San Francisco's housing policy is on the cusp of a dramatic revolution. After over a year of anticipation, Governor Newsom has published California's first-ever Housing Policy and Practice Review report, directed squarely at our beloved city by the bay. What can one document do? Simple: This report will obliterate local obstructionism in San Francisco, and SF YIMBY could not be more excited.
For decades, San Francisco has flouted state laws regulating housing projects. Last year, Mayor London Breed narrowly kept the Board of Supervisors in compliance with state law after the Board of Supervisors tried to subvert Senate Bill 9, the landmark duplex legalization bill. In another notable case, it took until 2016 for the city to abide by a 1979 state law promoting affordable housing, and this reversal only came by a court ruling. The city had to be sued in 2018 to force it to adhere to a California law regulating accessory dwelling units. And since 2002, the city's own website has advertised that “[t]he Planning Department is not operating in compliance with State time limits on development project applications.” San Francisco has shown time and time again that it thinks itself exempt from state housing law and will only respond to shows of force.
San Francisco's cavalier relationship with the law caused state officials to take notice. The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) first announced the Housing Policy and Practice Review last August, coinciding with San Francisco's housing element update process. HCD expressed extreme skepticism towards the city's drafts, noting that San Francisco holds the dubious record of having the longest housing approval timelines in the state. To secure HCD certification, San Francisco's plan committed to implementing the priority recommendations outlined by the finalized Housing Policy and Practice Review by July 2024, despite lacking prior knowledge of its contents. San Francisco YIMBY played a vital role in advocating for pro-housing policies in the city's plan update and identifying issues with several of the drafts submitted to HCD. Ultimately, HCD approved the new plan on February 1, 2023, setting up today's publication of the report.
HCD's report analyzes the sources of dysfunction in San Francisco's housing approval process and prescribes specific actions to be undertaken with celerity by city officials. The report declares that San Francisco is out of compliance with several state laws, including the Permit Streamlining Act, State Density Bonus Law, and SB 35. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as departments under Mayor Breed, will be required to overhaul their processing of housing project applications. Many of the state-mandated steps must be completed within six months, and some within 30 days. These directives in particular will greatly reduce impediments to housing production:
- Planning Commission hearings must be eliminated for all code-compliant projects in affluent neighborhoods
- Mayor Breed's Constraints Reduction Ordinance and other reforms in the Housing for Executive All Directive must be implemented by ordinance
- Determinations of a project's requirements to undergo environmental review must be made in 30 days of a project application being deemed complete
Should San Francisco fail to undertake the required actions as specified, there will be no leeway. The report warns: “The City’s failure to implement the Required Actions will result in HCD initiating the process to revoke housing element compliance.” Should this occur, the city would become ineligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in transit and affordable housing grants issued by the state. SF YIMBY urges city officials to take immediate action to avoid this outcome.
"The Housing Policy and Practice Review is poised to dismantle a fifty-year legacy of policy blunders," declared Laura Foote, Executive Director of YIMBY Action. "Gavin Newsom has sent a clear message: District supervisors no longer get to pick what housing gets built in their little fiefdoms. San Francisco cannot continue to fiddle while people are sleeping on the street and renters are getting priced out. We need to create abundant housing for everyone who wants to live here. Instead of being a poster child for nonsense, it's time for San Francisco to lead on housing production."
This report marks a significant turning point in San Francisco's housing policies. It signals a shift towards a more inclusive, streamlined, and responsive approach to housing development that holds the promise of a better future for all residents of the city.
“For too long, San Francisco has made up the rules as it goes along when it comes to building new homes," said Jane Natoli, Organizing Director of San Francisco YIMBY. "The city's misbehavior resulted in the longest permitting times in the state, causing unpredictable timelines and excessive costs. The Housing Policy and Practice Review is a necessary step to getting us building much-needed homes more quickly. We applaud HCD for identifying problems and providing solutions to get our city back on track.”
This report marks an inflection point in our housing element engagement, rather than a conclusion to it. San Francisco YIMBY is excited to work with both city officials and HCD to ensure the implementation of mandated Housing Policy and Practice Review actions. Our members have already begun engagement with San Francisco's rezoning program by providing extensive feedback to planning officials. SF YIMBY remains committed to providing a pro-housing voice and affirmatively furthering fair housing in San Francisco.
About SF YIMBY: We are a group of volunteer housing advocates in San Francisco fighting to end the housing shortage in our community. We work to end tenant displacement and segregation, lower rents and home prices, and shorten commutes that result from a lack of housing close to jobs, schools, and other community resources. We believe we can fix these problems and create a community with abundant, affordable homes for everyone. San Francisco YIMBY is a Chapter of YIMBY Action.