Created to allow for the development of communal living arrangements, with “communal facilities shared by all project residents,” including communal kitchens and living areas to specifically encourage “shared social interactions and shared stewardship,” San Francisco’s formal definition of “Group Housing” was informally broadened by way of a Zoning Administrator’s interpretation of said definition that allowed for the inclusion of “limited” kitchen facilities in individual units, blurring the line between Group Housing and regular “Dwelling Units.”

One distinct difference between Group Housing and regular Dwelling Unit developments are the applicable zoning controls that require new developments to include a minimum number of two-bedroom or larger units, controls from which Group Housing developments are exempt, allowing for a greater number of smaller units to be built. And for over a decade, Group Housing developments were exempt from San Francisco’s inclusionary housing law as well.

As such, the boundaries of “limited” kitchen facilities have been pushed, while the inclusion of shared facilities have been pulled, and newly proposed “Group Housing” developments are often indistinguishable from a collection of small studio units, or vilified “tech dorms,” at least in terms of their design, operations, marketing and economics.

With that in mind, the definition of “Group Housing” could be formally amended by San Francisco’s Planning Commission next week to specifically disallow the inclusion of any individual cooking facilities or kitchens in Group Housing units, however limited, and require a minimum amount of shared common space within a new Group Housing development to be constructed, “with at least 50% of the common space devoted to communal kitchens” and a minimum of one communal kitchen for every 20 units of Group Housing, as sponsored by Supervisor Peskin.

22 thoughts on “Definition of Group Housing Could be Amended Next Week”
  1. If you had mentioned Peskin at the beginning it would be helpful, but then people probably wouldn’t read on.

    What’s ironic is that in San Francisco these market rate mandated large 2 and 3 bedroom units are generally serving as de facto group housing, usually with the living area being used as a bedroom as well. Peskin can’t squeeze human nature into his little vial of diktat juice but he sure keeps on trying.

    1. Exactly. I know a lot of 20 somethings who are splitting 3-4 bd apartments because they can’t afford a studio. They drive up the price of those larger apartments that would be a much better fit as naturally affordable housing for a family.

  2. Supervisor Peskin’s proposed “Anti-Group Housing ‘Micro-Studio’ Ordinance” is exactly the opposite of what the City should be doing.

    Any and everybody who is for more housing and a greater variety of housing choices, should come out strongly against this ill-conceived, anti-housing legislation.

    Nearly 40% of all San Francisco households are single-persons — many of which are compelled to share existing multiple-bedroom dwelling units (i.e., “family-sized” units) in order to afford accommodations in the City.

    Alternatively, the Group Housing “Micro-Studio” is a creative, efficiently-designed typology that can provide newly constructed independent living accommodations (including a private individual bathroom and cooking facilities) at a “missing middle” price point that is around 40 to 45% less than the rent for a typical new conventional Studio unit in this town.

    Accordingly, SF should be encouraging — rather than outlawing — Group Housing “Micro-Studios” that are specifically designed to meet the needs of this significant cohort of single persons and allow them the option of living with maximum autonomy, dignity and privacy. An added benefit of doing so would be to take the pressure off of “family-sized” units that the aforementioned groups of singles are currently competing — and outbidding — family’s for.

    Peskin’s ordinance will eliminate “limited cooking facilities” (I.e., a small refrigerator, 2-burner cooktop, microwave, sink, etc.) as currently allowed per the Planning Code as well as the City’s model building code and its Interpretive Manual.

    Additionally, it imposes onerous and ill-conceived (indoor) “common space” requirements and requires an excessive amount of “shared kitchens” (in lieu of private kitchenettes in the units) that’ll make such projects infeasible and undesirable. (Note: The current common kitchen/dining/common space regulations in the SF Housing Code are already more than sufficient; so why “fix” that which is not currently broken?

    Accordingly, this ordinance will effectively destroy Group Housing Micro-Studios as an attractive and cost-effective option for renters.

    Furthermore, it appears to not even contain a “grandfathering” clause — so group housing projects currently underway will have their Planning approvals revoked.

    Why does Peskin want to limit inherently more affordable housing produced by the marketplace?

    We should be increasing housing options — i.e., “housing biodiversity” — for people; not limiting choices.

    We should be innovating in order to lower costs; not imposing counter-productive regulations that increase costs for renters.

    1. I agree.

      These types of group housing are not the right fit for all people at all times, but they are an important component of a diverse set of housing options at lower average prices. I would have loved one of these micro studios when I was younger.

