October 31, 2013

The Proposal To Pack More People And In-Laws Into The Castro

With San Francisco’s population rising and rents rising even more, Supervisor Wiener is sponsoring an amendment to San Francisco's Planning Code which would waive existing density restrictions and Code requirements to "allow the construction of an additional dwelling unit or units within the existing envelope of a residential building or auxiliary structure on the same lot (In-Law Units) on any parcel in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District and within 1,750 feet of the District boundaries."

While constructed after 1979, any newly created units under the ordinance would still be subject to Rent Control if the existing building or any of the existing units within the existing building in which the new units built are currently subject to Rent Control.

As we wrote back in 2007: "Going green might be trendy (and we’re all for it), but as far as we’re concerned it’s a focus on density (and infill) that will define the next era in San Francisco's development, neighborhoods, and lifestyle."

San Francisco's Land Use and Economic Development Committee will review the proposed ordinance next week.

First Published: October 31, 2013 1:30 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

An innovative and smart idea. In laws have been politically toxic on the west side of the city; this is a good way for people to see that the sky won't fall if you squeeze some more housing into the same footprint of buildings in a defined part of the City. Kudos to Wiener for this - it's a small step, but we need to take lots of small steps to address the housing crisis in SF.

Posted by: Mike at October 31, 2013 3:00 PM

An innovative and smart idea. In laws have been politically toxic on the west side of the city; this is a good way for people to see that the sky won't fall if you squeeze some more housing into the same footprint of buildings in a defined part of the City. Kudos to Wiener for this - it's a small step, but we need to take lots of small steps to address the housing crisis in SF.

Posted by: Mike at October 31, 2013 3:00 PM

Why just the Castro? Better yet, get rid of rent control and the lack of housing corrects inself.

Posted by: MoneyMan at October 31, 2013 3:01 PM

Yeah, I was surprised he would shoot for local only.

My bet is that most of the "additions" will simply be legalization of unwarranted units. I know of 3 on my block.

Posted by: lol at October 31, 2013 3:14 PM

I support a balanced, well thought out approach to new affordable housing in SF.

This plan does not do that: Scott needs to address the following concerns and issues.

1. How to deal with the additional parking that can and will be generated by these units? Have you ever tried to park in the Castro, say on Hartford, or 19th, or Collingwood at 7pm? Impossible. There is simply no more parking spaces left for additional cars. Not everyone will have a car, but even if 1/2 the new tenants have a car, we have a big problem.

2. Will property owners be allowed to turn their garage, which now houses a vehicle into a rental unit? Again, more parking on the street.

3. Building code issues: Will this plan require all new units to meet the code issues of natural light, ventilation, ceiling height, room dimensions and plumbing and electrical safety issues. Will these units be fully sprinklered?

Will this create a further class of sub-standard housing with high rents or will this address the need for more housing? I have my doubts.

My projection is that a lot of property owners, esp SFR owners will oppose this for the reasons I have noted.

More crowding, street parking,increased density, and quality of housing all need to be addressed by Scott.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 3:18 PM

Isn't the provision subjecting these new units to rent control preempted by state law (as the first certificate of occupancy would be post-1979)?

@ Futurist--how exactly does the creation of new units "with high rents"--i.e., for which market demand is strong--fail to address "the need for more housing"? If no one wanted to rent the units then, yes, they would fail to address the need for more housing. But if people are willing to pay more to live in a dark, low-ceilinged in law in the Castro than for a two-bedroom home in Pittsburg, isn't the Bay Area's need for new housing being well addressed by Wiener's ordinance?

And if one side effect of more density is that parking becomes harder to find, so be it. That's probably a necessary intervening step before Muni service improves. The emergence of Lyft, Uber, etc., also alleviates pressure for convenient street parking.

Posted by: observant neighbor at October 31, 2013 3:51 PM

No, this ordinance is not being "well addressed" at all.

When we start to accept a dark, low ceilinged inlaw in The Castro as a solution to housing, we simply become a 3rd world country in that aspect. I want to see Scott's proposal in more detail, as to my concerns that I brought up.

Secondly, if a single family house is not subject to rent control, then the inlaw unit will not be either. Inlaws largely are located in a SFR.

Thirdly, the off street parking issue is a serious one. Muni improvement will hardly address this, either will the other (so called) transit options.

Housing should be created, at all income levels, that is safe, habitable and humane, in different neighborhoods along major transit lines. Not squeezing in a sub-standard studio into a single family residence.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 4:09 PM

Have you ever tried to park in the Castro, say on Hartford, or 19th, or Collingwood at 7pm

It has always been that way. After 7PM, I have learned it's always safer to shoot for the hills. 2 blocks higher and the crowds are thinner.

I live around there, and do not own a car. Out of 4 direct neighbors, 2 do not own a car. One takes a Google Bus to MV.

