'Affordable-By-Design' Recommended For San Francisco

The Examiner looks at the loss of middle-class housing in San Francisco, and how, based on a new report by a local urban think tank, allowing more flexibility in zoning would allow affordable, but market-rate housing to meet the demand.

2 minute read

January 13, 2008, 1:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid


"What if it were possible to easily adapt the permit codes so that private developers actually wanted to build middle-income housing without any need for taxpayer subsidies? According to a new task force study by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) Association, this could be accomplished by simply easing city regulations to enable lower-cost construction of new housing in neighborhoods where land prices permit.

The City's own urban development think-tank found that the midrange housing market could be effectively served by offering an option of smaller but more efficient units with fewer amenities. Such units are now extremely difficult to bring to market because of unnecessary restrictions involving building density, common spaces, parking capacity and height limits on wood-frame construction.

SPUR makes six main code-change recommendations for lowering city housing construction costs.

All of these changes are comparatively minor and could easily be tested as pilot programs of limited duration. Yet in total they might significantly enhance housing opportunities for a vitally productive but too-often overlooked segment of the San Francisco community.

From SPUR report:

"Housing that is affordable "by design" could become a more important part of San Francisco's middle-income housing strategy. This is a housing type that benefits the lower middle class rather than the truly poor, but it is precisely in this middle income stratum of the market that San Francisco has been least successful in serving.

Currently, the Planning and Building Codes make it extremely difficult to build housing that is affordable by design. This is primarily due to density controls, overly prescriptive courtyard and unit exposure rules, and minimum parking requirements in the Planning Code, as well as Building Code limits on the number of stories allowed for wood-frame construction...

Affordable "by design" housing has been an important part of San Francisco's housing stock for decades. By making a few key changes to San Francisco's planning and building codes, we have the opportunity to encourage the creation of new middle-income units - without additional public subsidy."

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