    2. I disagree. This isn’t anti-housing or anti-innovation, it’s anti-loophole and developers could still build Group Housing if that’s what people really want. Developers could also build micro-studios where allowed, they just couldn’t take advantage of the Group Housing rules and it would be less profitable.

      1. The various applicable codes that presently exist regarding Group Housing are quite clear — and “micro-studios” are allowed under the current rules.

        Accordingly, there is no such nefarious “loophole” to close — so your statement is utter b.s.

        People generally prefer choice and independence. What right do you and Peskin have to take that away?

        What Peskin is proposing is taking away choice and flexibility and making people more dependent on his narrow, presumptuous and downright punitive vision of what he believes Group Housing should be.

        When presented with a choice between a small/cozy studio with independent bathing and cooking facilities or Peskin’s proposal (which would outlaw one’s ability to prepare a meal in one’s private living and force people to share a kitchen with others), most sensible people would choose to have their own private bathroom and kitchenette.

        P.S. And, btw, what’s wrong with profit, doubly so if one is providing what people what a lower price? Who built the home that you live in and what difference does it make that they made a profit by creating it? Do you begrudge your grocer or the owner of the cafe that you frequent, their ability to make a profit?


        1. To be clear, San Francisco’s Planning Code currently defines Group Housing as a Residential Use “that provides lodging or both meals and lodging, without individual cooking facilities.”

          As we outlined above, a past interpretation of said definition has allowed for the inclusion of “limited” kitchen facilities in individual units but “individual cooking facilities” are still prohibited, at least technically.

          The amended definition, as proposed, would read “without individual or limited cooking facilities or kitchens,” reducing an apparent ambiguity in the law (i.e., “loophole”) that has been interpreted.

          1. To be absolutely clear, the following is the actual excerpt from the Planning Code:

            Code Section: 209.2(a)
            Subject: Group housing with limited cooking facilities
            Effective Date: 10/05

            This Section allows group housing without individual cooking facilities in most residential districts, either as a principally permitted or conditional use. Recent Department practice via Zoning Administrator determination letters has been to allow limited kitchen facilities in hotel rooms or suites in tourist hotels with stays of less than 32 consecutive days. These determinations were based on the proviso that the purpose of including kitchens is not to create dwelling units for permanent residency but to provide hotel guests the option of making their own meals. Likewise, the purpose of including limited kitchen facilities in group housing is not to create dwelling units for permanent residency, but to provide group housing residents the option of preparing their own meals. In the South of Market mixed use districts, single room occupancy units are allowed small kitchens.

            To that end, group housing units are allowed to have limited kitchen facilities with the following specifications: a small counter space, a small under-counter refrigerator, a small sink, a microwave, and a small two-ring burner. Such limited kitchen facility shall not include any other type of oven, as that would constitute a full kitchen.

            There is no valid reason to not continue to allow in Group Housing Units the “limited kitchen facilities” clearly described in the last 2 sentences of the above Planning Code excerpt.

            The question is why does Peskin think its a good idea to deny Group Housing residents this option of being able to prepare their own meals?

          2. Once again, San Francisco’s Planning Code currently defines Group Housing as a Residential Use “that provides lodging or both meals and lodging, without individual cooking facilities” but has been interpreted, by a Zoning Administrator, to allow limited kitchen facilities as excerpted and outlined above.

            But also as interpreted, and excerpted, “the purpose of [allowing] limited kitchen facilities in group housing is not to create dwelling units for permanent residency,” with permanent residency defined as a continuous stay of longer than 31 days.

          3. Regarding the 32-day assumption that Peskin keeps bringing up:

            My mom lives in a small old SRO. These are “group housing” hotels that were originally for transients, but the City preserves them because we recognize that they are in fact occupied by poor long-term residents. I understand that Peskin and the zoning administrator claim that group housing is for transients, but that notion is contradicted by the very SROs under their nose. It is past time that we all acknowledge that group housing does not imply transient tenancy.

            If SROs are worth preserving, then it should be legal to build new ones to serve the residents of today who cannot afford larger units. Thus the zoning code allows new group housing. And if someone is building group housing today, then it should be legal for the developer to add extra amenities that the old SROs lack (such as a private bathroom and a little stove); otherwise residents have to plug in their own hot plate (which is how my mom cooks in the SRO; she avoids the shared kitchen). This is not a “loophole”; this is just the developer following the zoning code to provide efficient units while adding amenities that people want.