The guy next door has BOTH an unwarranted inlaw AND a garage. The typical footprint of a house in the Castro is 1200sf. A one-car garage and other utilities areas probably use 1/2. You're left with 600sf on the garden side which is more than enough for a small inlaw unit.

Posted by: lol at October 31, 2013 4:27 PM

Fine, lol for your anecdotes. I'm sure there are other stories out there like yours.

But, you're underplaying the parking issue. And it is just as tight farther up the hill on Diamond or Eureka or Noe.

My opinion is not to "cram" more housing into an already dense area. It would most likely be substandard and poorly constructed. And high priced, if it's not under the rent control guidelines.

Again, best solution is new, quality housing on major transit corridors, not slapped into our neighborhoods.

I don't think Scott has thought this one thru very well.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 4:51 PM

Moneyman, the reason for "local only" is that this proposal would never fly citywide. Wiener is hoping that there are fewer NIMBYs in the Castro. Hope he's right.

Agree 100% with futurist.

Posted by: Mike at October 31, 2013 4:57 PM

to paraphrase futurist:

"I support housing for cars, not for people"

Posted by: lyqwyd at October 31, 2013 5:06 PM

LOL: you can try lyqwyd to denigrate what I say all you want.

But why not address those issues I brought up? Seems like that would be a more intelligent retort.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 5:12 PM

futurist,

Drive up higher than 20th all around Sanchez and there's room after 7PM if you're not afraid of stairs.

When I had a car I would never spend more than 15 minutes looking for a space even after 7PM. In Paris, I could spend an hour easy on Sunday nights. We have it easy.

Posted by: lol at October 31, 2013 5:20 PM

"I support housing for cars, not for people"

I kind of agree with that. there are definitely enough people in the city already. the roads arent jammed and they dont annoy me. but making the city more crowded does.

Posted by: moto mayhem at October 31, 2013 5:31 PM

Hey, if you can't find parking at 20th and Sanchez and say, you live at Eureka and 18th, then keep walking.

I know, you can park in the Bayview district and take Muni back to your rathole inlaw.

That should work.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 5:31 PM

@Futurist

I don't need to try, you do it all by yourself! I just cut through all concern troll BS.

"How to deal with the additional parking that can and will be generated by these units?"

Simple, let the market do it! Stop subsidizing parking by giving free or cheap parking on public property. Then people can pay market rate for parking.

"Will property owners be allowed to turn their garage, which now houses a vehicle into a rental unit?"

I sure hope so! I certainly prefer a world where people can choose what they want to do than your world where people are forced to provide car storage regardless of what they want.

"Building code issues..." Of course they will require them be up to code, the only change is they won't require a parking.

"My projection is that a lot of property owners, esp SFR owners will oppose this for the reasons I have noted."

I'm an SFR owner and I heartily support the proposal! I have a huge garage full of wasted space. It can currently fit 3 cars, I would much rather have it go for housing people.

Posted by: lyqwyd at October 31, 2013 5:40 PM

Or you can go higher on 18th. Though I am not too familiar with this area.

Posted by: lol at October 31, 2013 5:45 PM

At least moto is honest, I disagree with the sentiment, but can respect that.

Posted by: lyqwyd at October 31, 2013 5:50 PM

I flat out do not want this proposal to happen. It's full of bad ideas.

It will provide substandard, non-code compliant housing.
It will increase the parking congestion that already exists in The Castro.
It will not alleviate the housing problem in our city.
It will not make housing more "affordable".

If our city leaders think that putting people in "garages" to live is a solution, then they really don't have a solution at all.

We need to build more market rate housing, in the appropriately zoned areas, along our important transit routes. That's the solution.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 6:36 PM

I think it's a great idea and I'd hope the Supervisor continues his campaign to increase Muni capacity and reliability. The 3-car trains are a great start: hope we get to 4 soon. Muni's also trying to consolidate stops so it can get thru town faster than 3 miles an hour, increase bus-only lanes, etc., and gets resistance every step of the way, but Wiener is again correctly pushing for these changes. He's being consistent here by pointing out the Bay Area needs housing for people who don't own cars (40 % of adults in the Upper Market/Castro area) in places with good transit. The codes right now force them to subsidize a parking space they don't want or need. This is the right kind of future for neighborhoods like the Castro, the Mission, Duboce Triangle, Hayes Valley, Soma.

Posted by: Friscan at October 31, 2013 7:34 PM


Geez. Who said this will allow non-code-compliant housing? As density increases, observance of the fire code, for instance, needs to be more vigilant, not less.

There are a lot of homes that can create an inlaw unit with airy, pleasant rooms that meet all code requirements. Those that cannot will not have inlaw units -- its that simple. The building code isn't bent for renos to SFRs, and it won't be for inlaws either.

