San Francisco slammed for failure to build housing

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California Construction News staff writer

A ‘first-of-its-kind review’ has found San Francisco practices are out of compliance with state housing laws and have created decades of costly building delays. Resulting recommendations would set a course to remove barriers to housing production and increase transparency.

Currently, San Francisco has the longest timelines and some of the highest procedural hurdles in the state for advancing housing projects to construction. These delays, combined with some of the highest housing construction costs in California, create a barrier to addressing the community’s unmet housing needs.

San Francisco Housing Policy and Practice Review

If the city’s current rate of housing approvals and construction continues, it will miss its housing production goal of more than 82,000 new homes by 2031. The report shows that although San Francisco must add over 10,000 new homes each year, the city as permitted less than one home a day.

Among key findings, the report highlights policies and practices “inconsistent with state housing law”, delay caused by the city’s discretionary review processes, and negative impacts from local politics on housing outcomes – all of which have real costs and dire consequences for Californians in need of housing.

“San Francisco’s notoriously complex, cumbersome, and unpredictable housing approval process came onto the state’s radar for good reason, as this rigorous HCD investigation and UC Berkeley research bore out,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “HCD does much more than name San Francisco’s housing problems with this unprecedented Policy and Practice Review. We name very specific actions to bring the City into compliance with housing law and its own Housing Element, and which will move San Francisco into a new housing era with increased housing supply and affordability.”

The Review lays out a clear path forward for San Francisco in the form of 18 required actions with implementation timeframes, and an additional 10 recommended actions, including

  • Eliminate discretion and subjectivity in planning review.
  • Reform local CEQA practices.
  • Reform the local administrative appeals process.
  • Expedite and standardize post-entitlement permitting.
  • Increase accountability and transparency in the housing approvals process.

The Housing Policy and Practice Review was informed by a rigorous, objective academic investigation led by Moira O’Neill, Associate Research Scientist at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Urban and Regional Development.

“Our conclusions are data-driven,” she said “The research conducted for this project further expanded our existing robust housing dataset, allowing us to understand the decision-making patterns that delay or deny housing development in San Francisco.

“Our hope with this work was that the state would be able to use the findings and identify actionable strategies and best practices to align local housing policies, laws, and planning practices with state requirements and priorities.”

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