comments 2

San Francisco is kind of on the verge of abolishing single-family zoning

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.

For other posts on infill housing, click here.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash


  1. I am an Architect/Builder/Developer in San Francisco so have been following this issue with great interest. As you describe it seems more a bunch of hot air than anything that will lead to substantive change. It is also San Francisco’s response to the state wide housing initiative that wen tint effect on Jan. 1, SB9, also allowing for similar density increases, but equally important it removes the local jurisdiction from any discretionary revel, as long as proscriptive, objective design guidelines are met. SB9 only applies to RH-1 zoning, so SF’s new rules eliminate all RH-1 zoning, so negates SB9, and preserves San Francisco’s overly restrictive discretionary design review. It looks to me to be the Emperor’s New Clothes yet again. The anti-development factions continue to prevail over the more rational, forward looking YIMBY’s

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s