The Castro is full of huge houses with one or two people living in them. A lot of those folks have owned their homes for decades and have a very low tax basis, and would moreover be hit with high capital gains taxes if they ever sold and downsized. So they rattle around in these huge homes while newcomers to the city squeeze into 2800/month studios or increasingly dense shared housing.

Moreover, a lot of these homeowners are getting older, and are seeing 0.8% interest returns on their savings, and are getting a bit stretched to make ends meet.

The plan to allow more inlaw units neatly addresses all of these issues.

Regarding the 'parking issue' -- anybody renting one of these inlaws will be aware of the (already) challenging situation, and will simply choose a different location if they must retain their car in street parking. The Castro is served by Muni, zip cars and their like, and all of the corporate shuttles, and folks who have jobs and lifestyles compatible with these options will be the tenants in these units.

Futurist's sentiments are, I believe, more a generational thing than a public planning position -- reminds me of the recent NYTimes article outlining how entrenched boomers are perfectly content to occupy their privileged positions at the expense of the young:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/opinion/severgnini-italians-on-the-run.html?_r=0

Scott's proposals are usually very well thought out and this one is typical in that regard. Lets do it.

Posted by: around1905 at October 31, 2013 7:45 PM

Nope around1905: your comments trying to stereotype my opinion won't work. I'm not an "entrenched boomer" whatever the hell that means. And I'm not privileged. Your comments smack of jealousy and misinformation.

My comments largely come from an architectural/construction point of view.

The Castro is not full of huge houses with two people "rattling around" in them. Another stereotype.

A lot of these properties are not currently constructed at the garage level, to accommodate building codes. Typically, ceiling heights are low, access to units is not from the street, little wall area is available for minimum light, air and ventilation. If a property has NO side setbacks (many don't) then the window issue is not workable. Yes, they must follow codes, but many of the houses at present cannot meet the codes at the garage level. That's my point.

The cost to add an inlaw is also not cheap.

Scott needs to address all of these issues in more detail. At present, I think he may be catering exclusively to his constituents in The Castro, for votes.

His proposal needs serious vetting.

Posted by: Futurist at October 31, 2013 7:59 PM

And more more thing:

Rental situations where the landlord rents out part of his/her home are far more humane and supportive of the social fabric of a neighborhood than multi-unit buildings with absentee owners. Even if the owner eventually rents out both units, he/she will keep a closer eye on what is going on and maintain a more direct relationship with their tenant.

The only 'gotcha' in all this is that owners who go this route will throw their homes under the control of the rent board and they will be participants in a highly regulated industry. Moreover, they may actually reduce the resale value of their homes (witness how many tentants are bought out so that a building can be sold vacant). Still, if they are inclined to go this route, meet all building codes, and responsibly pay attention to their obligations as landlords, then they should be supported in all possibly ways.

Posted by: around1905 at October 31, 2013 8:01 PM

I'm tired and can't really grasp how this is going to work... I agree with around1905 and Futurist. Creating in-law units in existing properties will reduce the value of the property if they ever decide to sell and the unit is occupied with an RC tenant. Also, the construction cost of a code-compliant in-law will usually be disproportionate to the amount of rent collected. Who would do actually do this?

Posted by: Denis at October 31, 2013 9:52 PM

"Yes, they must follow codes, but many of the houses at present cannot meet the codes at the garage level."

Then the units won't be built, it's as simple as that. If they have to meet the codes, but they are unable to, then no permit will be granted, and no inspections will be passed. There is no code compliance issue, as an architect you should already know that, and you probably do.

You have no evidence to claim this is going to allow units to be built that are not code compliant, that's a complete fantasy that you have invented to try and get people worried about this based on complete falsehoods. It's the same tactics the Republicans used when they started trying to scare people about death panels.

Posted by: lyqwyd at October 31, 2013 10:02 PM

Unpermitted additions are much better because

(a) they cost less to install and
(b) when its time to sell, you can rip them out and evict the tenant due to non-compliance with the code

Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at October 31, 2013 10:16 PM

@Denis

Here is how it works:

1) I have a SFH with a full garage below it that has nearly as much space as the footprint of my house. I convert the garage into an apartment. Perhaps conserving a single parking space if I so desire, or if code requires it. Then somebody moves in.

2) A person with a SFH that has a large attic converts the attic into an apartment for somebody to live in.

Now an owner could convert either space into living space, but it's not as valuable as creating an additional unit, as a unit will bring in considerable income. For example, I can already enclose most of my garage space and bring it into the livable square footage of my house. If I were to convert it into a unit, I could probably make a 1 bed, which would bring in about $2,750 a month in income for me.

In fact I already have architectural plans to convert much of my garage into an addition on my current house. My architect estimates it will cost me about $250,000 (for 700 sq ft expansion) to complete the project, and that is with significant excavation, completely redoing the foundation, and some reconfiguration of the main floor. Many properties do not need such extensive work to add space.

