Illustration of young person feeling crowded in a small space.
Illustration: Michelle McNeil

Expanding Housing Choice

Housing Element Zoning Program
Part of the Housing for All initiative

Expanding Housing Choice aims to expand housing affordability and availability by allowing for increased density throughout the City, especially along transit and commercial corridors, in order to meet San Francisco’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirements set by the State of California.

Take our Survey for Expanding Housing Choice (Housing Element Zoning Program) Phase 2 - Fall 2023


View the Draft Zoning Proposal Interactive Map

All San Franciscans are impacted by the housing affordability crisis. As housing prices skyrocketed in recent years, teachers, first responders, service workers, and others who keep our city running have been forced to leave. American Indian and Black populations continue to decrease, while the population of unhoused residents has remained alarmingly high. Even for people with access to stable housing, the lack of diverse housing choices limits people's opportunities and impacts quality of life. (For instance, many seniors face challenges with finding suitable housing types as they age.)

Currently, the City's zoning rules limit the variety and types of housing that can be built and prevent us from building enough new housing to meet people’s needs. Most housing built in San Francisco in recent decades has been concentrated in the eastern neighborhoods, where zoning allows for mid- and large-sized developments. Meanwhile, the northern and western parts of the city have seen relatively little growth. These areas are primarily zoned for single-family development, which is less likely to be affordable to low- and middle-income residents and is shown to reinforce patterns of economic and racial segregation.

Expanding Housing Choice involves changes to San Francisco's zoning rules to accommodate new housing, increase housing affordability for low- and middle-income households, and help advance racial and social equity.

The project allows for more housing options in neighborhoods with greater access to economic opportunities and services that can support growth, such as public transit, parks, retail, and community facilities.

Some goals of the project include:

  • Start to reverse housing segregation in compliance with state requirements
  • Strengthen our communities by adding new neighbors and resources;
  • Coordinate new development with investments in infrastructure and services
  • Ensure all San Franciscans have a place to call home

Expanding Housing Choice is one of the key implementation actions of San Francisco’s Housing Element. Under state law, San Francisco is required to adopt compliant rezoning before January 2026. To meet this goal, Mayor London Breed’s Executive Directive on Housing for All requires the Planning Department to submit a final zoning proposal for consideration by policymakers by January 2024.

The Housing Element was adopted in January 2023 and is San Francisco’s plan for meeting our housing needs for the next 8 years (2023-2031). It is the City’s first housing plan centered on racial and social equity. Its policies and programs express San Francisco’s collective vision for the future of housing, guiding policymaking, housing programs, and the allocation of resources.

Expanding Housing Choice is one of several key implementation efforts beginning in Spring 2023. Other priority implementation actions include:

  • Affordable Housing Funding & Production Strategy
  • Community Planning & Engagement
  • Housing Production & Process Streamlining;

 

Draft Zoning Proposal Interactive Map

screengrab of interactive map showing colorful sections of proposed changes

View the Draft Zoning Proposal Interactive Map (opens in new browser window)

Geography

Map of San Francisco that illustrates corridors, nodes, and large sites that the City will prioritize for additional housing capacity Map caption: This map illustrates corridors, nodes, and large sites that the City will prioritize for additional housing capacity. Other areas may be added during the community engagement and adoption process. View a larger map.

Under state law, San Francisco must plan for roughly 36,000 housing units in the next eight years (2023-2031) to meet our city’s housing needs, on top of the housing units we already expect to be built. To foster more inclusive communities and undo the harmful effects of housing segregation and discrimination, the state requires that a significant share of new housing be built in neighborhoods with greater access to economic opportunities and services that can support growth, such as public transit, parks, retail, and community facilities.

Allowing for more and different types of housing in these neighborhoods helps ensure that more residents have access to housing that meets their needs, while strengthening community resources, infrastructure, and other services. New residents will also benefit from good access to public transportation, requiring fewer vehicle trips to access goods and services and reducing air pollution, including greenhouse gasses.

The City’s approach to increasing residential density in these neighborhoods will consider the need to protect communities vulnerable to displacement. It will also coordinate new development with infrastructure and services to ensure that new housing does not overburden our existing resources.

