Growing Tall and Going Big: San Francisco studied density bonuses to generate affordable housing

Development West
San Francisco (gags9999)

San Francisco (gags9999/Flickr)

This Fall, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal made by the city’s Planning Department concerning the possibility of “relaxing” height and density limits for many of San Francisco’s western neighborhoods. If enacted, the program expects to transform some of San Francisco’s uninhabited residences and unused space into affordable housing units for newcomers.

The density bonus program study area indicated in blue. (Courtesy SF Planning Department)

The density bonus program study area indicated in blue. (Courtesy SF Planning Department)

The city is exploring a density bonus program, which allows developers to gain building height among other incentives. The proposal, according to the San Francisco Business Times, would allow developers to build two-stories taller than normally allowed. Most parts of San Francisco restrict heights to four or six stories. Other provisions would allow parking minimum waivers and reduced setback and side yard requirements. That’s all in exchange for building affordable housing.

San Francisco hopes the plan could spur 7,000 new units of housing, 3,000 of those affordable.

The proposal has been met with strong opposition from some neighborhood groups, the Business Times reported. Some San Francisco residents – in particular the Sunset and Richmond districts – are reluctant to expose themselves to neighborhood change. Western neighborhoods claim rezoning would render the community vulnerable to conflict, citing dense construction, parking concerns, and impacts on the transportation system.

“Building density just for the sake of density isn’t the answer,” Planning Department Chief John Rahaim said in a statement earlier this year. “We need to be concerned about quality of life and living space.” He acknowledged, however, that the city is in need of new affordable housing.

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