October 12, 2012

A Proposed Cap On Smaller Residential Units In San Francisco

Last month, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors elected to postpone until November their vote on the proposed ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Wiener which would reduce to the minimum legal living room for a residential unit in San Francisco from 220 to 150 square feet, requiring the total area of the unit to be no less than 220 square feet.

The proposed amendment would help clear the way for buildings such as the proposed 11-story high-rise at 1321 Mission with 200 micro-apartments designed for students to rise.

Market rate developers, buyers and renters take note, however, Supervisor Wiener has just introduced another proposed ordinance "to put a cap on the number of Efficiency Dwelling Units, as defined in the Building Code, that can be constructed with reduced square footage unless the units are group housing, affordable housing, or student housing."

A Big Vote For Micro-Units In San Francisco [SocketSite]
32 Percent More Or Less Efficient In San Francisco As Proposed [SocketSite]
32 Percent More Or Less Efficient In San Francisco Part Two [SocketSite]

First Published: October 12, 2012 10:00 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

This makes sense. If we allowed a large number of small units it would be possible that (heaven forbid) prices would actually come down.

Posted by: Alai at October 12, 2012 12:48 PM

Sure. And if the Board of Supervisors gutted all the regulations in the building code and legalized brazilian style favelas, it would also be possible that (heaven forbid) prices would actually come down.

But everybody's quality of life would suffer immensely, and in immeasurable ways.

There has to be a floor for decent living conditions that we establish as a consequence of public policy choices, and force the marketplace to work with it.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at October 12, 2012 1:47 PM

So if people were allowed to build "brazilian style favelas" they would just do that, then? Why build a tower of 400 condos to sell for a million dollars each when you can build 100 scrap wood shacks on the same land and sell them for $10000 a piece?

I'm sure glad we have the Board of Supervisors to protect us from that eventuality.

Posted by: Alai at October 12, 2012 3:06 PM

Alai, I do not see the math work from your comment.

100X10K = 1M
400X1M = 400M

Posted by: lol at October 15, 2012 10:35 AM

Brahma, as someone who's lived in spaces significantly smaller and worse than what's being proposed, and furthermore was very glad to be able to do so (since it let me spend my money on important things, like going to college), I find your judgement of what's a fit living condition for me or anyone else to be pretty inappropriate.

Posted by: fixie landbaron at October 16, 2012 7:27 PM

Public policy has to be what applies to everyone, and in this case, set a lower limit. There's always going to be someone who opts to flout the rules in order to achieve something that they think is a higher goal, but that doesn't mean we should change the policy to legitimize it.

In one of the other threads, someone mentioned that he stayed in an illegal converted garage just after college so he could accumulate capital in order to start his own business. Does that mean we should relax rules against dwelling units in garages?

I read somewhere that when Suze Orman was starting out as a financial planner, she slept in her car in order to accumulate capital. Does that mean we should legalize living in your car?

No. Even if we accept that some people are going to choose to live in them, regardless, the overall policy has to address what the overall population is going to do.

The cap on these smaller units is a reasonable trade off, if the developers who want to use this code change really are sincere about making more living arrangement choices available to college students, etc. This isn't one of those issues where a government-imposed limit on the price of a resource induces scarcity.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at October 16, 2012 10:33 PM

I'm sorry, I really don't follow. This is not a public health or safety issue. There is nothing unsafe or unhealthy about a 150 sq ft apartment with a bathroom, cooking appliances, and proper fire exits.

There are a lot of people who want to live in SF but have difficulty affording to do so, or simply would rather spend their money on things other than a large apartment. I don't understand why we should tell them they can't live here because we're not going to allow a sufficient number of small, affordable dwelling units. If there is a demand for very small apartments, let people build them.

There are more people who want to live in SF than will fit under the current regime. Buildings must get taller and/or living spaces must get smaller and/or we must turn people away from the city. I don't see why the last option is justified.

Posted by: fixie landbaron at October 17, 2012 11:19 AM

Passed. From the San Francisco Chronicle, S.F. supervisors back micro-apartments:

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to give pint-size apartments a try, approving legislation that would allow for the construction of hundreds of 220-square-foot residential units.

… for the legislation to pass, Wiener had to agree to cap the number of micro-apartments at 375. Under the legislation, the City Planning Department will analyze the effects of the new units once 325 of them are built.

Still needs the Mayor's approval.

As far as the observation from "fixie landbaron", above, that "there are a lot of people who want to live in SF but have difficulty affording to do so…", again, the answer is that these are not affordable housing units. From the same Chronicle article:

The cap seemed to satisfy skeptics who say that micro-units are not the solution to the city's housing problem. Supervisor David Campos, who supported the measure, said he visited one of the proposed units and was struck by how expensive rent would be for such a small space.

Emphasis mine. The reporter aludes to, but doesn't mention outright, that on a per square footage basis, these will actually be more expensive than existing market-rate units.

All this does is make another option available to college students, new-to-the-area young professionals and those like them who don't want to live with roommates.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at November 21, 2012 3:07 AM

Brahma - when people are writing their rent check each month, they don't care about the per square foot cost, or the fact that these may be expensive on a per square foot basis. They care about total cost to them - and these will DEFINITELY be some of the cheapest options in the city for overall cost for someone who doesn't want a roommate.

These WILL be affordable housing units compared to larger studio or 1 bedroom apartments, which is all that matters.

Posted by: anon at November 21, 2012 7:52 AM

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