Draft Zoning Proposal (Fall 2023)

In Summer 2023, SF Planning presented two Zoning Concept Maps for adding new housing in these areas. The Department has now developed a consolidated Draft Zoning Proposal, reflecting feedback from community members and further analysis.

The Draft Zoning Proposal focuses change on major transit routes, commercial streets, and other hubs of activity. Key features include:

  • New housing would be distributed evenly across the Housing Opportunity Areas so that no single neighborhood or set of neighborhoods would receive most of the new housing.
  • Most streets would be rezoned to allow mid-rise development (65’ to 85’, or 6-to-8 stories). Heights of 85’ are generally proposed for wider streets near major transit lines (such as rail and MUNI rapid lines).
  • Some higher heights (ranging from 140’ – 300’, or 14-to-30 stories) are proposed in areas that:
    • Currently allow heights greater than 85’ (for example, around Van Ness Ave).
    • At key intersections and locations along major streets.
  • In response to feedback received in Summer 2023, this map also reflects additional height increases at key intersections (such as Geary Boulevard, 19th Ave, and Lombard Street). It also proposes zoning changes in areas that were not included on the prior zoning concept maps (such as portions of Irving St and Balboa St).

 

Click on image to enlarge.

San Francisco's affordable housing crisis impacts everyone. As home prices skyrocket, teachers, first responders, service workers, and those who keep the city running have been forced to leave their neighborhoods. Currently, the City's zoning rules limit the variety and types of housing that can be built and prevent us from building enough new housing to meet people’s needs. Expanding Housing Choice (Housing Element Zoning Program) is an effort to produce more affordable and diverse housing types as outlined in San Francisco’s plan for housing, the 2022 Housing Element, which was unanimously adopted by the City and certified by the State in January 2023.

This document highlights frequently asked questions regarding the project scope, community engagement process, and relationship to local and state requirements.

I. PROJECT OVERVIEW

What is the project scope and timeline?
Expanding Housing Choice will increase capacity for new housing along transit corridors and major streets in the western and northern parts of the city, specifically in and near the areas designated by the state as Housing Opportunity Areas.[1] Currently, restrictive zoning polices in these areas make it challenging to build new housing, particularly multi-family housing types that tend to be more affordable and provide diverse housing options for people in all stages of their lives. Over the past 15 years, only 10% of new housing was built in these areas, even though they cover over 50% of the city’s land. This project will focus on changing zoning rules to allow mid-rise housing developments (primarily ranging from 65’ to 85’ tall), with greater heights considered in selected locations.

This project is a required implementation action of the City’s Housing Element. Under state law, the rezoning must be completed by January 2026. However, the Mayor’s Executive Directive on Housing for All directs the Planning Department to develop a zoning proposal by January 2024, for consideration and adoption by policymakers.

Why are we planning for new housing? Why now?
San Francisco has long prided itself on being a welcoming and progressive community where people of all walks of life can find opportunities to succeed. Today, that legacy has become out of reach for many residents. San Francisco is one of the most unaffordable cities to live in, in one of the most expensive states in the nation – the result of an affordable housing crisis that has been decades in the making. California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) estimates that one in three households in California has difficulty affording housing and other basic needs, and that we must build more than 2.5 million homes statewide over the next eight years to ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing, or roughly 180,000 units per year.[2],[3] The state is requiring every community to do its part to address this housing crisis, and has developed numerous laws, programs, and resources in recent years to jumpstart housing production across the state.  

How much new housing does San Francisco need?
San Francisco is a major hub for jobs and housing and has built more housing in recent years than many Bay Area cities. However, the state’s increased housing requirements mean that every community will need to do more, and San Francisco is no exception. Under state and regional requirements, San Francisco will need to build approximately 82,000 housing units affordable to different income levels over the next eight years (2023-2031), or about 10,000 units annually – this is known as our Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, commonly pronounced “Ree-Na”). This figure is almost three times higher than the requirement in our prior Housing Element.

