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The inclusionary zoning paradox

What do you get when you have some of the most stringent affordable housing requirements in the United States? You might think that you get lots and lots of affordable housing, but that is not the case in San Francisco. Paradoxically, you still get some of the most expensive housing in the United States. And part of the reason for this — according to this inclusionary zoning review committee — is as follows:

Of all 40 scenarios, only four, all of them ownership-based, penciled out while satisfying the inclusionary program. Many of the projects that were designated as feasible, or came close to it, were smaller. That could be because larger structures use more expensive union labor and tend to contain advanced safety systems, like elevators that can operate during fires, said Strachan Forgan, principal at SCB, an architecture and design firm.

Among the 20 that were rental projects, only one was shown to be feasible, but it did not satisfy the city’s mandatory inclusionary policy. While not yet ready to make recommendations, the committee members accepted the findings as accurate. Multiple development experts who reviewed the analysis for The Chronicle said it appeared to be well done.

What is often missing from analyses about inclusionary zoning is how many projects it makes infeasible as a result of the requirement. It is not no-cost affordable housing. There are real costs and real impacts. But we like to tell ourselves that this isn’t the case because, at the end of the day, we’re not really that serious about building more housing and building more affordable housing. Too inconvenient. Too disruptive.

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