At $33K a year, and a gross rent multiplier of 15 (which is about average for SF) that would enhance the value of my property by about $495,000. When you factor in that the majority of the work will be financed it would effectively increase my income by about $1,500 net per month, and increase the value of my property by several hundred thousand dollars. I agree it may decrease the value of the existing house, but nowhere near the increase, so say a net increase in equity of $125-150K.

Now these numbers are projections, but they are based on over a year of research on my part, a complete remodel of my own house (and my projections were within about 15% of the real construction costs for that project).

The $250K estimate is from my architect. While it doesn't include a kitchen, it does include a very nice bathroom, which I would scale back if I were going to make this an apartment, so the addition of a kitchen would probably add about $10-$20K to the final cost.

The $2,750 per month for a 1 bed is based on my neighbor getting $3K for a crappy 600 SF 1950s era 2 bed with no parking, and the average rent for a studio being a little over $2,400. So yes, it would definitely be worth it to build the unit. Alternatively, if I actually needed it for family, it would probably be even more valuable, as buying an equivalent unit would probably cost 2-3 times what it would cost me to build it.

Posted by: lyqwyd at October 31, 2013 11:09 PM

And I'm not privileged.

You are a wealthy, white educated professional man aren't you? Don't you think there is privilege associated with that?

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at October 31, 2013 11:18 PM

Turning a SFH into a 2-unit building significantly lowers the value of the property on a price per square foot basis. Make sure your calculations consider that lyqwyd. If you were just going to sell it, I am sure you would do better to expand your current property. But it sounds like you intend to stay living there and collecting rental income. That can work out very well, especially in the long run.

I think this is a good proposal, as long as it is done right. Of course the new units will be done with plans and up to code, I can't even imagine it would be otherwise. More density is a good thing, dense cities are more productive and creative, many studies prove this.

Parking could be a problem. I think they should install the new SF Park meters neighborhood wide and use variable pricing to ensure that there are always a few spots available. Every neighborhood in San Francisco has dozens of cars that the residents hardly use sitting on the street, using scarce and valuable space. Forcing people to pay some cost to store their personal property on the street would encourage them to be more respectful of their neighbors.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at October 31, 2013 11:29 PM

I hope that along with this proposal will come some rethinking of the codes themselves. We should have codes for safety (fire, earthquake, egress, etc.). We should have codes for historic preservation (though we overdo it now). But we should not have codes for unit-level aesthetics. If someone wants to live in SF with low ceilings, or in a bedroom without a window, who am I to say that that they should instead live in a "proper" home far away from the city?

We have a legal (grandfathered) behind-the-garage unit in our building that could never be built today, because it doesn't have a street or garden outlook, as required by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. It has about 650 square feet, and according to an apartment broker I spoke with recently, it would probably rent for about $3000/month if nicely renovated. This and other similar units were "carved out" of uninhabited space in response to the post-WWII housing crunch. We should be doing the same thing today--provided that the units are safe.

It is wonderfully idealistic to declare, "Housing should be created, at all income levels, that is safe, habitable and humane, in different neighborhoods along major transit lines."

But the way to make housing more affordable "at all income levels" is to build more of it, period. And the way to reduce road congestion (and greenhouse gas emissions) is to build more of it near where people work, recreate, and have easy access to public transit--i.e., in neighborhoods like the Castro. Wiener's ordinance is an important step in this direction.

To rule out low-ceilinged in-laws on the ground that they would make San Francisco into a "Third World" country is to rule out even a modicum of socio-economic diversity in the city (apart from public housing).

Posted by: observant neighbor at October 31, 2013 11:59 PM

This discussion just gave me an idea... wonder if there's money to be made buying houses with illegal inlaws and rent-controlled tenants, evicting the tenants, rip out the unpermitted work, and convert back to a SFH, plus additional permitted living space downstairs.

Hmm.

Posted by: Jimmy the House Flipper at November 1, 2013 7:47 AM

Seems like a good idea to give owners flexibility with their building space within the constraints of safe housing that meets code.

One potential issue would be if you want to convert the space back to SFR after you have built a second unit.

Is it correct to assume that a hypothetical 'new' unit (constructed post-1979) would not be subject to rent control? (Implicitly, you could try to rent-raise your way to a vacant unit for the purposes of sale or merger as opposed to a buyout or an Ellis/OMI approach.)

I also wouldn't mind NVJ's ideas of more meters in the Castro as an approach to parking pricing. The area wants to lock itself down in anti-formula-retail-mode for the 'unique neighborhood character.' That character should be made readily accessible to all residents and visitors of the city, not for a few locals to endlessly silo their hoopties. Why not set weekend evening rates at $30/hr for spaces? Let the market price the public good. There could be an app for that.

(Related, the city should simply set up a market for units to be bought/sold/traded for mergers/additions.)

