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SF supervisors seek to stop illegal home demolition [Correction]

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Lawmakers reveal the Housing Preservation and Expansion Reform Act

Photo by Christopher Eric Lawrence/Shutterstock

The Willis Polk-designed home at 950 Lombard; Richard Neutra’s 1935 modernist house at 49 Hopkins; and even, to a lesser but notable extent, Stanley Saitowitz’s minimalist masterpiece at 1110 Green.

These are just a few recent examples of important architectural works obliterated by developers to make way for less than exciting housing. (Note: The aforementioned Saitowitz’s revamp wasn’t done illegally, though we may call it an aesthetic crime privately, and the Willis Polk home’s demolition was only accused of illegality before the developer settled with the city without admitting liability.”)

Which is to say nothing of the nameless duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes that get merged into single-family homes, ostensible middle-class housing turned into multimillion-dollar abodes.

Enter San Francisco Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Rafael Mandelman who unveiled the Housing Preservation and Expansion Reform Act on Tuesday, legislation that would increase fines for illegal demolition.

The act aims to preserve rent-controlled housing (not just pads with pedigree) and stop illegal demolition while making way for additional homes by:

- Creating a single clear and implementable definition of “Demolition” that includes the loss of residential housing by any means;

- Discouraging large home expansions while incentivizing neighborhood-scale density;

- Enhancing penalties for illegal demolitions and ensuring enforceability by the San Francisco Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection.

The city also reportedly loses approximately 350 units of affordable housing per year (more than 4,300 over the last decade) by way of evictions, mergers, and demolitions. The mergers, where a landlord combines two or more units into one deluxe pad, are especially problematic for a city in the midst of a housing crisis.

According to 48 Hills, Peskin and Mandelman’s act “would bar landlords from combining two or three units into one and would halt so-called ‘serial permitting’ of demolitions, in which a property owner gets a series of permits for small changes that in the end add up to the effective demolition of a housing unit.”

After developer Troon Pacific purchased 950 Lombard, the site of a designated historic resource, for $4.5 million and turned it into the most expensive home on the market, the developer entered into a monetary settlement with San Francisco for $400,000. The city of San Francisco accused Troon Pacific of removing all of the Willis-Polk home’s exterior walls and windows, contrary to what the permit allowed, though the developer did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.”

And the Neutra house demolition was just plain insidious.

The Housing Preservation and Expansion Reform Act, which will next go to committee, is backed by the San Francisco Tenants Union, the San Francisco Land Use Coalition, San Francisco Heritage, and several neighborhood associations.

[Correction: We initially noted that Troon paid a fine for illegal demolition. We have updated the piece to note that, in fact, Troon settled without admitting liability after the city accused Troon illegally removing the Willis-Polk’s exterior walls and windows.]