AHBP Eligible Parcel Map

Four months ago we reported that the debate over San Francisco’s proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP), which would allow market-rate developers to build up to two stories higher than currently zoned in exchange for pricing 30 percent of the units on the parcel at below market rates, was heating up.

While the terms of the proposed program had already been amended to exclude any project that results in the demolition of any existing rent-controlled units from being allowed to participate, concerns about creating “a financial incentive for [developers] to demolish existing sound housing stock” and neighborhood displacement remained.

And with San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors having so far failed to approve the amended program, supervisors Aaron Peskin and Eric Mar have now announced their intention to scrap the bonus height program for market-rate developments and sponsor a new plan which would exclusively apply to 100 percent below market rate projects and exclude any development that results in the demolition of any unit of housing – rent-controlled or not – from participating.

58 thoughts on “Bonus Height Debate Turned Up to Eleven and 100 Percent”
  1. In other words, we are scrapping the idea entirely. This is why the adults in the room (i.e. Jerry Brown) need to step up and help pass state laws that can preempt these local myopic politicians.

    1. Jerry does not ride Muni daily, nor Bart, or deal with SF Transit issues.

      Remind Jerry to visit the bay area, and walk the streets and see the congestion levels…especially during rush hour.

      1. I would suggest that Jerry probably knows more about the bay area than most of our local politicians. But maybe he doesn’t use public transit much as he tends to live near his job (Oakland and Sac).

        Agreed that we need to address transit issues. As a start, how about raising the residential parking permit cost to something reasonable/higher and use those monies to supplement Muni. We might also think about actually enforcing fare collection on Muni buses to both make the ride more enjoyable but also raise some revenue. And as much as I wish we could do away with Prop 13 and actually pay for our needed transit in an efficient fashion, perhaps the only solution is something along the lines of a parcel tax (passed through to tenants, nobody is exempt) that is devoted solely to enhancing Muni.

      2. jerry brown is FROM here. like born and raised, unlike our supervisors or mayor. i saw him in north beach with his wife just a month ago.

        1. Exactly. Not merely a native Californian. Born in SF. Son of Governor of California. Family goes back to Gold Rush.

  2. The state’s need has grown too great to allow intransigent municipalities to stymie residential construction so effectively. I’d be quite happy if the pending legislation washed away all the BS.

  3. How has such a culture resistant to height persisted for so long?!? It’s just TWO FLOORS! for the love of God! This is so nitpicky. Everywhere in the city should be allowed to grow 2 floor taller regardless of if it’s market rate or not. There. Done. Who died? No one. Maybe we could fit some more new residents in.

    1. Agreed, the resistance is idiotic—though I do understand the fear that rent-controlled units will disappear. Just include some language to prevent removing those from the market and let everyone (especially the WEST SIDE) build a bit higher.

      1. The removal of rent controlled units could easily be handled with a bit of imagination. For example, if a developer wishes to remove a rent controlled unit he/she could be required to pay the current tenant some calculated amount equal to the difference between market rate and their current rent for the duration of the project along with some amount to cover moving expenses and the hardship. They could then either move back into the building upon completion at the same rate or accept a buy-out (also calculated at some statutory amount). The only problem is our politicians are absolutely terrified of losing even one rent controlled unit even if it means many more units on a net basis (See Park Merced).

        1. Yes. The rent-control issue can be taken care of by one line of text, requiring developers to include as many (and similarly sized) rent-controlled units in the new building as in the old. (I’m not saying that’s a wise policy; but just illustrating that the issue could be put to bed with one line of text.) This city is beyond screwed up.

          1. Much easier is making all residential property (past, present, future) subject to rent stabilization.

          2. I’m not sure how applying rent control rules across the board either locally or nationally would help increase the quantity of affordable housing. Unless we are simultaneously imposing strict population control as well.

          3. Given that the politics are at least as interested in preserving rent-controlled tenants as rent-controlled units (note the subtle difference), your plan would still frustrate some.

    1. He’s a conservative that tells other rich conservatives that they can safely ignore their cognitive dissonance because they’re indeed most “liberal”.

  4. its too early for a nuanced comment on this and i’m probably being controversial, but isn’t providing a “bonus” for “100% below market rate projects” one of the ways we ended up with the tower housing slums of the mid-20th century?

    The rationale for not allowing for the demo of existing housing units is completely irrational — for one, the net increase should be what we focus on building, and two, much of the housing stock in the west side (particularly the sunset) isn’t of such great quality.

