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…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.
Yesterday, San Francisco’s Planning Commission unanimously passed the proposed amendment with an exception to allow for limited kitchens in individual units of student housing and a recommendation that a “working group” be assembled to explore “future modifications” to the legislation, including the possibility of grandfathering projects that are already on the boards.
If adopted by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, as passed by the Commission, the proposed amendment would upend the interpretation of San Francisco’s Planning Code that has allowed for developers to build “Group Housing” with individual kitchens, however limited, and establish communal space minimums for new developments as well. Let the lobbying begin (or rather ramp up).