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Housing Solution: Increase Density in Western Neighborhoods and Fix Transit

October 29, 2014

By Evelyn Wang : SFPublicPress – excerpt – Part of a special report on solutions for housing affordability in San Francisco, launched in the summer 2014 print edition. A version of this story appeared in the fall 2014 edition

For nearly four decades, residents of the western half of San Francisco have succeeded in blocking any local zoning changes, saying that adding higher-density and affordable housing options would harm the neighborhoods’ residential character.

But as rental prices skyrocket, the city could add thousands of new apartments without increasing parking problems by carefully tweaking housing regulations in the west — an area largely untouched by the recent construction boom.

Joshua Switzky, the acting director of the citywide planning division of the San Francisco Planning Department, said that rezoning along a few key transit corridors in the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods could add roughly 7,000 new apartment units. To do this, a few key commercial streets served by public transportation would need to be rezoned to increase the housing density by 25 to 30 percent. He emphasized that these estimates are based on his planning experience and not on any formal analysis.

Even under existing building height and density limits, the west side could fit approximately 5,500 additional housing units near Muni lines and retail districts, Switzky said. This estimate excludes the planned developments around Parkmerced and San Francisco State University.

If the Planning Department rezoned the west side to remove existing density limits, developers could build four or five units per lot, instead of the current limit of three. That would require changing some areas from the Neighborhood Commercial District designation to, for example, Neighborhood Commercial Transit District.

But in a part of the city that is ferociously against changes that would bring newcomers or exacerbate parking shortages, rezoning is easier said than done… (more)

Then in 1972, 47 neighborhood groups formed the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods after the Planning Department rejected their appeals to reduce allowable building height and bulk. Four years later, the mayor reached out to these groups to include them in decision-making…

Displacement Worries

Displacement of long-term renters is a big concern in the western neighborhoods, which have large middle-income populations. But recent census data show a rapidly shrinking middle class.

Hiroshi Fukuda, land use and housing chair of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, said that if large-scale development produced mostly market-rate apartments, it could displace established residents paying lower rents…

To complicate things, one estimate puts the number of vacant apartments citywide at about 10,000 homes. KALW News reported that landlords keep them empty because they want to avoid combative tenants, or they cannot charge high enough rent because of the limitations of rent control laws.

“New units being built does not mean they will be lived in,” said Rose Hillson, a Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods activist. “The cycle of needing more housing will perpetuate. The city will never be able to build itself out of the affordable housing crisis.”…

District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang supports additional development up to the existing 40-foot height limit. She recently published a Sunset District Blueprint in consultation with community groups, developers and the Planning Department. Most of this new housing would be built above retail space, in the transit and commercial corridors…

Western Neighborhoods Planning…

“It’s really hard, especially in neighborhoods that are like the western neighborhoods, to drive down the price of housing to make it more affordable by building more,” said Robert Hickey, a senior research associate at the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy, who wrote a report on “upzoning” for affordable housing

Transportation Problems

Because cars are so essential to western neighborhood residents, it would be politically unpopular to increase housing density by dropping parking requirements in new housing…

For years, the city has been promoting its Transit Effectiveness Project, which includes a bus rapid-transit system, featuring dedicated transit lanes and other infrastructure innovations on Geary Boulevard. But in expectation of that expensive project, the city has shelved other, smaller fixes to the system, Radulovich said.

“Just tuning up the service, getting things running faster is something that they could have done years ago,” he said… (more)


One Comment leave one →
  1. holeshothunter permalink
    October 29, 2014 9:33 am

    Yeah. Right. How?



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