            And the next step up is that if it is legal to make group housing, then it should also be legal to make small studios with full-sized private kitchens at similar densities. This is what the City should be working on (especially given our RHNA obligations), not trying to remove amenities from group housing to make them unattractive.

            I think there should be a full range of housing types, so that all people who cannot afford a house with a yard have options they can afford. An SRO is a step up from a room share. A small studio with limited kitchen is a step up from an SRO. A studio with full kitchen is a step up from that. Etc. All of these should be legal because there are so many people who cannot afford full-sized units in the city. And now Peskin suddenly wants to ban one step on the ladder to housing at a time when there are thousands of units in the pipeline of that type. This comes across to me as Peskin flexing his authoritarian NIMBY tendencies and doing more damage to lower income residents.

          4. Per San Francisco’s Planning Code, “Group Housing” is currently intended for stays of “a week or more at a time.” The proposed amendment would actually define Group Housing as “Long-Term Housing,” with stays of “30 days or more at a time” being allowed.

            But if defined as “Long-Term” or permanent housing, then the very interpretation that has allowed for the inclusion of “limited kitchen facilities” in Group Housing units would appear to be rendered moot, as “the purpose of [allowing] limited kitchen facilities in group housing is not to create dwelling units for permanent residency,” per the interpretation, as excerpted above.

          5. You’re right that Peskin is rewording the definition of “group housing” to claim to cater to long-term residents, even as he removes the mini-kitchen that is most useful to long-term residents.

            At the 10/5/2021 450 O’Farrell hearing, Peskin used the 2005 mini-kitchen zoning interpretation to argue that mini-kitchens imply transient residents. I don’t have access to the precedent that led to the 2005 interpretation, but I think it’s more defensible to say that even hotel guests can use a mini-kitchen, but a mini-kitchen does not imply that the residents are either transient or permanent.

            From experience (having ordered a hot plate at my mom’s request for her SRO), I can tell you that more private amenities (bathroom and mini-kitchen) would definitely be desirable. These amenities are currently legal, and at least half a dozen modern group housing buildings with them are in the pipeline with thousands of units. Peskin is trying to clamp down on their construction and put forth his own idea of what group housing should and should not look like. Aaron Peskin (or Charlie Munger for that matter) might know the best layout of a group housing development, but my perspective is that he should not prohibit dense units, unless he also allows a similar density in its place; that is, increase residential density limits to allow small studios with full-sized kitchens.

  3. I don’t see what the point of this is. You’ll just end up with mini-fridges and hotplates. If the goal is to strip lower-income people of some dignity, then good job?

    1. The point of “group housing” is to maximize the number of homes that can be put on a lot so that each unit is more affordable. Maximizing supply also makes the city more affordable. The goal of the developer is not to “strip … dignity”. It is the zoning code that forces the developer to remove amenities when maximizing density. Instead of *prohibiting* mini-kitchens, the City should be *allowing* full-sized kitchens when maximizing density (i.e., increase the dwelling density limit to match the group housing density limit, reduce open space to match group housing open space, and relax the bedroom unit mix regulations) so that developers can add a full-sized kitchen!

  4. There’s group housing (dorms, ashrams, co-living, etc.) with ample shared community spaces, and then there are residential hotel rooms posing as group housing. The legislation clarifies this distinction.

    1. Peskin’s ordinance actually does NOT provide “ample shared community spaces”; it mandates that “at least 50% of the common space devoted to communal kitchens”, leaving very little space to other communal space (e.g. bathrooms, laundry, and lobby, and perhaps even hallways, stairs, and bike parking). This would make it very difficult to fit any communal space that ISN’T a kitchen or other ordinary feature of an apartment building. And prohibiting private mini-kitchens does not help any group housing resident. The primary motivation for the ordinance seems to be to prevent thousands of units of supply that to the City that Peskin did not anticipate.

      1. To be clear, the proposed amendment also establishes a minimum amount of common space (“for every gross square foot of private space (including bedrooms and individual bathrooms), 0.25 gross square feet of common space shall be provided”), at least 50 percent of which would need to be devoted to communal kitchens.

        1. At that point, requiring so much “common space” ends up negating the benefit of creating the more spatially efficient and cost-effective Group Housing “micro-studios” (that can rent at a significantly lower price) that a project sponsor will just revert to doing fewer conventionally-sized studios that’ll end up having to rent for 50% more per month in order to pencil out.

          Accordingly, this proposal from Peskin — combined with the elimination of “limited kitchen facilities” within individual units — is flat out project-killing, anti-housing legislation that reduces options for single persons looking for more naturally affordable housing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *