1321%20Mission%20Street%20Rendering.jpg

As we first reported this past March:

Per San Francisco Building Code Section 1208.4, the smallest legal dwelling unit in San Francisco must have living room of at least 220 square feet (20.4 m2) in addition to a separate closet and bathroom.

As proposed and sponsored by Supervisor Wiener, Section 1208.4 would be re-written to reduce to the minimum legal living room in San Francisco from 220 to 150 square feet while restricting residency of said units to no more than two persons.

As we added this past July:

While the amendment would still reduce the minimum legal living room in San Francisco to 150 square feet, a clause has since been added requiring the total area of the unit to be no less than 220 square feet “measured from the inside perimeter of the exterior walls of the unit and shall include closets, bathrooms, kitchen, living and sleeping areas.”

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote on the amendment tomorrow.

Continued by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors three times since without a vote, the amended amendment is once again scheduled to be reviewed, and possibly adopted, by the Board this week.

Keeping a close eye on the vote, Panoramic Interests which has proposed to build an 11-story high-rise at 1321 Mission at the corner of 9th Street, the site of the old Guitar Center building, with 200 micro-apartments designed for students and averaging 260 square feet:

Recent Articles

Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by anon

    Good stuff. No idea why we limit the size of an individual unit. If you’re worried about slum conditions happening, it should be some kind of limit on the number of people allowed or something.
    A brand new building with 150 sqft units is going to be filled with mostly students, etc, while there are many flats in the Mission and other places with 15 people crammed into 1000 sqft.

  2. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    anon, seems like your final sentence completely undercut the assertion you made in the second.
    There’s no practical way to place a “limit on the number of people allowed or something”, even though the above-mentioned code change attempts to “[restrict] residency of said units to no more than two persons”.
    Assuming the police aren’t going to come around and regularly check on the number of people in the unit (and I haven’t read anything indicating what enforcement mechanism, if any, is being considered), is there something magical about the building being new construction that’s going to fill it up with mostly students and not the same kinds of folks living fifteen to 1000 ft.² in other parts of The City?
    From the L.A. Times’ article, San Francisco considers allowing nation’s tiniest micro-apartments:

    At a minimum 150 square feet of living space — 220 when you add the bathroom, kitchen and closet — the proposed residences are being hailed as a pivotal option for singles. Opponents fear that a wave of “shoe box homes” would further marginalize families of modest means who are desperate for larger accommodations.

    …some critics worry that the swank model units getting kudos from officials might not be the norm. What’s to stop other developers, tenants’ rights advocates ask, from building grimmer versions, with low ceilings and poor light?

    “I say no shoe box legislation,” Carmelita Perez, 67, told demonstrators at a recent news conference, where a small child sat inside a mock unit taped to the sidewalk in front of City Hall. “We are humans, not spiders.”

    Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes South of Market, said she feared the push for ever-smaller apartments would do nothing to benefit families that already are being driven out of town.

    The price per square foot of Kennedy’s proposal, she and other skeptics said, was less affordable than current rentals. And buildings full of micro-units could cause a spike in population density that might strain public transit and already limited parks and public spaces.

    In Singapore, where thousands of shoe box homes for families — some as small as 500 square feet —are either completed or in the pipeline, redevelopment authorities recently raised the minimum size to 755 square feet because of congestion. The revised approach is fodder for doubters here.

    I don’t doubt that Patrick Kennedy will make lots of money on this once he gets his building built.
    I also think the anecdote about Singapore’s experience, which as a has far, far fewer social problems than any comparable major U.S. city as well as one of the top five highest per capita incomes in the world, is pretty compelling.
    If they can’t make it work without increasing congestion, what makes us think we can make this work in San Francisco with the perennial overtaxed and underfunded MUNI plus a culture that embraces individual car commuting?

  3. Posted by BobN

    “No idea why we limit the size of an individual unit.”
    Cuz it’s a lousy way to live and completely unnecessary. This is just a way to increase profits for developers. In a city with very, very high densities, it might be justifiable, but there are no cities like that outside of Asia.