    If a property owner wants to densify a lot with an extra unit or two or three or four and go up a few stories, the project is hardly a pox on the neighborhood. With land costs so high, I think the consolidation of parcels in the westside is very unlikely.

    1. If it was really about the subsidized housing we’d be building it. It’s really about stopping all construction so that rich people can rake in the wealth. The subsidized housing only comes in to make the sad rich “liberals” feel better about creating wealth inequality.

  5. #Fauxgressive Supes Peskin and Mar are trying put #AHBP to bed with the “Density Done Less” poison pill.

    As proposed, the program is a classic #NIMBYaffordableComplex triangulation. The irrational wing of the affordable housing community, ever focused on percentages, is expected to “swallow hard” on this proposal, as it consolidates virtually all new housing under their control. NIMBYs will love it because it will slow the pace of AHBP development almost to a standstill. The only projects that will get built will be 100% affordable projects that have managed to get funded.

    When you actually think about it though, It is very doubtful this is going to increase affordable housing production or increase density at all. It is actually an anti-density proposal because less will get built, more slowly. if you don’t have housing now, or don’t fit in exactly the right income bracket, I wouldn’t hold your breath that you will get affordable housing or see housing prices drop this way. Funding is the limiting factor in affordable housing construction right now. Remember that by contrast, the planning department’s AHBP proposal, and the state density bonus law, fund ALL of the affordable housing they claims it will create. #DensityDoneLess offers no funding source.

    And speaking of the State Density Bonus law, it is highly likely that “density done less” will pass muster as the required implementation as Peskin has been saying publicly. It is going to open the city up to lawsuits right and left. Remember, Peskin loves lawsuits. NIMBYs like Sue Hester and Jon Golinger love lawsuits. The threat of delay and the sapping the resolve of housing developers is exactly what they are after. We are all just pawns in that game.

    So the question is do you want 30% affordable, already funded of 15,000 units, or do you want 100% of maybe 3000 units, and the city spends $1.5billion dollars we could have used for other affordable housing construction? To anyone who doesn’t own a house and can do math, the answer is clear. The question is are we loud enough to stop it.

    1. I thought it was SFBARF that loves lawsuits? were they not suing every municipal entity if they don’t grow?

        1. Hi SoccerMom – just wondering, what’s your professional affiliation and what city do you live in? Seems bad form to call out someone who uses their real name and spends time, energy and efforts to participate locally in a community where they have a vested interest when one hides behind a moniker.

    2. Excuse me, I meant to say “highly UN-likely Density Done Less will pass muster as the required implementation of the state density bonus.”

      The state density bonus law has been hardened against recalcitrance like that over several years now, which is what prompted the planning department to realize they needed to get ahead of the curve and create AHBP. It’s also why the planning commission had a closed door meeting with the city attorney’s office re: the state bonus program.

      There is also the new Gov. Brown proposal for as-of-right TOD+BMR housing, which may massively strengthen the existing density bonus or might run as a parallel system.

      This just represents Peskin trying to throw one last desperate monkeywrench into the void that can cause confusion in the inevitable lawsuits later.

  6. I love it…existing single family unit residential property owners hang tight…Peskin and the other nuts are making you wealthy.

  7. Without transit improvement and taxation to double our systems, growth should not be occurring.

    Its called a balanced development approach, with infrastructure, transit, schools, open-space funds, pools, playgrounds, and jobs. Currently all the density planning and increased efforts to repeal the cap on Prop M indicate a lack of concern over TIDF and the needed taxation.

    1. Population growth has already happened and will continue to happen. The only question is whether we deal with it wisely, or put our head in the sand (which is what Peskin and Mar are apparently doing).

    2. The needed taxation comes from new residents precisely because California ~natives~ don’t pay anywhere near the tax they should be.

      1. What a self-serving load of crap. How long have you been paying taxes in CA, m’ dear? How much have you paid? How long have you resided in our fair city?

        1. there is some truth in the argument, i.e. new residents paying more taxes.

          newcomers buy at market thus paying higher property taxes then prior seller with prop 13 carryover. newcomers also need to make a lot more money to be able to buy to begin with, so they should pay more state income tax as well (at least in theory). but at some point wealth uses wealth to avoid paying taxes so i’m not sure of the net effect.

          what i am sure of is that SF is still a dirty city with second or third rate infrastructure. it also has the 3rd highest city budget in the US and is a city where a shack goes for a million dollars.

          what are all these transfer taxes and higher property taxes paying for?

          1. With respect, the assumption that only ‘newcomers’ buy SF real estate is incorrect and an oversimplification. However, I’d love to see a NAR chart showing who purchased in SF, in the past 5 years, broken down by purchaser’s (1) profession (2) age (3) income (4) type of purchase [e.g., is the puchase and investment, or a first-residence home, etc.) and (4) primary place of residence prior to purchasing.

            I agree SF infrastructure is lacking, given its current budget. Worth looking into.

            Re: “what are all these transfer taxes and higher property taxes paying for?” – One might consider what the current pension obligations are for SF govt. workers the next 10 to 20 years.

    3. Completely agree.

      I find it laughable that pro-density / pro-SFBARF / newbie development folks push for more density + more height + less taxation, less regulation and lower fees, while at the same time they bitch and moan about the lack of city services, the increased homeless population, lack of decent city-and regional public transportation options, and (maybe, if they know of people who have kids or – gasp! – have kids themselves and can’t afford to pay 25k + a year for private schools) good public schools.

      1. Why is that inconsistent? I’m one of those “folks” and I think more tax revenue from a significant increase in number of market rate housing units, (each and every unit of which pays huge amounts of property taxes into the public coffers, and obviously since tax is percentage based, don’t forget a million dollar unit will pay for 4x as many teacher salaries, more MUNI buses, etc than a 250,000 BMR would) would go a long way toward fixing those problems — which are egregiously bad for everyone including even you NIMBYs.

        1. 1. Property taxes provide appx. 23% of the SF Budget. Just 5 short years ago, the City was broke. Pension reform remains an issue. It still has not been dealt with. Here’s a relevant story for perspective.

          2. If teachers cannot afford to live in SF, it doesn’t matter that more property taxes are generated by more units. SF public schools are losing teachers because they cannot afford to live in the City. Full stop.

          3. The recent ‘let’s play Econ 101’ stance of “more housing = lower prices” is simplistic. SF’s housing market does not exist in a ‘static’ free-market environment. Generally, SF and Bay area housing prices have fallen as a result of recessions (i.e., no jobs), or as a result of natural disasters (e.g., Marina housing prices after the Loma Prieta quake). Not because more housing was built.

          3. Let’s get rid of the following recent speculation in housing and see how much prices fall first before building more units a). Tech money from IPO millionaires who are now dabbling in local RE, b). Overseas investors who are parking their wealth in ‘safe’ bay area housing c). Institutional investment/HNW speculation in foreclosed SFH’s following the Great Recession d). The AirBnB crowd who hasn’t yet, and never plans to, legally register their rentals in SF.

          4. Have you driven, taken commuter hour public transportation or walked in SF lately? The increased crush of humanity is mind-numbing. There is a limit to how many people can live in one region. We’re bumping up against it. I talk to parents and other residents who live and work locally; this is not sustainable.

          5. Interestingly, the same conversation we in the Bay Area are having (lack of affordable housing / gutting out of middle-class / lack of or lowering of public services) is also going on in other popular cities: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Austin, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and others. ‘Tall, high and dense’ is somehow not fixing their problems.

          The issue deserves deeper, more thoughtful and honest + more nuanced discussions than what I see on most RE blogs. Resorting to stereotypical name calling doesn’t further the discussion.

          Cheers, and thanks for your comment.

          1. 1. Yes, that’s a big problem. Increased tax revenues may not solve it– but they’ll help.

            2. If the city collected more property taxes, it could use them to pay teachers more, so that they could afford to live in the city.

            3 (the second one). Good luck with that. I guess we can just ban people from selling their houses to the people offering the most money, and instead require them to sell to someone deemed suitable. That’ll go over real well…

            4. I have done all those and not had my mind numbed. Buses can be run more frequently. Sidewalks can be expanded. Yes, this takes some money, but the city gets a lot of money from new arrivals. If we want to make it work, we can make it work. Adding more cars is the one thing that is actually more or less impossible, but it can and should be avoided anyway.

            Problem: people are willing to pay crazy amounts of money to live in SF, New York, or other dense cities, making them unaffordable.

            Solution: force them to live elsewhere.

  8. The next step for Peskin is taking out papers to run for mayor.
    The NIMBYS will rise up and rejoice.

  9. The Peskin hypocritical monkey wrench at work again. He says he’s for affordable housing and then does everything possible to make housing more expensive. There is no ration and no accountability in this city.