Under existing zoning rules and planned developments, we expect to see about 58,000 units built in San Francisco, based on data from our development pipeline and other expected projects. That means we need to change our zoning rules to add at least 36,200 additional units.[4] This number may increase if housing production falls significantly below our projections.[5]

Why is the project focused on the western and northern parts of the City? Don’t we need new housing everywhere?  
We will need to build new housing throughout San Francisco to meet our housing needs and address our affordable housing crisis. In recent decades, most new housing built in San Francisco has been concentrated in the eastern and southern neighborhoods of the city, where zoning policies are more flexible and allow for medium and larger-sized housing developments. In contrast, zoning rules in much of the western and northern parts of the City only allow single-family homes and lower-density developments. This makes it costly and challenging to build new housing, particularly multi-family housing units (like townhouses and apartments) that are more likely to be affordable to seniors, families, and low- and moderate-income households.

Expanding Housing Choice will allow for a greater diversity of housing types in these areas of the city, specifically in the Housing Opportunity Areas (referred to as “Well-Resourced Neighborhoods” in the Housing Element). These are areas with low levels of environmental pollution, good access to jobs, and well-performing public schools. State and city policies require us to add housing in these areas, so that we can create housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income households and start to reverse historic patterns of economic and racial segregation.

We will continue to see new housing built outside of the Housing Opportunity Areas – in fact, we expect that one-half to two-thirds of new housing will be built in the southern and eastern portions of the City over the next decade based on already adopted plans. Expanding Housing Choice will not diminish housing capacity in these areas; it simply aims to ensure the City can grow in a more balanced and equitable way.

What are the Zoning Concept Maps (released June 2023), and how are they different? Will the final zoning proposal choose between one map or the other?
The Zoning Concept Maps (Map 1, Map 2) were developed for Phase 1 outreach to illustrate slightly different concepts for how the zoning changes could be implemented in the Housing Opportunity Areas. They are very similar to the concept maps that were approved by State and City lawmakers in the 2022 Housing Element.

Both maps identify the same set of transit streets, commercial streets, and other key sites as places where we should add additional housing (such as Geary Boulevard, 19th Avenue, Ocean Ave, etc.). The key difference is that Map 1 has slightly lower heights on some of these streets (e.g., 65’ tall instead of 85’ on some streets) and spreads new housing out more widely by including a “buffer” area around the streets. In this 1-2 block area around the main streets, people would be able to more flexibly build a greater number of housing units within the existing height limits (40’ tall in most locations). Currently, there are density rules that reduce the number of units that may be built in these buffer areas.

The two maps do not represent all possible scenarios. They were designed to solicit feedback on community preferences and concerns, and the final zoning proposal could include elements of either one. The final zoning scenario will be developed based on community feedback and further analysis on potential benefits and tradeoffs.

Can we also add housing adjacent to the Housing Opportunity Areas (e.g., in Glen Park) and on other parcels not identified in the Zoning Concept Maps?
It depends on the scale and location of the additional housing units. Due to the accelerated project timeline, the final rezoning proposal will leverage the Housing Element EIR and will be evaluated for consistency with that analysis. Such a proposal may require additional environmental review.
There is some flexibility to slightly expand the rezoning (e.g., to extend the rezoning along certain streets, or to change the heights and densities slightly). However, expansive changes to the zoning scenarios would likely require significant environmental analysis and may not be possible within the timeline required for this rezoning.
Aren’t there a lot of vacant homes in San Francisco? Why do we have to build more housing if we have so many vacancies?

Looking closer at the data on housing vacancy from the 2022 Housing Element helps us understand that vacant units occur for many different reasons. In 2018, total vacancy was estimated at 9.6% of units, or roughly 38,800 units. Since then, vacancies spiked sharply during the early pandemic but have returned to levels just above the pre-pandemic average. Key categories include: 

  • 16,700 units (~4% of all homes): homes available for rent (7,500 units), for sale (400 units), or units recently rented/sold but not yet occupied (8,700 units) 
  • 7,400 units (~2% of all homes): seasonal, recreational, or occasional use, which could include second homes, short-term rentals (such as Airbnb or Vrbo rentals), or intermediate length stays  
  • 14,500 units (~3% of all homes): “other” vacant homes, which could include homes under renovation or repair, or homes where the owner is recently deceased or that are in probate. 

These vacancy rates are not considered unreasonably high. There will always be some normal amount of vacancy due to units changing occupants, renovation & repair, and other common reasons. Further, extremely low vacancy rates are also problematic because this could reflect low supply issues, which can contribute to conditions like overcrowding and increased rents. 

