San Francisco Pushes Forward on Single Home Ban, Denser Neighborhoods — ‘Pretty Big Step’

A man walks past a four-plex at Alcatraz and Hillegass avenues during a walking tour to view multi-unit dwellings in the Rockridge and Fairview Park neighborhoods of Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Photo by Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

San Francisco Board of Supervisors narrowly passed legislation Tuesday to eliminate single family home zoning, which will allow fourplexes on every neighborhood lot and six units on corner properties.

But even the advocates for denser neighborhoods in the name of affordable housing and social justice are worried that the move wouldn’t do enough to bring the safe, suburban single family neighborhoods to an end.

Richard Hillis, the city’s planning director called ending single-family-home zoning “a pretty big step.” 

“They recognize, given our affordability crisis, building multi-family units instead of single-family homes is a good policy idea,” Hillis said in a San Francisco Chronicle article.

Hillis said he is “nervous” the changes are “not going far enough, or they’re putting requirements in place that will result in too few units being produced.”

The Chronicle reported on the ordinance crafted by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, reworked, and now legislation that could become law:

With the ordinance, Mandelman and co-sponsor Supervisor Myrna Melgar are trying to encourage more density while preserving local control over new development. Mandelman has acknowledged that his legislation leaves more work to be done to address the housing crisis.

Currently, about 40 percent of San Francisco’s land area is zoned only for single-family homes. The ordinance rezones all those areas to allow duplexes by default. Property owners can then receive a density exception from the city that allows them to build up to four units, or six on corner lots.

Hillis said that streamlining approval for fourplexes and sixplexes once the city is rezoned would likely require a ballot measure to amend the City Charter. San Franciscans are already voting on at least one amendment — and possibly two — in November aimed at accelerating housing production for some projects.

Despite the growing movement for neighborhood density, research shows Americans still want the same single family home in a safe neighborhood as earlier generations, according to the real estate website Redfin.

“While some data suggests that housing density is starting to prevail in certain cities, the vast majority of Americans still want a single-family home with a yard, even if it means sacrificing proximity to work,” the report said.

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