      1. “According to Statistics Sweden, the average cost of renting an apartment first-hand in Stockholm is around 6,518 Swedish kronor ($783) per month, with 66 sq m listed as the mean sized property.”

        That would be an improvement, then.

        1. I think you understand the point to be about the 20 year wait list. Imagine our cost of housing if that was the case.

          1. Yes, thank you, I understand that (and I understand that you understand that I understand…)

            My point was the limitations in making analogies, although now that you mention it, one might wonder why the rental rates in Stockholm aren’t much higher, given the similarity b/w US/Swedish incomes; perhaps the rates are tightly controlled, or perhaps SF is very unrepresentative of the US as compared to Stockholm: Sweden.

          2. Yes, that’s it: the first-hand rates are tightly controlled. If you show up next month and want a place to live without waiting the requisite 20 years, you’ll pay much, much more.

  10. Just so I understand… If I build 1 market rate building and I have to build 1, 100% bmr home/building in tandem?

    1. Basically this blocks any developer from using the density bonus for any mixed market-rate/affordable housing which in effect negates the density bonus.

  11. Awesome!
    No extra height in the City, and no way affordable housing will be developed. This signals to me a new welcome mat put to the middle class who may move all the entitled rent controlled folks out. This is good news.

    1. It’s a welcome mat for whoever can afford it, and it’s always been there. That’s not the middle class anymore, though…

  12. Doesn’t matter what bleating Peskin does. State law trumps whatever SF wants to do.

    The States law on the density bonus is completely clear. Peskin’s plan would be in direct conflict with existing State law. The supervisors are bluffing.

  13. I think one thing that is missed here is that the density bonus is already a state law. One of the reasons that the planning department developed this SF density program is to be in compliance with the state law and have control of how it is implemented. While I am no expert, it seems like Peskin’s plan doesn’t address the compliance issue, but doesn’t expand what is allowed under state rules either; effectively doing nothing.

  14. More cynical legislation from the Peskin/Mar camp.

    1. This is a “non-program” as proposed by Peskin, Mar et al. They’ve totally missed a golden opportunity here — as they are so blinded by their backward-looking ideology and continue to double down on their failed policies.

    2. Their proposal will do nothing to ameliorate the chronic housing shortage.

    3. Despite what Peskin is bizarrely claiming, their proposal does not “meet the requirements of the state mandates” — it appears entirely oblivious of the State Law. The State Bonus Density Law does not require projects to be 100% subsidized (a.k.a. so-called “affordable”); for instance, at 50% AMI it kicks in at 5% subsidized units.

    For those interested in understanding the State Bonus Density Law, here’s a good link (apparently neither Peskin or Calvin can be bothered to look).

    4. If I was a housing developer (i.e., an actual creator of housing), I’d just ignore these clowns and invoke the State Law — which, in fact, is what 12 different developers are currently doing on 12 different projects in SF.

    Accordingly, I predict developers, en masse, will go the State Law path — thereby completely bypassing Peskin/Mar’s cynical “do-nothing” legislation which merely panders to their home owning NIMBY constituencies.


    If you’re young, newly-arrived and/or of modest means, ideologues like Calvin Welch, Peter Cohen, Aaron Peskin, Eric Mar and David Campos are definitely not your friends.

    They continue to thwart the implementation of real solutions that would work — at scale — to create the necessary amounts of housing to address the massive housing shortage in SF.

    Because of so-called “activists” and politicians like these, those of us who are renters — and those aspiring to be homeowners in this city — will continue to suffer.

    1. Which 12 projects have invoked the State Law? Is the city doing anything to stop them? Why can’t Beast/Monster developers in the Mission do the same?

  15. You can’t stop people moving here. You can’t stop people starting businesses here. You can’t stop job growth here. There is no magic wand to “control growth”. All you can do is implement a Soviet system of supply quotas that just make everything more expensive for everyone.

    The only thing Prop M accomplished is making office rents more expensive, ensuring that only the biggest, richest, most well financed companies can afford rent here, pushing out smaller companies, nonprofits, and the like. You are a fool and an ignoramus if you think you stop the tide with a thimble. All you will do is drown.

    1. Re: You can’t stop people from moving here – Sure you can. Tax more, regulate more. Give away less. Charge appropriately for the infrastructure and public services newcomers take for granted.

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