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Zoned housing supply vs. actual housing supply

This Twitter thread by UC Davis Law Professor, Chris Elmendorf, is a good reminder that there can be a meaningful difference between actual completed homes and zoned land that might one day becoming new housing.

The point he makes is as follows: The state of California’s housing needs allocation for the city of San Francisco is approximately 80,000 new homes over the next decade. In the past, cities could demonstrate that they were able to meet these targets through, as I understand it, some fairly loose assumptions. But more recently, amendments have made it such that the probability of new homes actually getting built needs to be considered.

San Francisco has been doing this and, according to Chris, the conclusion was that the city should upzone portions of the city — primarily on the west side — to allow for some 22,000 new homes. Sounds cool. But as part of this process, the city also hired an outside consultant to run indicative pro formas and assess overall development feasibility. This is what they found:

I haven’t seen any of the actual numbers, but what this chart is saying is that nobody is going to develop on the west side of the city no matter what entitlements you put in place (tier 3 and tier 4 market areas). The only new development that is likely to take place is high-rise development over 24 storeys in the highest value submarkets (tier 1 and tier 2 market areas).

Based on this, the 22,000 new homes figure is probably closer to 0 new homes.


  1. Kyle Spaans

    Does that analysis include the increase in tax assessment value (and presumably higher property tax) that goes with the upzoning?

    I always assumed that that higher carrying cost would force the current owner to either develop more marginal sites themselves using equity they gained for free from the upzoning, or to sell quickly and at a good price to another buyer.


  2. Kyle Spaans

    Does that analysis account for an increase in property taxes after the upzoning?

    I’ve always assumed that upzoning will lead to an increase in assessed tax value, and higher property taxes to go with it. So wouldn’t that encourage current owners to build marginal small-density housing with the free equity the upzoning gives them, or else sell the land at a bit of a discount so that they don’t have to pay the higher taxes?


    • daniel b

      i suggest you read up a bit about how property taxes in california work, specifically Prop 13. tax increases are fixed, unless the property is sold or redeveloped. So, the property taxes specifically create a disincentive to redevelop…


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