What happens if we do not complete the required rezoning?
Expanding Housing Choice is one of the required implementation actions of our state-mandated Housing Element. Failure to adopt compliant rezoning legislation would put San Francisco at risk of decertification of our Housing Element. A certified Housing Element is a prerequisite for numerous state grants, including funding for transportation infrastructure and affordable housing. We may also face lawsuits and increasingly punitive actions by the state, such as fines and loss of local permitting control (in other words, local zoning rules would not apply, and the state could become responsible for approving new developments).

II. GROWING OUR NEIGHBORHOODS

What are some benefits of new housing?
Allowing for more and different types of housing can create benefits for everyone in our community. Seniors will have more housing options to choose from as they grow older.  Educators, first responders, public safety employees, retail workers, healthcare providers and others who work in our communities will have more options to live in the city. More young adults will be able to find affordable and safe housing as they establish their lives and careers in the city. More families will be able to find housing they can afford, so they won’t have to move out of the city or choose between paying for housing and other critical expenses like healthcare and education.

New housing can bring benefits to the wider community as well. New housing projects generate funding to improve critical infrastructure, like streets, sewers, and schools. Adding more neighbors also contributes to vibrant and resilient local economies, by expanding our tax base and generating more demand for small businesses.

Building new housing in urban areas like San Francisco can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. Compared to suburban areas and new greenfield developments, San Francisco’s neighborhoods are rich in public transit, retail, and community services and supported by existing infrastructure. New housing here will generate fewer vehicle trips to access jobs, retail, and services, which can help limit sprawling developments, preserve open green space throughout the Bay Area, and reduce the resources needed to build and maintain infrastructure. These new housing units will also meet stringent requirements for water and energy efficiency and are required to be all-electric (eliminating the use of natural gas).

When will I start to see new housing built in my community? 
Zoning rules determine what type of buildings, uses and housing are allowed in each location. However, they are not a guarantee that a particular type of building will be built, and changes to the zoning code may not result in immediate changes. New development will be incremental and dependent upon many different factors, such as market demand, construction costs, financial circumstances of homeowners or developers, and existing uses on a property. Parallel with the rezoning process, the Planning Department is also working closely with policymakers to make improvements to the housing approval and construction process, so that projects that meet city requirements can be built more quickly and inexpensively.

How will this effort coordinate with necessary infrastructure and service improvements?
Expanding Housing Choice is being implemented in partnership with City departments to coordinate housing growth with infrastructure improvements and community services that are necessary for healthy, connected, and resilient communities. New housing in these communities will be added incrementally, and City agencies are planning on how they will improve and grow these community facilities in parallel.

There are several efforts taking place across the City to address transportation, infrastructure, and other community services and facilities critical to accommodating new housing. Some examples include:

What will happen to historic areas or buildings that fall within the areas to be rezoned?
As part of protecting our cultural heritage, the Planning Department has begun the San Francisco Citywide Cultural Resources Survey (SF Survey), a multi-year effort to identify and document places and resources of cultural, historical, and architectural importance to San Francisco’s diverse communities. SF Survey and Expanding Housing Choice are two independent but complementary efforts, which will ensure that we can identify and celebrate cultural resources while growing neighborhoods with new housing.

Buildings and sites identified as cultural resources will be subject to requirements intended to preserve cultural heritage even as new housing is added. The SF Survey effort is prioritizing fieldwork and engagement in the zoning districts slated for zoning changes, to support the goal of standardizing project review while uplifting cultural heritage.

III. INCREASING HOUSING DIVERSITY & AFFORDABILITY

Who is impacted by the housing affordability crisis? 
San Francisco has not built enough housing to keep up with growth; from 2010-2019, San Francisco added 40% more jobs, while the number of housing units increased by just 8%.[6] The cost of housing has skyrocketed in turn – from 2010-2023, the average home sales price doubled, from $800k to $1.6m.[7] As a result, many low- and moderate-income households have been forced to leave San Francisco, including teachers, public safety workers, and service industry employees, among others. The greatest impacts of the affordable housing crisis are felt by American Indian, Black, and other communities of color, who are more likely to experience housing instability and homelessness compared to White households.

