SF has approved barely eight new housing units per month since the city passed its ambitious Housing Element plan, but the reality is that developers haven’t been applying for many permits.
After months of housing policy drama, the City of San Francisco did finally pass its ambitious Housing Element plan in January, complying — on paper — with a state mandate to add 82,000 new units of housing by the year 2031. And SF was an outlier in a good way on this one, as the vast majority of Bay Area cities have not passed Housing Elements nor had them approved by the state.
And not passing a Housing Element could have cost the city tens, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding. But we are still not out of the woods, as the housing actually needs to be built, not just promised on paper. And the Examiner reported earlier this month that SF has approved an average of only eight new housing units per month since passing that Housing Element.
That’s spurred a YIMBY volunteer lead to publish an op-ed in today’s Chronicle wholly blaming the SF Board of Supervisors for the lack of housing production.
“Many supervisors have started to backtrack on the promises they all voted for just a few months ago,” writes David Broockman. “Some have introduced legislation to implement dramatically watered-down versions of the city’s promises to the state, hoping the state won’t notice the difference.”
This is an opinion piece from the developer lobby SF YIMBY organization (I suppose they prefer to be called “pro-housing activists”). And surely their contempt for the SF Board of Supervisors is to some degree rooted in how YIMBY-specific candidates have so far all lost when they ran for the board.
But it is true that the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) sent a letter to the Planning Commission (and not the Board of Supervisors) saying those eight units a month are not going to cut it.
“A housing element is not a paper exercise,” the letter says. “It is an enforceable commitment to the state that a city or county will take specific actions on specific timeframes over an eight-year period.”
The problem is that developers just aren’t submitting that many permits these days, as the housing market has cooled. “Very few applications are coming in right now, so we know the pipeline is not getting the top-of-the-funnel numbers,” Housing Action Coalition executive director Corey Smith told the Examiner.
It’s not true that the supervisors have done “nothing” to increase housing stock in SF, as the Chronicle’s YIMBY op-ed claims. Earlier this month, the supes relaxed zoning laws for office-to-housing conversions. And new units can also come from accessory dwelling unit (ADUs) which the Planning Commission has been approving like mad as of late. Plus you have the city buying many properties to convert to affordable housing, like the former Haight Street McDonald’s site.
So new market-rate construction is not the only method of adding housing to San Francisco. But it is a necessary component.
HCD correctly points out that SF "has among the highest housing and construction costs" in the country, and interest rate and inflation concerns are making construction even more of a challenge in San Francisco. But we would hate to see some kind of Silicon Valley Bank situation where extremely well-to-do developers demand a government bailout as ransom for building the housing SF needs to meet its goals. And we hope local lawmakers get even more creative to provide developer incentives that are not developer handouts.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist