Jun 9, 2014 0 Comments in Inclusionary Housing, Policy by

Parcel P

Last December, Mayor Lee announced an ambitious agenda to add 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes by 2020. Ten thousand of those homes are to be permanently affordable. Since then, City officials have been searching for creative ways to get more affordable housing built. San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim spoke at our Monthly Membership Meeting on June 4th to share their new initiatives to streamline the entitlement process.
Mr. Rahaim spoke to the idea of giving priority processing for new developments that boosted their BMR units to 20 percent on-site or 30 percent off-site. In exchange, these projects would move to the top of the queue at each stage of Planning review. Mr. Rahaim said this could cut three to six months off the approval process, a modest incentive. This might work well with projects that use a Density Bonus, should San Francisco finally approve legislation that enacts it. Does this mean projects that don’t provide extra affordable housing get moved to the back of the line? The answer is probably, yes. While that may not sound favorable to every developer, it demonstrates the City’s strong interest in incentivizing increased affordability.
The SFHAC supports development of permit schedules that require City agencies to issue approvals according to predictable timetables.  Timelines have been imposed through CEQA reform on appeals of projects; there should be similar timelines imposed on the agencies.
Another issue Mr. Rahaim discussed is looking into is speeding up the Community Plan Exemption (CPE) process. The large majority of new housing is being built within existing Area Plans, which each take years of work, planning and outreach to be realized. New housing built within these Area Plans are entitled to a CPE and Director Rahaim thinks that the approval process can be cut in half, from eight to four months.
As of now, Planning does not anticipate starting a new Area Plan; it is focused instead on completing the Central SoMa plan, which is most of the way through its EIR. Moving forward, Planning intends to be much more targeted and specific, such as looking at neighborhoods away from the urban core individual intersections, particularly with plans such as “Invest in Neighborhoods.”
The SFHAC understands that new Plan Areas can only be proposed for neighborhoods in which there is a certain threshold of community support.  However, the only way to obtain legitimacy for the re-zoning that could add significant amounts of new housing is through Area Plans. We support experimenting with modest plans that take advantage of existing political support, such as Invest in Neighborhoods.
While modest, Planning should be supported in pursuing incremental reforms. Our entitlements process delays and impedes good projects that would provide badly-needed housing. These reforms would help high-rise projects in the urban core as well as smaller, lower-cost developments in the outer neighborhoods. Process improvement is crucial because, unlike hig-end projects, smaller ones do not generally have the resources to endure long entitlements.
Planning is busy, to say the least. There are currently 1,500 pending permits and they’re issuing 8,000 total permits per year, the highest of any city in the country. We won’t get as-right-housing anytime soon; that would require a revision to the Business and Tax Regulation Code. But these are procedures that would move us in the right direction.
We remain interested in learning whether process improvements of the types Mr. Rahaim discussed will incentivize inclusionary rates above 20 percent.
Image credit: Flickr user sirgious

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Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported nonprofit that advocates for building more housing at all levels of affordability to help alleviate the Bay Area's housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crises.

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