken glowingly of the plans. And while the state HCD has approved the plan, Governor Newsom may decide to meddle, because he’s made a point of needling SF on its housing approval rate.
All of the above scenarios are exceedingly unlikely. What’s more likely is that a year or two down the road, the city gets called out on not building the housing it said it would build (and the construction cost boom makes this a real possibility) and all the funds are at risk again. But for now, City Hall is about to cross a finish line many thought they would never be able to cross. And the folks rooting for the “builder’s remedy” (or hoping for a cocktail called “Builder’s Remedy”) will be left a little shaken and stirred.
Image: Daniel Abadia via Unsplash