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Mayor Breed demands more in-law apartments

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City ordered to clear some 150 new units a month

Castro homes as seen from the air. Photo by Trong Nguyen

On Monday, Mayor London Breed ordered the city to process applications for more than 900 in-law apartments—Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, in City Hall parlance—across San Francisco, which have hitherto been hung up in red tape.

In 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors loosened laws governing in-law construction, which legalized “unlimited construction of ADUs” in buildings with five or more units and one new in-law in any building smaller.

At the time, those who preferred in-laws outlawed warned of the dangers of “hidden density” in neighborhoods. In March of this year, Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said that relaxing in-law rules had essentially doubled density in residential neighborhoods.

But the mayor’s office says that the city has permitted only 337 new in-law units since then. And the figures for finalized homes may be even worse: San Francisco Examiner reported in February that only 109 permits had gone out, resulting in 23 new homes thus far.

Compare this to the proverbial example of Vancouver, which has built an estimated 25,000 new ADUs over the past decade. According to SPUR, “It is estimated that 60 percent of buildings constructed in 2000-2009 included an ADU” in the Canadian city.

Photo by Iuliia Serova

In a Thursday press release Breed blames a “lack of clear and consistent standards” for creating creates “an unnecessarily long review period.”

The mayor calls the delays “unacceptable” and “a clear sign that the process is not working.”

After the current backup of 900 is cleared, Breed will direct the Department of Building Inspection and Planning Department to handle future applications in four months or less.

Processing the applications does not, of course, mean that the city will necessarily green light all 900 new homes; however, it will finally shuttle them out of limbo.