However, everyone is impacted by the affordable housing crisis in some way, even those with stable housing. Many businesses and government agencies have reported challenges with filling job vacancies, sometimes impacting the quality of public services such as education, healthcare, and community safety. Similarly, we have heard from seniors who are worried about aging-in-place or concerned that their grown children will need to move away, and from families struggling to find affordable housing units with enough space for their household.

How will the project increase affordable housing in my community?
Currently, there are very limited affordable housing options in the areas planned for rezoning. Consistent with broader development patterns, less than 10% of subsidized affordable housing units were built in the Housing Opportunity Areas in 2005-2018, even though these areas comprise over 50% of the City.[8]

The Housing Element commits the City to reversing this trend. Over the next eight years (2023-2031), the City is aiming to build 47,000 units affordable to lower- and moderate-income residents (over half of our citywide target of 82,000 new housing units). The City plans to build 25% to 50% of these affordable units in the Well-Resourced Neighborhoods where the rezoning will be concentrated. This will require significant funding and coordination among government, private, philanthropic, and non-profit partners. Parallel to the rezoning process, the City is convening an Affordable Housing Leadership Council which will issue recommendations by January 2024 that identify potential funding sources and actions the City can take to meet these ambitious targets.the City can take to meet these ambitious targets.

In addition to subsidized affordable housing, the rezoning and related efforts will increase the variety and types of housing available in these neighborhoods, adding fourplexes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), townhomes, and mid-sized multi-family buildings. These housing types tend to be more affordable than single-family homes – for instance, the average sales price of a single-family home is almost $350k higher than a condo ($1.39m vs. $1.04m in 2023).[9] A diversity of housing types can also improve residential mobility and ensure people can find suitable housing at different stages of their lives and when their needs change, which is especially critical for families, students, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Who lives in affordable housing?
Affordable housing serves a wide range of household types, racial and ethnic backgrounds, professions, and income levels. They are a source of safe and stable housing for working families and households that provide valuable services to our communities, such as teachers, librarians, transit drivers, nurses, counselors, childcare providers, and other essential workers and first responders.

Affordable housing also allows seniors to age in place. In fact, seniors live in affordable housing at higher rates than other age groups: senior households make up almost half (45%) of households living in City-funded affordable housing. Of these older adult households, almost 70% (5,420 people) are seniors who live alone. Affordable housing also supports adults with disabilities. Disabled adult households ages 18-61 make up approximately 10-20% of households living in affordable housing.

What else is San Francisco doing to meet our housing needs?
It will take a sustained and coordinated effort among policymakers, City agencies, community-based organizations, philanthropies, and the private sector to meet our ambitious housing goals. The Housing Element, a component of the San Francisco General Plan, is the City’s plan to meet current and anticipated housing needs and is required to be updated every eight years under state law. In addition to the rezoning, the 2022 Housing Element identifies over 350 actions to increase housing production, preserve and produce affordable housing, protect renters against involuntary displacement, and foster healthy, sustainable, and resilient neighborhoods, among other goals. For more information on how the City is implementing the Housing Element, visit the project web page.

IV. GETTING INVOLVED

How have residents and community groups been involved in this project and related efforts?
The Planning Department has already engaged with approximately 3,000 community members across the city and in Housing Opportunity Areas through various housing policy and community planning efforts over the last several years. Outreach for the 2022 Housing Element gathered feedback from San Franciscans on the need for rezoning and identified additional strategies and policies to meet the City’s anticipated housing needs. Community members have also shared their housing needs and priorities through other community planning efforts in District 4 (Sunset Forward), District 7 (District 7 HOMES), District 1 (Richmond Neighborhood Strategy). The Planning Department will build on previous conversations and initiate engagement with new community members to gather input on the zoning proposals.  

How can I participate?
To make sure zoning policies are inclusive and represent the values and ideas of the City’s diverse population, the Planning Department wants to hear from as many community members as possible. We will provide a variety of in-person and virtual options for community members to learn about the project and share feedback, such as open houses, focus groups, surveys, and community conversations (meetings with community groups).