  4. Posted by anon

    is there something magical about the building being new construction that’s going to fill it up with mostly students and not the same kinds of folks living fifteen to 1000 ft.² in other parts of The City?
    Um, it’ll be owned by a large rental company that knows how to control this type of thing rather than a small landlord. That’s all I meant.

  5. Posted by Wilford

    Cuz it’s a lousy way to live and completely unnecessary.
    That’s pretty presumptuous and nanny-stateish. I’d pick 100 sqft in SF where I can not have a car and walk everywhere over 1000 sqft in Modesto. Bring on the cheap and small apartments! I don’t have much stuff and don’t want much at this point in my life (I’m 23) – a place to sleep, a place to cook an occasional meal, and a place to shower. The rest of my day is out in the world.
    Perhaps when I’m older and married, but not sure why the government should force me to rent more space than I need or want.

  6. Posted by lol

    BobN @5:19AM
    there are no cities like that outside of Asia.
    In Paris a typical studio is 140sf to 220sf. Under 140sf you’re probably not getting a private bathroom and you get into the “chambre” or bedroom class. But it can get smaller. Much smaller.
    The legal limit for an apartment in Paris today is 9m2 or 100sf. There must be 20m3 of volume (700 cubic feet). There are many studios that are less then 9m2 and are inhabited, but if they are rented out this is not done legally. I’ve seen nannies or construction workers who lived there in exchange for free labor.
    I did rent one of these places when I was a student for less than $300 25 years ago (prolly 600+ today). 90sf and a dual shower/sink… Yuk. Great location though.

  7. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “There must be 20m3 of volume”
    Calculating the volume measurements must be fun for top floor mansard rooms.

  8. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    anon: fair point. Was discussing this with one of my friends this morning and he mentioned that another technique landlords have for limiting potential tenants to the student population is only advertising nine month leases. I guess that’d work well for these places, if applicable.
    Wilford wrote:

    Bring on the cheap and small apartments! I don’t have much stuff and don’t want much at this point in my life…Perhaps when I’m older and married, but not sure why the government should force me to rent more space than I need or want.

    First of all, these are indeed going to be small, but the apartments proposed by Patrick Kennedy, at least, aren’t going to be “cheap”, they’ll be more expensive on a dollar per floor space area basis than the current market rate.
    I think the point that opponents are making is that once this type of unit is legalized, the marketplace has ways of “forcing” non-twenty something people who need or want more space into them, and will be a lot more effective at it than any government could have any hope of. I don’t think I agree with this because of the countervailing effect of rent control on rental price appreciation, but who knows.

  9. Posted by lol

    MoD,
    This is a major sticking point. The volume measured has to be for surfaces with a ceiling height of more than 7’4″ high. This renders many of the maid quarters “mansard” bedrooms unfit.

  10. Posted by Wilfred

    @Brahma:
    First of all, these are indeed going to be small, but the apartments proposed by Patrick Kennedy, at least, aren’t going to be “cheap”, they’ll be more expensive on a dollar per floor space area basis than the current market rate.
    Amazingly enough, when I fill out my rent check each month I don’t care about the relative cheapness per square foot, I only care about how much my total is.
    So…it’s utterly meaningless to me that a 100 sqft place might be more per square foot than a 1000 sqft place, if the 100 sqft place is $1800 a month (something I consider within my price range) and the 1000 sqft place is even only $2200 per sqft (something outside of my price range) , even though obviously the bigger place is significantly cheaper per sqft.

  11. Posted by dissent

    Density is good, density is green.
    Do these buildings have parking?

  12. Posted by Doug

    My place is about 400 square feet in total. These apartments seem way too small for me, but I could probably adjust. Good use of space.

  13. Posted by SocketSite

    Do these buildings have parking?
    1321 Mission would not have any parking except for a couple of spaces for a car-share program.

  14. Posted by BobN

    “Yuk”
    Indeed. Does Paris allow new construction with those small requirements? Or does it apply to old properties from the days when being out of the rain was enough?
    “Nanny-stateish”
    Minimum standards for habitation may be too much for you, but it’s one way civilized societies try to help the poor. YOU may be happy living there, but it would be “nanny-stateish” for the govt to prevent a couple from living in that small space. And, despite whatever rule the City puts in place, couples with children will end up in these as well.

