AHBP Eligible Parcel Map

Proposed legislation which would allow developers in San Francisco to build up to three stories higher than currently zoned, depending upon the percentage of ‘affordable’ units included on-site, has been introduced to the Board of Supervisors by the Mayor and Supervisor Katy Tang.

In addition to enacting the State’s existing Density Bonus Law, which allows developers to build up to two stories higher in order to accommodate the building of more units on a parcel than Planning allows, the proposed Local Affordable Housing Bonus Program would allow developers of 100 percent below-market-rate developments to build up to three stories higher and developers of market-rate projects to build up to two stories higher than zoned if at least 30 percent of the units in the development are designated as affordable (versus 12 percent as currently required).

For 30 percent affordable projects with ten or more units, 12 percent of the units would need to be deemed affordable to households earning between 55 and 90 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) while 18 percent of the units could target “Moderate and Middle” income households earning up to 120 and 140 percent of the AMI. For projects with fewer than ten units, the 30 percent could be affordable for those earning up to 140 percent of the Median.

AMI Rents and Sale Prices

The current AMI for San Francisco is $71,350 for an individual, $81,500 for a couple, and $91,700 for a family of three.

As mapped above, the Bonus Program would not apply to projects in areas zoned for single-family or two-unit buildings or for parcels within neighborhoods for which an Area Plan, such as the Western SoMa, Eastern Neighborhoods, or Market and Octavia Area Plan, has already been adopted.

And for projects to qualify for the Local Bonus Program, at least 40 percent of the units in the building must be two-bedrooms but without a minimum size.

Correction: While the Local Program requires 12 percent of the units to be affordable to “Low and Moderate” income households, the income threshold remains at 55 and 90 percent of the AMI, as is currently required under the City’s inclusionary housing program. We initially reported the upper bounds for Low and Moderate income households (which are 80 and 120 percent of the AMI).

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Elitist Pig

    This actually sounds like a great idea… it’s sure to be voted down.

    • Posted by sassyboyfrisco

      haha i was thinking same thing…jane, take note of an idea that benefits ALL 🙂

      • Posted by j_blu

        I’ll remain hopeful for you both – this is a good idea, and seems to combine the desires of the people (market rate moratorium in the Mish) with the power of planning.

  2. Posted by Dave

    The blue strip near Lake Merced is already built out with a 4/5 story apartment complex. Does this mean the owner would allowed to add a couple of stories to the existing buildings? Its not like he’d tear them down as they are not that old.

    • Posted by Bay Guy

      No Dave. It is for the city/county of San Francisco.

      • Posted by Dr. House

        That spot is in San Francisco. On that map the City limits are that line where everything goes white.

  3. Posted by Bay Guy

    Elitist Pig… All good ideas are always ignored in San Francisco. Perhaps if we all said it was a bad idea, then reverse psychology would be applied. 😉

    • Posted by Paul

      Stolen joke: I learned nothing in college: I had dual majors Psychology and Reverse Psychology.

  4. Posted by Sierrajeff

    I’m generally supportive, but some of the areas seem odd – e.g., Lake Street between Arguello and Park Presidio, or the random blue dots in the outer Sunset (and, conversely, some small non-blue areas in the Inner Richmond). Have to wonder if there’s some cronyism going on here.

    • Posted by Planner

      The Program Area is based on the existing zoning controls. The areas you pointed out are currently zoned Neighborhood Commercial, so they are eligible for the program.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        Lake Street b/w Arguello and Park Presidio is currently zoned commercial?! The people in the large manor houses backing on the Presidio might find that interesting to hear.

        • Posted by Alai

          No, they’re not zoned commercial. The blue area there is zoned RM-1 and RM-2, which is to say apartment buildings, which is mostly what is built there (I assume they were built before zoning was implemented, and the zoning simply mandated what already existed).

          I think it’s an interesting example of how arbitrary the zoning really is.

  5. Posted by Oh Dear

    “Good ideas are always ignored”

    I am convinced that the uber progressives that run the city don’t buy into good ideas proposed by moderates because they will lose their voting base. Look no further than “Care not Cash”.

