The headline sounds pretty promising: San Francisco is on the verge of abolishing single-family zoning, and will soon allow 4-plexes across the city and up to 6 units on corner lots. It is also clear recognition that, “hey, we have a housing problem and should probably figure out a way to increase overall supply.”
Unfortunately, when you look at the policy details, you’ll see that this is likely to be more symbolic than effective. What is being proposed is to take the 40% of San Francisco’s land area that is zoned exclusively for single-family houses and upzone it to allow for duplexes on an as-of-right basis.
And then, if you happen to have owned the property for at least 5 years — or inherited it from a family member that did — you can apply for a special “density exception” from the city. This would allow you to build 6 units on corner lots and 4 units on all remaining mid-block lots.
But here’s the other thing: if you are granted this density exception, the additional units (beyond your as-of-right two) will be subject to rent control. So the important question here is about whether or not anyone will end up building more than luxury duplexes and, if they do, will there be enough scale to produce a meaningful impact.
I’m not familiar with development cost structures in San Francisco and I’m not sure if there will be any incentives/subsidies for delivering these additional rent controlled units, but the above feels like far too many barriers if the goal is more housing.
But it remains a step in the right direction. Symbolism certainly has its merits.
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