  15. Posted by Pfffft

    W(ho)TF would want to live in one of these POS’s??? It reminds of those little Critter Keeper boxes for bugs. SF thinks it’s so progressive. Instead, it just comes across as stupid and backwards.

  16. Posted by anon

    couples with children will end up in these as well.
    You know this, how? I’ve been in quite a few centrally-located NEW construction buildings with studio apartments, and haven’t seen too many couples with kids. They’re more likely to spend the same amount of money for an older and larger place in the Sunset, Richmond, Ingleside, etc.
    No one’s assuming that these places will be cheap, just cheapER than a larger place in a central (read: expensive) location.

  17. Posted by lol

    BobN,
    There’s usually not much new construction going on in Paris. A brand new neighborhood is being built in the northwest with 3000+ new housing units (probably the very last of its kind in Paris), and studios don’t go under roughly 200sf.
    You are correct the size rules are mostly there to accommodate existing housing. New housing usually comes through a very strict permitting process. Higher standards will apply.
    But small apartments do serve a very important purpose. In many instances they will be occupied by one person. Often enough though, 2 or more people will crowd the space for financial reasons.
    In SF, you have a few similar occurrences. SROs, legacy slum zones. We should limit these to specific markets where control and enforcement can be applied. Student housing is perfect for that.

  18. Posted by Willow

    “I’ve been in quite a few centrally-located NEW construction buildings with studio apartments, and haven’t seen too many couples with kids.”
    That is a critical point. Wiener continues to support solutions (car share, micro apartments etc.) that predominately cater to one demographic: affluent single or coupled individuals with no kids. So much for diversity…

  19. Posted by anon

    ^That doesn’t really seem to be a reason to be against of any of the items you mention, just that instead we need to MASSIVELY upzone many other areas to get a mix of units. When you upzone tiny portions at a time, of course the market is going to prefer (and encourage supervisor’s to prefer) the unit mix that produces the maximum income, ie singles, DINKs.

  20. Posted by Alai

    Plenty of housing which is could be used by families with kids is currently split by roommates. Since they can usually afford more per head than a family can, they’ll get the place. This would be true even if you built only 3-bedroom units.
    The availability of a place of one’s own, even a small one, definitely makes sharing a bathroom less appealing, which might give families a better shot at the places they need.

  21. Posted by kathleen

    Horrible idea. Spreadsheet thinking.

  22. Posted by Mike

    If you don’t like the idea, go ahead and don’t live there. People in many parts of the world live in small spaces and are fine with it. This will fill a need for certain people, not all. Saying that it marginalizes families is idiotic. Not being able to find anything you can afford is more of a marginalizing force than this by a long shot.

  23. Posted by mike

    If you don’t like the idea, go ahead and don’t live there. People in many parts of the world live in small spaces and are fine with it. This will fill a need for certain people, not all. Saying that it marginalizes families is idiotic. Not being able to find anything you can afford is more of a marginalizing force than this by a long shot.

  24. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    You can find “people in many parts of the world living” ten people deep in a fifteen by fifteen space with no indoor plumbing and those people “are fine with it”. That doesn’t mean importing those conditions to San Francisco would be a good idea just because marginal families would find it “affordable”.
    California is not a third world country.
    At some point we have to set a lower limit to what we ALL consider to be decent.

  25. Posted by anon

    ^Why the strawman, Brahma? No one is proposing no indoor plumbing or anything else approaching “third world” standards.
    We set the “lower limit to what we ALL consider to be decent” through codes that guarantee plumbing, earthquake standards, fire codes, etc. Having a bunch of extra space to store a crapload of cheap consumer goods shouldn’t be a part of that, IMO.

  26. Posted by Brahma (incensed renter)

    I understand that the existing codes for plumbing, earthquake standards, fire codes, etc. will still apply. For now. For this proposal.
    But once you start justifying legalizing building standards that were previously illegal with flimsy arguments such as “people in many parts of the world …and are fine with it”, where do you stop?
    Once you start justifying public policy changes with glib catch phrases like “if you don’t like the idea, go ahead and don’t live there”, where do you stop?