Posted by: soccermom at November 1, 2013 8:52 AM

" If someone wants to live in SF with low ceilings, or in a bedroom without a window, who am I to say that that they should instead live in a "proper" home far away from the city?"

I'm not sure about the low ceiling question but a window is required for fire safety reasons. You need an alternate escape route in the event that there's a fire raging outside of your door.

Windowless rooms are strange and depressing anyways. I spend a couple of nights in a room carved out of basement space better used as storage. It was like sleeping in a sensory deprivation chamber.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at November 1, 2013 9:36 AM

A basement unit usually occupies the same footprint than the upper levels. Apart from the various code requirements, it's all a question of access to light. One neighbor had a garden room that was pretty dark due to a staircase right over his only window. He managed to redesign the staircase and added french doors. His guest room now has plenty of light AND improved access to the garden. All for a couple of 10s of Ks. Now he wants to add a kitchen, and this ordinance will probably help.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 11:23 AM

@NVJ

"Turning a SFH into a 2-unit building significantly lowers the value of the property on a price per square foot basis. Make sure your calculations consider that lyqwyd."

There's truth to that, but not nearly as much as many people believe. I did adjust my estimate of net equity down by $125-$150K for such a reason.

Personally I have no intention of adding a unit in the garage, I plan to expand as part of the existing house. I presented it as a hypothetical situation, but based on a real choice I would have if the law were passed (and expanded to cover the entire city, as I don't live in the Castro).

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 1:35 PM

I would be careful before saying that multi-unit property is less valuable than SFH on a 1-to-1 basis.

Yes, the SFH craze is a powerful - but recent - trend. Deep pocketed families want the holy grail of the SF SFH on a 25X120 lot in a decent neighborhood. They'll pay a premium for peace, quiet, privacy.

Yes, multi-units are discounted due to very strict rental rules. Collect great market rent today to see it shrink to 30% market rent after 15 years. Ouch.

But the market works in mysterious ways... For instance all the new kids wasting their cash on rent today will want to buy tomorrow, and there will not be close to enough SFHs for them. Not all will have mad money. This deeply urban crowd will want condos and TICs. That's when your multi-unit building will be very valuable.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 2:22 PM

Two comments:

1. Note the most recent post on SS about the Mid-Market building renovations being shut down by the SF DBI for having residential units that "lack windows and are NOT code compliant". This could happen with this proposal for inlaw units added to residential in The Castro. Many property owners would prefer to avoid the DBI and just create a substandard unit to MAKE MONEY.

2. What is our underlying NEED or DESIRE to increase density in San Francisco? We are currently at about 17,000 people per square mile. Does the City not work well at our current population? What will a large population increase do to our "quality of life"? Yes, we can build up, but at what cost to the uniqueness to SF?

Example: We all know how popular Dolores Park is and we know how it can "almost" fill up on beautiful days. Now picture Dolores Park, as one example, of being filled with LITERALLY twice as many people. Do we want that, and why do we want that?

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 3:08 PM

Good questions.

1 - I am certain that these new units will be inspected and compliance will be enforced as a prerequisite to the official addition of a unit. What makes you think this will not be the case?

2 - SF is 7X7 but if we look closely 3X3 are mostly multi-units while the rest is mostly SFH in what can be qualified as a dense suburban setting.

The 3X3 high density SF is comparable to Paris, while the rest is comparable to Oakland's density.

One big issue today is what do we want SF to look like in 20 or 50 years. And whether we can still be attractive to the best and brightest so that we stay relevant in the long run.

The new kids are changing our city for the better, since they are increasing the average levels of education and income of SF.

More income and education means demand for better services associated with higher tax revenue. 2 things you want to see in any city.

Younger, more educated, wealthier. We should be so lucky.

Now we need to keep attracting more of these, and we need to retain the ones we already gained.

But rent control and prop 13 insanity is imposing limitations on turnover. The poor and the elderly are hogging the units that younger affluent families should be moving into. And this will get worse and worse as the generation that moved during the 90s and Naughts are now getting very skittish about moving out.

This means we need to increase density to make up for it. Every neighborhood Should be asked to chip in, including the Castro, NV, etc... For the Catro, they're only trying to add a few units here and there. The footprint and heights will stay the same, preserving the look and feel of these neighborhoods. Of course driving will suck, but the driver generation should have understood by now.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 3:41 PM

Futurist - I think the need to increase density is simply a combination of population growth plus the increased demand for urban living. The latter is driven by the improvement of urban cores around the country plus a new generation who don't really care for the suburban lifestyle.

You're right that the city shouldn't just grow unconstrained. City leaders need to steer growth in the right directions to avoid past mistakes.

SF isn't anywhere near the density that will significantly degrade the standard of living. Sure, it will change the city and even degrade some aspects like the ability to easily find a street parking spot. But we need to balance those minor negatives against the positives of providing a great home for new arrivals.