  6. Posted by anon2

    Anything more housing is good.

  7. Posted by anon

    Which developer(s) bribed, I mean, contributed to the Mayor and Katy Tang to get this ball rolling?

    • Posted by guest

      Yeah because developers love building and allocating more units for BMR projects that by definition lose money

      • Posted by Dixon Hill

        guest–This proposal doesn’t force anybody to build anything. Developers will do it if the numbers work for them. They may not make money on the affordable units but they will make money off the increased density. This is just a way of getting more market rate housing without completely crowding out affordable housing.

  8. Posted by Nimby

    I noticed my building in the Sunset on the map – and actually there are a few buildings that “stick out”. I wonder how they ended up on the map. Does anyone know?

    These areas in the Sunset are already built out. So they’d have to tear the building down and rebuild. I wonder if they will do that?

    • Posted by Joel

      It’s pretty much any parcel that isn’t RH-1 or RH-2 or in an area plan.

      And it’s important to note that this legislation only increases the allowable density on a project. Restrictions on demolition of existing dwelling units would still apply.

    • Posted by Leo

      “These areas in the Sunset are already built out. So they’d have to tear the building down and rebuild. I wonder if they will do that?”

      I certainly hope so. We need more housing.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        I think the point is that if a building is already, say, 4 or 5 stories, then it’s difficult to imagine that adding 3 floors to the permissible zoning (and having to allocate some of that increase to BMR) will actually result in real-world construction activity. (On such a parcel, that is – not in the “blue area” as a whole.)

        • Posted by Alai

          It might be that one or another building will need to be demolished or reconstructed for some reason in the future (earthquake safety, major fire), and that the increased allowance will be useful then.

  9. Posted by guest

    ” the proposed Local Affordable Housing Bonus Program would allow developers of 100 percent below-market-rate developments to build up to three stories higher”

    So developers who make money losing BMR projects are now allowed to build three more floors and lose even more money? (Either that, or the taxpayers subsidize three more floors of housing?)

    • Posted by HousingWonk

      It means the nonprofits building 100% low-income rental housing funded by the City as part of the City’s goal of meeting the housing needs of all San Franciscans – which includes the poor – will be able to maximize density on whatever rare parcels of land they are able to secure for affordable housing. Low cost (or free from the City or a donation of land from another nonprofit) parcels of land for affordable housing are incredibly hard to secure, such that maximizing density when they are found is critical.

  10. Posted by parklife

    My reading of the proposal is that the map merely shows all areas no zoned RH1 and RH2. I’m not sure where all the conspiracy theorists are getting their idea that this is a result of campaign contributions.

  11. Posted by HousingWonk

    Eyeballing the blue areas in the map, the bulk of the parcels that would be eligible for the program appear to be in the Northeast quadrant of the City. So North Beach, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, Marina District, bits of Laurel Heights.

    So, basically, those neighborhoods in greater Aaron Peskin-ville that will fight tooth and nail to oppose any project with affordable housing, and especially one with “more” affordable housing than usual and extra-especially any project that is adding two or three stories over the existing zoning. Project still needs to get its CEQA approval and likely design review – so the NIMBY army in those areas will still put the kibosh on things.

    There may be a tiny handful of projects that wind up being able to use this legislation – but without reforming SF’s CEQA review process, this is just window dressing.

    • Posted by Planner

      There are 30,000 parcels in the program area, however only about 240 of them are ‘soft’ ie. anticipated to participate in the program. With that the program could net nearly 16,000 new units, including 5,000 affordable units.

      You are correct, most of the sites in the program area will not participate in the program, because they already have great buildings.

      • Posted by HousingWonk

        That’s not what I am saying. Rather, that just because the legislation allows for greater height/density over existing zoning, does not automatically mean the project gets its entitlements at that height. Project still needs to get its CEQA approvals AND likely go through the PC’s design review (let alone if a project needs any other CUPs or Variances to pencil) – all of which processes are highly politicized and provide plenty of opportunities for NIMBYs to monkey wrench.

