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More than 60 percent of SF renters have rent control, says city

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“The city has struggled to substantially improve housing affordability for low- and moderate‐income households”

San Francisco streets photographed between two apartment buildings. Photo by Randy Andy/Shutterstock

At today’s San Francisco Planning Commission meeting, city staff will present the first Housing Needs and Trends Report (HNTR)—the first step toward finally devising some sort of effective solution to the housing crisis.

The report is a first step in what City Hall dubs its new Housing Affordability Strategy. But precisely what that will be remains to be seen, as the HNTR is meant to get the powers that be up to speed before decisions are made.

So, what have city staff learned about the housing crisis? Here are a few highlights. (Note that these cover only the executive summary to be presented to the commission tonight and the accompanying memo; more data from the full report will follow.)


  • San Francisco is building more new housing now than anytime in previous generations, despite appearances: “San Francisco new housing construction has averaged 1,900 new units per year since 1990, though the recent rate has increased substantially, to more than 5,000 in 2016 and an average of 4,000 between 2014 and 2017.”
  • And yet, City Hall is aware that despite building more, the problem has not ebbed much: “The city has struggled to substantially improve housing affordability for low- and moderate‐income households and does not have a comprehensive picture of how various policies and resources work together to achieve affordability outcomes.”
  • Little new housing stock created over those three decades is attainable to most people: “Of all units built since 1990, 28 percent have been affordable to low and moderate-income households.”
  • Most San Francisco renters still live in rent-controlled homes. “More than 60 percent of renters live in housing that is subject to the City’s rent control ordinance.” Since the report also estimates that some 65 percent of city residents rent, that means more than 39 percent of the entire SF population lives in rent controlled housing. While these figures are comparable to some past estimates, the city usually doesn’t quantify or keep track of precisely how many rent controlled units we have, since that figure changes often.
  • But even rent-controlled homes are less and less affordable: “In 2015, almost 100,000 out of San Francisco’s estimated 160,000 rent-controlled units are rented at rates that would be affordable to households earning less than 80 percent [of Area Median Income]. In 1990, more than 140,000 of rent-controlled units were affordable to those households.”
Photo by IVASHstudio
  • Wealthier renters are increasingly occupying rent-controlled homes too: “Rent control and provides relative affordability for low and moderate income households with tenures of greater length. [...] Though that is eroding over time, as households who have moved more recently into rent-controlled units are disproportionately higher income.”
  • Although SF has grown wealthier on average as of late, most San Franciscans’ incomes remain modest compared to housing costs. “The majority of the increase in workers in San Francisco has been driven by growth in workers earning more than $100,000 per year. However, workers earning less than $75,000 continue to be the majority. [...] The number of workers who work and live in San Francisco is at an all-time high at almost 500,000.”
  • Housing burdens do not fall equally on all fronts: “People of color are more likely to be housing cost burdened with more than 40 percent of Black, Asian/ Pacific Islander, and Latino renters cost burdened. [...] While owners overall are less cost burdened, homeowners of color are more likely to experience cost burden.”
  • Only five neighborhoods host a huge majority of designated affordable housing: “Five neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city hold 60 percent of all of the city’s affordable units, including Tenderloin (18 percent), South of Market (12 percent), Western Addition (11 percent), Bayview Hunters Point (11 percent), and Mission (8 percent).”

You can read the full summary here, and the Planning Department will publish the larger, more detailed report later today.