Sign up here if you would like to be informed of upcoming events and refer to the project website for continued updates. If you are a community-based organization interested in hosting a community conversation, please email sf.housing.choice@sfgov.org.

How will my feedback be incorporated?
Your participation in this process will shape how the City achieves a more equitable distribution of housing and expands housing choice for all San Franciscans. Your input will inform the proposed zoning changes for adding new housing in Housing Opportunity Areas, paired with infrastructure and community services. Community input will shape the final legislative proposal for consideration by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in early 2024.


[1] Areas designated as “Highest Resource” and “High Resource” on the Opportunity Area Map published by California Department of Housing and Community Development. (These areas were also called “Well-Resourced Neighborhoods” in the Housing Element.)

[2] Affordable housing is a term that describes an industry and a standard of housing expenses that should not exceed 30% of a household's gross or take-home income,

[3] California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). A Home for Every Californian: 2022 Statewide Housing Plan. Accessed 3/25/23 at: https://statewide-housing-plan-cahcd.hub.arcgis.com/

[4] This figure represents our state requirement of 82,000 housing units plus a required 15% buffer, bringing the total target to 94,300 units. Learn more about the Bay Area’s RHNA targets here.

[5] Action 8.1.5 requires that the City implement additional zoning changes and constraint reductions if housing production at the midpoint of the RHNA cycle falls short of projections (i.e., if fewer than 29,000 units are produced by 2027).

[6] American Communities Survey 2019

[7] American Communities Survey 2020

[8] 2022 Housing Element – Appendix B Sites inventory: Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Page 48

 

Expanding Housing Choice is one of many Housing Element implementation efforts that will begin as early as Spring 2023.

Mayor London Breed’s Executive Directive on Housing for All, directs the Planning Department to submit a final zoning proposal for consideration by policymakers by January 2024 to ensure we are on track to meet State requirements.

Phase 1 – Laying the Foundation: Initial zoning proposals will be shared with the public for feedback.

Spring to Summer 2023 Outreach will include : *
  • Housing education workshops & resources
  • Community conversations
  • Focus Groups
  • Open house(s)

Phase 2 – Building the Structure: Revised zoning scenarios will be shared, responding to public feedback from Phase 1.

Fall 2023 Outreach will include : *
  • Community conversations
  • Open house(s)

Phase 3 – Raising the Roof: A final zoning proposal will be brought to policymakers for adoption.

Winter to Spring 2024 Community members will have opportunities to provide input throughout the adoption process.

* Outreach events are subject to change.

Community Conversations

Community Conversations: We can join your neighborhood group meeting to provide an informational presentation, answer questions, and discuss community concerns and ideas. Email us to schedule a conversation: sf.housing.choice@sfgov.org

Meetings and Events

Event Information Materials
Phase 2 Webinar
2023 December 13, noon – 1:00PM

Location: Online

REGISTER HERE FOR ONLINE EVENT
Please join SF Planning to learn about the progress we have made to better meet San Francisco’s housing needs through a Draft Zoning Proposal, Local Zoning Program, and additional strategies to support current and future residents and small businesses.
There will be a brief presentation followed by a moderated discussion.
Open House
2023 November 8, 5:30PM - 7:30PM

Location: SF LGBTQ Center, 1800 Market Street

Open House
2023 November 15, 5:30PM - 7:30PM

Location: County Fair Building, 1199 9th Avenue
Phase 1 Webinar - Laying the Foundation
2023 September 14, noon – 1:00PM

Location: Online
Review the webinar recording and presentation slide deck to learn about the Housing Element zoning program, Expanding Housing Choice. The webinar covers the background of the project and how we can make changes to better meet San Francisco’s housing needs, increase affordability for low- and middle-income households, and help advance racial and social equity.
Open House
2023 July 11, 5:30PM - 7:30PM

Location: County Fair Building, 1199 9th Avenue

Open House
2023 June 22, 5:30PM - 7:30PM

Location: SF LGBTQ Center, 1800 Market Street

Survey for Expanding Housing Choice (Housing Element Zoning Program) Phase 2

Small Business Survey

Do you have a Small Business? Your feedback is essential in helping us understand the potential impacts of new housing development on small businesses and how we can support you during the construction process - please take the survey!  |  小企業問卷調查

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