  12. Posted by Jake

    Almost all of the Richmond is zoned 40-feet. This would effectively allow a parcel that would have been limited to four stories to be built six stories, four of market rate and two of BMR (30%). Wouldn’t that increase the value of many existing one and two story buildings along and around Clement and Geary? Maybe enough to start a targeted building boom like what the livework loft legislation did in SoMa in the 1990s. Wonder how these formulae map to the dozens of these small parcels in Richmond.
    And you all thought the 38 Geary bus was crowded and slow now. Give this a decade of build out.

    • Posted by sf

      We will have self driving cars and buses by then so traffic won’t matter as much.

    • Posted by zig

      It seems the city should find a way to capture this increased value in a tax to the developers and then use it to improve transit.

      • Posted by Sierrajeff

        ^^^^ this.

      • Posted by van nessident

        prop 13 reform?

        • Posted by Alai

          I imagine any major construction project would trigger a reassessment in any case, right?

          • Posted by Sierrajeff

            Yes, but (1) that delta isn’t specially allocated to anything, it just goes into the overall S.F. general revenue (you know, for things like spending on homeless people), and (2) the mere delta of the reassessment doesn’t (arguably) adequately capture the increased impact of denser construction on utility and transit infrastructure.

          • Posted by Alai

            Ok, but doesn’t the city already charge a bunch of impact fees? I seem to recall an article about how one of the reasons SF housing is expensive is that any new housing is charged over $100k per unit for the various fees.

    • Posted by SFrentier

      Good luck, A- getting demo permits and B- dealing with the tenants. Yes a few lots may get this height boost, but I expect a sslloowww trickle.

    • Posted by Alai

      Aren’t these lots still subject to parking requirements? Six stories of housing = multiple underground parking levels? Hard to see that penciling out, especially on small lots.

      Also, I find it a bit bizarre when people claim that too much density is the problem with public transit. I mean, sure there are improvements which could be made regardless (and are slowly being made), but more users = more efficiency, higher frequency, more support, more money, etc.

      • Posted by Jake

        Alai, good point about the parking. David Baker Assoc (DBA) did a study of how this law would affect a dozen sites, including one (#5) in the Richmond. As part of the study they considered how various waivers would make these projects more feasible. Here is what they said about parking:

        “Nine sites (3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12) required parking lifts to satisfy parking requirements, and seven sites (3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12) could not meet the parking requirement without a waiver or significant underground excavation (an option that would likely hurt the project’s economic feasibility). Offering a parking requirement waiver increases the area dedicated to residential and active ground-floor use and reduces costs associated with parking lifts or excavation for additional parking levels. The waiver not only gives developers additional incentive to take advantage of these Density Bonus Programs but also helps activate the street edge, which DBA believes to be an important element in successful urban spaces.”

        Sounds like we may be in for some activated handwaving incentives. Beats actual planning and methodical zoning and such.

        Density per se doesn’t make or break public transit. It depends on the blend of people’s trips, modes of transport, and the road capacity. For example, there are times when the congestion makes it is faster to walk in parts of SoMa/FiDi than to ride a bus or even take a taxi. Adding more frequent buses there would only make it worse. For the 38 Geary, more frequent buses in the Richmond during the AM commute would reduce wait times for the next bus, but would increase the congestion downtown, which is probably where most of the wasted travel time is already. That’s why a BRT that speeds along and then plows into gridlock won’t save much time, unless you can get off at the edge of the gridlock and either walk to your destination or board a subway and avoid it altogether.

        • Posted by anon

          The AM commute is a small portion of the day. More density would be a net benefit for the other 22 hours of the day, most of which the 38 Geary is still packed. I’ll take improvement 90% of the time and walk ten blocks the other 10%.

          • Posted by Jake

            The 38 Geary will always tend to be packed. You wait for the bus. It is the resource being maximized.

