As of January 1st, Affordable Housing Will Get Streamlined Approvals in San Francisco

18 12 2017

Photo credit: Fumigene (CC BY-ND 2.0).

There has been much interest in streamlining the approvals process for affordable housing projects given the need to get those affordable homes designed, permitted, and built as quickly as possible. Families, seniors, formerly homeless, young adults, teachers, and many others are in great need of affordable housing as the San Francisco real estate market leaves out more and more everyday people.

Fortunately, with a combination of locally- and state-adopted laws, as of January 1st affordable housing will get streamlined approvals in San Francisco, becoming what is colloquially known as “by right.”

It is important to note that this didn’t happen all at once—there have been a series of steps over these last three years that in combination are trimming the timeline and making the permitting process smoother for our affordable housing work.

  • In response to a 2014 executive directive by Mayor Ed Lee to prioritize affordable housing projects, a working group of inter-departmental representatives and affordable housing stakeholders established a set of priority processing measures to ensure extra attention to getting projects through the bureaucratic review steps.
  • Then in early 2016 the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted legislation to make affordable housing projects “principally permitted,” meaning that if projects are in conformance with existing zoning they are reviewed administratively by Planning Department staff and there is no conditional-use permit required to be approved by the Planning Commission.
  • In 2016 the State Legislature amended the state’s density bonus law to make it a guaranteed allowance for increased density, height and other development incentives for affordable housing projects.
  • Then in 2017 the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the Local Density Bonus Program which also ensured allowance for affordable housing projects to receive up to three floors of additional height as well as density increases and setback relief.
  • And finally in late 2017 the State Legislature adopted Senate Bill 35 which established affordable housing projects for “ministerial approval,” meaning they will not have to undergo an environmental review or be approved by the Planning Commission, nor are they subject to discretionary review appeals.

SB 35 also includes specific timelines for streamlined ministerial review: the Planning Department must determine if a project is eligible for streamlining within 60 days of application submittal for projects of 150 or fewer units, and 90 days for projects containing more than 150 units.  Then the design review and any other review process must be completed in 90 days for projects with 150 or fewer units and within 180 days for projects with more than 150 units. In other words, it is a fast process!

The Planning Department issued a Bulletin in recent days outlining the specifics of this new by-right process for affordable housing.