Finally as I've said before the greater Bay Area should absorb the bulk of population gains. Fremont, San Jose, or Oakland individually could absorb more new residents than SF can simply because they're bigger. But look into those cities and you'll find that they receive the same push back from their incumbent residents for the same reasons that you cite. Plus someone intent on living in a dense urban environment won't be looking at those less dense cities (or at least not today).

All of the Bay Area should plan to absorb more residents, SF included. It really isn't reasonable to expect to freeze time and accept no change. The SF Bay Area is a dynamic desirable place and with that comes constant change. Some of bad, most of it good.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at November 1, 2013 3:43 PM

1) I have no idea why you think this supports your postion. The units were not code compliant, and the work was stopped. That's exactly what will happen with this new law. as I've said repeatedly, non-compliant units will not be allowed. Only illegal units are built non-compliant, as they are done outside of the view of the DBI.

2) SF is unique because it is dense. More density makes it more unique.

But yes, there is a need to grow, as the population is growing. You may not like new people coming to SF, but it's going to happen. Thus space for them NEEDS to be built.

"... popular Dolores Park is..."

So your position is that since Dolores park almost fills up on nice days we should not build any new housing.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 3:45 PM

Some of those are "interesting" answers to my questions. Some of them are questionable. Some are "loaded".

1. I am NOT certain these units will be inspected and built to code. My reason: DBI is notoriously difficult to work with. I've been there, a LOT. Property owners know this and would prefer to not deal with them, hence, build without permits and no inspections. Lots of inlaw units are very easy to hide.

2. What exactly does "relevant" mean? Why is that important? Do you think we could become Detroit someday?

3. You said "younger, more educated and wealthy" your words. Ok, cool. Then we agree, as I have said many times here before, The City is NOT for everyone, it's for those who can afford it. And I'm fine with that.

4. I really dislike your term "hogging" the units that younger families "should" be moving into. Your statement is full of derision and smacks of telling people what they should do. Not cool.

5. Increased density in our neighborhoods can and will impact the quality of life. You're using the term "suburban" in a derisive manner. Those neighborhoods give many families a choice for a low scale, real family-type character. Nothing wrong with that. Should our city evolve to only serve the "new kids"? No.

To paraphrase a great Eagles song "The Last Resort", do we keep growing and growing just to "satisfy our endless needs"?

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 3:58 PM

People already build illegal units. This law will make that less common. People being resistant to working with the DBI has nothing to do with this law, and thus your claims about non-compliant units in relation to this proposed law are completely unfounded, and you've provided nothing to support your claim. In fact the only thing you've provided refutes your claim.

"Increased density in our neighborhoods can and will impact the quality of life"

Yes, and many of us think that impact will be positive. We appear to be in the majority because SF keeps growing, and the growth killing laws enacted in the 60s and 70s have largely been repealed.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 4:08 PM

futurist,

1. I am NOT certain these units will be inspected and built to code. My reason: DBI is notoriously difficult to work with. I've been there, a LOT. Property owners know this and would prefer to not deal with them, hence, build without permits and no inspections. Lots of inlaw units are very easy to hide.

OK. Let me try to understand. The proposal wants people to add new units legally. But since "DBI is notoriously difficult to work with" they will not do it legally.

And what prevents them from doing the same today? Illegal is illegal, right? Your assumptions are not very logical.

2 - "Relevant" means being the destination of tomorrow's winners. The dotcom kids were laughed at in 2002, but they are the ones creating wealth today and hiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. All it takes is skip one business cycle and innovation could move somewhere else. We would never become Detroit, but we can become Oakland, a older powerhouse that is now more a bedroom community that a business hub (not 100% true, but close enough).

3 - These younger more affluent bring their lifestyle with them. Some of it you don't like...

4 - When I get old I'll move to something smaller more manageable and with no stairs. There's no derision in that and it will be my choice. But why leave a $700/month 3/2 to move to a $3000/month 1/1 apartment? If people want to stay in their market rate place, fine. Their choice. But subsidizing rentals prevents people from having a choice. Same thing with prop 13. These laws FORCE the choice. And prevent natural turnover.

After a while, these "non-choices" become entitlements and the natural way of life. This system is broken.

5 - Not derisive. It's very close to reality. People drive to the store, to work, to pick up the kids. Something I almost never see in Paris except for the most affluent with a parking space. The lifestyle I see in NV is close to the lifestyle I see in the greater suburbs of Paris.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 4:23 PM

"Increased density in our neighborhoods can and will impact the quality of life"

"Yes, and many of us think that impact will be positive. We appear to be in the majority because SF keeps growing, "

Put me on the side against more people. I like big buildings, but I prefer big units. I live in a 2100sq ft. 4 bdr condo with just my wife and dog. Anything less would be too cramped. SF is nice because its not as cramped as Manhattan and i like it that way. I also think it should all be market rate. If san francisco gets filled in with nicer building and units are more expensive, so be it. as long as the demand is there, we are in a capitalist country. Why not build a kingdom?