            Whatever small increase in density of residents in the Richmond this may bring may get you more frequent buses to handle more riders, but they will tend to travel more slowly because some of the additional residents will drive a car or call a cab/uber or ride a bike. And all of those will slow the buses, even BRT is not completely immune from that. Also, as the congested area downtown grows, you will be walking more and riding less. And it is growing even if the Richmond doesn’t.

          • Posted by anon

            Most of my trips are intra-Richmond or at least ending prior to Van Ness, where congestion is basically never an issue but packed buses is always an issue. Double up the buses and cars and it’s a CRAZY win for the Richmond.

        • Posted by Sierrajeff

          This last bit is so key. A subway all the way down Geary would be nice, but the biggest impact on time and efficiency would be to have, at a minimum, a subway spur from Market to the Gough/Franklin area – frankly from there to the beach it could be surface trolley and be just fine; the big problem with any Richmond/Sunset-to-FiDi travel time is what happens east of Van Ness.

          Hell, I hate busses and the whole BRT boondoggle; but if we can’t get a subway and instead they proposed a *bus* tunnel from Gough/Franklin to the FiDi, even that would be a welcome improvement that I’d support. (There are similar, if shorter, bus tunnels in Boston and Cambridge.)

          • Posted by anon

            There’s a very long bus tunnel in Seattle, though it’s now being converted to rail only (over the next few years as their light rail expands). It’s been operating as a bus tunnel for decades, and is multiple miles long.

        • Posted by Alai

          What is “actual planning and methodical zoning”? Nothing that we have in the Richmond, anyway. The zoning here is, very obviously and with few exceptions, “whatever was built there at the time the zoning ordinance was passed, plus parking”. It’s not the result of methodical planning, it’s the result of an attempt to prevent any changes to the city–and specifically any changes which lead to higher densities. Did the planners decide that those couple blocks of Lake Street were the perfect place to put higher-density apartment buildings, but not a block further west or east? No– it’s just that the apartment buildings had already been built, so the zoning “allowed” them, while making sure that they wouldn’t spread any further (and bring with them the scourge of smaller, cheaper units).

          You’re correct that congestion downtown is one of the major reasons the 38 (etc) has problems. But that is not caused by the 38– the vast majority of vehicles are still single-occupancy cars and cars-for-hire. And the tools exist to fix that: congestion tolling. We only need the will to use them. That we still haven’t taken steps in that direction and instead limit density in the name of traffic management is a testament to how we consider car ownership a right, and housing a privilege. Nevertheless it’s the obvious and cost-effective solution– far more so than any talk of multibillion dollar tunnels.

          • Posted by Jake

            Yeah the zoning in the Richmond does look like something left behind from a distant more primitive era and somehow we lost the key to the lock to make changes. Not sure the history out there, but I think 40-foot limits may have been imposed widely in the aftermath of the original wall-on-the-waterfront battle of the 1960s.

            My concern was more about throwing these patches ontop of whatever zoning is already wherever instead of rezoning the height/bulk directly. In particular, how would something like this interact with Prop B at Pier 70 or for the Giants at Lot A. The voters have to approve those heights as they exceed the current zoning. Is this someway to exceed the heights approved by the voters and circumvent Prop B? How can the BOS do that? What is the legal precedence?

            I agree that eventually some form of congestion pricing should be used to trim cars from the CBD. I’ve mentioned using parking to do it, with fees to enter and exit, because ~50% of cars park for free now, parking is easy to administrate, and SFPark quality tech should suffice. By eventually I mean at least ten years ago.

          • Posted by Alai

            I take issue with the “primitive” comment. I, for one, think the Richmond is much better neighborhood than more “modern”, “well-planned” neighborhoods where everything is guaranteed to be uniform. Such as just about any neighborhood built in the last half century.

            Yeah, well-priced parking is low-hanging fruit.

        • Posted by spencer

          SUBWAY NEEDED!!

  13. Posted by Planner

    “For 30 percent affordable projects with ten or more units, 12 percent of the units would need to be deemed affordable to households earning between 80 and 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and 18 percent of the units would need to be affordable to households earning up to 140 percent of the Median. For projects with fewer than ten units, the 30 percent could be affordable for those earning up to 140 percent of the AMI.”