  27. Posted by anon

    ^You stop when we start talking about legalizing obvious third world scenarios like no indoor plumbing, lack of adequate building codes, etc.
    Not everything is a slippery slope.

  28. Posted by Alai

    the marketplace has ways of “forcing” non-twenty something people who need or want more space into them
    As opposed to the situation where the marketplace “forces” people out of SF entirely. Which, apparently, is acceptable in a way that this isn’t.
    People are “forced” to make do without things they want every day. I, for example, don’t have a yacht. But I’d still find it weird if the city mandated more yachts.
    Every apartment’s a trade-off. Ensuring that tiny apartments aren’t built won’t get people bigger apartments– it’ll just remove that option.
    I suppose you could argue that the 200 micro-apartments could be replaced by 100 small apartments, but that wouldn’t help the hypothetical person being “forced” into these, since he wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway.

  29. Posted by Chris

    If someone wants to live in them, great, but that person would not be me. As far, as land-use policy, my only concern would be that this should be a limited exception, not the norm–ultra-high density is not generally a good thing, nor is cramped living conditions.
    I certainly understand not being able to afford living in an expensive city, but I don’t think micro-apartment should be the primary way to solve the issue of a lack of affordable housing. When I was a student in San Francisco, and struggling worker, and for a period unemployed, I could not afford to pay very much for rent. But, like most people, I turned to a roommate living arrangement to address my needs. Even on my $600 month budget, about one third (!!) of the monthly rent for one these proposed “affordable” micro-apartments, I was able to afford my own private bedroom in a spacious 3-bedroom apartment right on a bus line, and a very easy walk to the light-rail, a vibrant commercial district, and the beautiful Golden Gate Park. If my only other option at the time would have been to pay 3 times as much money to live in a cramped hole in a gritty part of town, then I would have quite eagerly moved straight out of San Francisco–and perhaps moving elsewhere is the best option for some people.
    The real solution to help address, though not completely solve, the affordability issue is to up-zone most of South of Market, the Bay View, and other parts of town. There are large areas of the city of neglected, underutilized, and even just empty lots that could hold mid-rise and some high-rise housing filled with normal-sized rental units, rather than micro-apartments. Pocket-parks and nicely designed street-scapes would make for nice new neighborhoods. It would be very easy to build 80,000 new units in the city–over-and-above all current planned units–all while revitalizing downtrodden parts of town.

  30. Posted by Chris

    Alai writes: “I suppose you could argue that the 200 micro-apartments could be replaced by 100 small apartments, but that wouldn’t help the hypothetical person being ‘forced’ into these, since he wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway.”
    By your logic, why stop at 220 square feet? My mom had a friend who decided for political and spiritual reasons to donate her little house to charity and then move into a 144 square-foot lean-to in the woods. Jean has said she never felt happier since she began living her simpler lifestyle. So, let’s amend the city planning code to allow developers to build 144 square-foot rooms with shared bathroom in the hallways and charge $1,200 a month for rent. Think of how many more housing opportunities we would create for people to live in San Francisco! But, come to think of it, the city already offers such a solution with SROs. Except somehow landlords manage to charge up to $1,000 a month for only 80 square feet! Somehow, it seems the smaller the unit gets the more expensive per square foot it becomes!
    We need to require minimum housing standards, and those include minimum living unit size. Just be able to say that as a community we are graciously giving an individual the option to physically reside in SF is not enough. A person should be able to live a good quality of life here, and if we cannot offer adequate public subsidies for everyone to afford to do so, then some people should live in another city where they can afford to live well.

  31. Posted by Dan

    Ah, the slippery slope argument. The proposal is not to eliminate all standards for new housing, just to allow some units that are somewhat smaller than currently permitted. Why not give the individual the option of a small studio in SF, versus a larger place in the East Bay?

  32. Posted by soccermom

    Micro Units Discussion on Forum this morning:
    http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201211191000
    Guests:
    Scott Wiener, San Francisco supervisor for District 8
    Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy.com and author of “Apartment Therapy’s Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces”
    Miranda Jones, style editor for Sunset magazine
    Patrick Kennedy, owner of Panoramic Interests
    Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco

Add a Comment

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