Posted by: moto mayhem at November 1, 2013 4:27 PM

Oh Density, how we love you, let me count the ways.

1.Non-devlepement of new water supplies. (of course conservation(deprivation) will take care of this problem

2. Full Sewer pipes and system. Of course they are more than 100 years old and will continue to service the increased loads. Just build more treatment plants and outfalls along the ocean.

3. Where are all of the bikes going to be driven and parked?

4. The noise of the increased density will be muffled by the number of new buildings being constructed.

5. And of course our new skyline filled with ORHs soaring over the existing drab skyline will further insure ever more reason for new people to move here.

Posted by: contrarian at November 1, 2013 4:28 PM

Last, but not least:

do we keep growing and growing just to "satisfy our endless needs"?

Well, you could also argue that the new people want to "right-size" their life. Instead of a 4500sf McMansion with a 3 car garage in the boonies, they want a 1300sf 3/2 in a walkable area and access to transit with maybe 1 car. And they want to travel around and have kids too.

It's more sustainable, much truer to the Eagle's song underlying message.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 4:30 PM

Well, I was almost going to say thanks to lol for some interesting comments.

Until I got to his last one once again, as many times before, his derision, maybe jealousy, maybe hate, maybe who knows what for one specific neighborhood in SF, and deciding to compare it to a suburb. It never ends.

The constant comparison to Paris is truly boring.

And useless.

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 4:31 PM

This is because NV used to be a suburb in all practicality. Then more suburbs grew but NV was never converted to a denser community.

And Paris. Forgive me for setting a high standard for SF (transit, culture, dynamism).

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 4:38 PM

1.Non-devlepement of new water supplies. (of course conservation(deprivation) will take care of this problem

Nevermind the fact that pushing development out into the suburbs makes this problem much worse, since average water usage is higher there.

2. Full Sewer pipes and system. Of course they are more than 100 years old and will continue to service the increased loads. Just build more treatment plants and outfalls along the ocean.

100-year-old sewers need to be maintained either way. The biggest problem as I understand it are the combined sewer and storm drains. By all means, charge new developments with fees to fund expansion if necessary, but I'm not convinced this is the giant issue opponents make it out to be.

3. Where are all of the bikes going to be driven and parked?

Bikes require a trivial amount of space compared to cars. To say "everyone must have 300 square feet for their car storage-- but we cannot possibly afford another 10 square feet for a bike" is silly.

Posted by: Alai at November 1, 2013 4:42 PM

@ moto mayhem; THANK YOU.

I agree completely. Let's work toward this city NEVER becoming as dense as Manhattan. Let's work toward RESPONSIBLE and CAREFUL growth, not some politician's quick fix idea to allow basement storage rooms to become actual living units.

One of the great qualities of San Francisco is, in fact, the density we have NOW, and how why so many people love the fact that this "big city" feels like a small town.

Let's not lose that quality. I too like and enjoy my 2700 sf NV home, and NO ONE is going to tell me I need something smaller. Ever.

That will be my choice and should always remain so.

We have to watch out for these Socialists. They are getting out of hand.

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 4:49 PM

There we go again with the (start shaky voice) "MAN{gasp}HATTAN{gasp}IZATIOOOON" (sobs uncontrollably)

We're talking about granny units, not WTC. Get a grip.

Sigh. this discussion was so reasonable. I wondered when we would get a Godwin law-type event.

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 4:57 PM

My question for those who worship at the threshold of the shrine of density ism what city would they prefer San Francisco to become?

Manhattan? Tokyo? Chicago?

I don't think one could ever build enough housing to satisfy all the people who may want to live in San Francisco. It's funny that some of the neighborhoods with the highest psf real estate costs are not the zones with the highest density.

(Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, Marina, Presidio Heights, Sea Cliff, etc. etc.)

Posted by: anon at November 1, 2013 4:58 PM

Yes, how terrible Manhattan and Paris are, the horror!

SF is great, people are going to come here because of that. They are going to live somewhere, might as well make it decent, legal housing. The alternative is crappy illegal housing and overcrowded apartment sharing.

SF is the 13th densest US city, we've got a long way to go before we reach Manhattan type density, or even Brooklyn type density. Your can rest your fears, as it will certainly be long after you've moved on to the next life.

It's funny how you claim somebody is trying to force you to do anything.

The proposed law isn't going to force you to do anything to your house. Nobody on this thread says you need do anything to your house.

The reality is you want to force others to do what you want them to do: pay for your parking and driving, and not expand housing in their own property.