    This is incorrect! The proposal does NOT change the AMI targets for the existing inclusionary program. Please correct the article.

    Corrected here:

    For 30 percent affordable projects with ten or more units, 12 percent of the units would need to be deemed affordable to households earning between 55 and 90 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and 18 percent of the units would need to be affordable to households earning 120 or 140 percent of the Median. For projects with fewer than ten units, the 30 percent could be affordable for those earning up to 140 percent of the AMI.

    [Editor’s Note: Since corrected above.]

    • Posted by @jdbig

      I was very surprised by this discussion of affordability, too. Is your correction from the proposed text?

      “Affordable” can mean whatever you want without details; if this legislation shifts affordable to mean up to 120-140% AMI, than certainly some developers could turn a profit selling middle class (based on SF AMI) housing. I haven’t looked at the proposed ordinance yet, but that makes sense given Ed Lee saying this was a middle class housing proposal in the Chron. If Socketsite is right, my gut reaction: scary and sad implications for the future of the inclusionary housing program.

      • Posted by modernedwardian

        the definition of affordability has been up for redefinition for some time.
        look at the giants ballot initiative, the net mix of housing (widely reported as a success by inclusionary advocates), like this proposal, remains skewed to housing above the AMI.
        perhaps less gentrifying then current “luxury” development but gentrifying none the less. and since we seem to have no problem building for the top and bottom 10% that isn’t a bad thing.

        • Posted by spencer

          People making above median should not be subsided. This is insane

  14. Posted by anon2.5

    Why is mostly everything between Guerroro and Van NEss not included in this proposal?

    • Posted by Ohlone Californio

      because it already zoned from 40 – 85 feet in those blocks

  15. Posted by ostrich

    I don’t appreciate that places 2 blocks from me can go up and not me. If this is allowed, it should be allowed for ALL, not the chosen few who get to max out while the rest of us are frozen in place. Heck, if we’re going to go sky rise, let everyone do it!

  16. Posted by bleeper

    Doesnt go nearly far enough. Would like some mechanism to capture funds for increasing public transit as well as some exemption from endless discretionary review. How about development as of right?

  17. Posted by spencer

    Western soma plan should be immediately changed so zoning allows for double or triple the height

  18. Posted by John

    3 stories? It should be 3 TIMES higher for 100% affordable housing and 2 times higher for 30% affordable housing. Especially given that most of these areas are zoned for 4-story buildings which is essentially a wasted use of city space. You can build 4 story apartments in Belmont. SF is a city for christ’s sake.

  19. Posted by SocketSite

    Correction: While the Local Program requires 12 percent of the units to be affordable to “Low and Moderate” income households, the income threshold remains at 55 and 90 percent of the AMI for these units as is currently required under the City’s inclusionary housing program. We initially reported the upper bounds for Low and Moderate income households which are 80 and 120 percent of the AMI.

  20. Posted by Aaron Goodman

    not enough trains, transit, pools, libraries, schools, sewage, power, etc.

    and they whiffle balled the TIDF taxes on growth and institutional, business, and high-end housing taxes so far.

    so why should we agree with this double up legislation…. the mayor needs to figure out the front from the back end, and stop designing and building the city from the top down…

  21. Posted by Pablito

    Toxic. It may be a good idea but this sort of no good due process government by fiat is exactly why the development environment in San Francisco is one of the most distrusted and screwed up in the country.

    There are good reasons why the public has so little faith in our elected officials. This is one of them. Expect the backlash to be huge. New anti-development proposition on the ballot in 5-4-3-2-1….

    This is also not a real plan to provide affordable housing – just more grasping at straws. We need a real plan – not random feel good spot zoning that piss off neighborhoods.

  22. Posted by ciparis

    I love this idea. Nice carrot.

  23. Posted by Conifer

    Note the part of Pac Hts west of Divisidero, from Clay up to Pacific. The present owners will be putting out large Welcome! signs for their new BMR neighbors.

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