It only took three drafts, 13 community meetings, 35 workshops and five public hearings. After all that, over two and a half years, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the city’s housing master plan, commonly called the Housing Element. Last night’s vote was unanimous in support of the five-year plan.
What’s the point of the Housing Element?
The State of California Housing Element law, enacted in 1969, mandates that local governments adequately plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community. The law acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address housing needs and demand, local governments must adopt land use plans and regulatory systems which provide opportunities for, and do not unduly constrain, housing development.
The Element is a non-binding document that provides policy guidance for the city’s development. By state law, it must be updated every five years to accomodate population growth and environmental goals.Â
According to the plan, San Francisco needs to find room for 31,000 new living units in the next seven years. I’m pretty sure San Francisco hasn’t gotten any bigger in the last five years, so it’s not shocking to read that the overall goals in this version are: build dense dwellings near transit, allow for western neighborhoods to become a bit more densely developed, and allow for more community input in the planning process.
Believe it or not, even in this built-up city with seemingly no empty land left, there are enough infill spaces available for almost 40,000 new housing units, provided that some zoning changes are made to allow for denser development, increased height limits, and decreased parking requirements. And that’s the kicker: people like their neighborhoods and some folks are very vocally opposed to any changes that would make change the character of their neighborhood.
While articles about the plan on SFGate.com focus on density, over at the San Francisco Bay Guardian the focus is on affordable housing — in fact, to meet the need for below-market rate housing, 60 percent of the 31,000 units needed would be reserved for moderate-, low-, and very-low-income residents.
So, we need more places to live, and a lot of it has to be economically accessible to residents who earn significantly less than the median income. Short a massive infusion of public money –Â which isÂ a fiscal impossibility in this economic climateÂ – the goal of building nearly 19,000 affordable units seems very unlikely.