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SF short on housing study, new projects must wait

Anything already proposed fine, but mouth of pipeline temporarily stymied

Earlier in June, San Francisco voters approved a measure allowing city lawmakers to set new minimum requirements for affordable housing.

Since the Board of Supervisors had previously voted to bump the rate up to 25 percent—after having been frozen at 12 for years—it later became a de facto voter-endorsed doubling of housing demands.

But we were reminded at the time that 25 percent was more of a handy placeholder number than a hard figure. The city was to conduct a feasibility study by July 31 to determine the happy median that would give us the best possible yield on BMR units without scaring off new buildings entirely.

Well, it’s August now. And as the San Francisco Business Times couldn’t help but notice, no study has materialized. It’s still happening, of course, but the results won’t be ready for weeks more.

And since lawmakers are about to go on summer break, September will be the earliest we can actually do anything with the study’s recommendations. Which means that, for the time being, we remain a 25 percent town.

This very scenario came up during debate about Measure C back in May, but the election deadlines and, perhaps more importantly, political pragmatism that says you don’t put off until next month a vote you know you’ll win today, overruled it.

(Supervisor Aaron Peskin, a staunch Measure C advocate, scoffed at objections and pointed out that the city didn’t need a feasibility study when it put the first requirements into place years ago, comments he later repeated to Curbed SF.)

In theory, this leaves scads of potential new buildings in no-person's land, as developers have no idea what will be asked of them in the near future. In practice, though, it doesn’t necessarily have to slow things down much.

Any project that was proposed before January is spared the new BMR minimum anyway (although most have to provide at least a few extra units) and they can continue through the process unhindered. The ones really sweating it out are the buildings that were pitched just in the last few months.

A four-week delay is hardly the worst case scenario when you’re building in San Francisco. But it’s probably a long time to be tamping down any potential investor skittishness about the future. Well, it is summer. Maybe everyone should just go on vacation and start fresh in the fall?