The idea that it's somehow socialist to allow people to have more control over their own property.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 5:00 PM

And yes, anon. You are correct.

And the reasons that people will pay for the high cost of homes and condos in those neighborhoods you mentioned is precisely BECAUSE of their low density, and their walkable, small scale quality of life.

Our low density is an essential component to our desirability.

And we simply don't want so called inlaw units, I mean substandard hovels anywhere near our neighborhood.

Our city leaders should focus on building quality, market rate housing that is livable and humane, along our important transit corridors.

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 5:09 PM

That's right, nobody here wants substandard hovels anywhere in SF, which is why we support this change that Supervisor Wiener is proposing. We support code compliant unit additions to properties if the owner wants to do such.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 5:32 PM

I too like and enjoy my 2700 sf NV home, and NO ONE is going to tell me I need something smaller. Ever.

It's a good thing you made clear earlier in the thread that you are not privileged or entitled. Otherwise, someone might have misconstrued this comment.

Posted by: shza at November 1, 2013 5:35 PM

Ok shza.

You and others can call it whatever you want. And make sure that I am the ONLY one who EVER comments on this site who owns property in SF. Many own more, some don't. That's life. That's reality. Deal with it.

And I consider my self grateful and thankful for being part of this great city.

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 5:45 PM

You just don't want any newcomers to become part of this great city...

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 1, 2013 6:12 PM

And at some point futurist was probably a newcomer. At the time had anyone told him he was not welcome he'd have picketed city hall asking for fair treatment. Entertaining...

Posted by: lol at November 1, 2013 7:23 PM

Oh please. Grow up.

Of course I was a newcomer, like many of us. The City was welcoming then and it still is today.

Stop the personal attacks because they make you both look stupid. If that's all you have to say, then please stop coming here.

This city is full of new housing on Market St, from 8th to Castro. It will all fill up, but it will also be livable, well built, quality housing with plenty of intelligent, educated people who can afford it. Read my comments AGAIN and see where I continually support, as others do, new housing in the appropriate locations.

But it won't be cheap, dark, basement ratholes built without permits where the landlord will still try to charge $3k for a studio.

Posted by: Futurist at November 1, 2013 8:17 PM

I find it amusing that Futurist wants us to "watch out for these Socialists" when his philosophy on parking can be summarized as "From each according to his ability [you can build housing? Then you better build parking too], to each according to his need [everyone has a right to parking]".

Socialism is very popular in America--when it comes to cars. Not housing, not food, not healthcare. But when it comes to parking, it's the government's duty to see that everyone's needs are fulfilled.

Posted by: Alai at November 2, 2013 1:09 AM

Cool down futurist.

"Grow up"
"Stupid"

You provide no arguments to wild claims. We call you out. You then show your true colors. We call you out. Then we get these. Sigh.

Posted by: lol at November 2, 2013 7:47 AM

My question for those who worship at the threshold of the shrine of density ism what city would they prefer San Francisco to become?

Manhattan? Tokyo? Chicago?

Um, Chicago is significantly less dense than SF, so I doubt that many hoping for a more dense city hope that we empty out to drop to Chicago's density.

Posted by: anon at November 2, 2013 11:16 AM

Here's a link to the code change being considered:

http://www.sfbos.org/ftp/uploadedfiles/bdsupvrs/committees/materials/lu131063tdr.pdf

I think, like lots of zoning code, this is confusingly written. On one hand the in law unit is supposed to go within the existing building envelope. On the other hand, the code allows for deviation from rear yard and open space rules. So do those changes only apply for legal non-conforming residences? Can't I expand my home under one permit, then go back and (ta-da!) add an in-law?

While I am generally in favor of letting people build what they want within reason, I am with Futurist more than most on this topic. There are reasons we have density limits and I am not sure if this kind of fudging is the purpose of thoughtful long-term planning.

Rear yard green space on a standard rectangular SF block takes on a common good quality that will be pushed out if everyone starts putting in in-law units and having rear yard limits waived.

We have open space minimums for a reason. I don't buy "If people want to live in a cramped space, let 'em" argument for the same reason I don't buy, "If at 13 they want to drop out of school to work as seamstresses, let 'em." It's not the city we should be organizing. And your neighbors being allowed to pack in more people has externalities for the community, even if you choose not to do it.

If we think people don't need cars, we should have an ongoing cost for car ownership within city limits. That one can buy a 12 year old Honda for $3K that will run for another 10 years is a problem that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. It's too cheap to have a car if you aren't going to require people to have garage parking. People who don't 'Lyft' (just the name makes me cringe) will keep buying cars. Cheap cars that run forever.

We have a an existing model for pedestrian-oriuented, non-car-friendly, public-transit-focused, non-formula-retail, metered-parking-everywhere, 3-4-story max-neighborhoods in our very midst. It's Chinatown. I'm not equating this particular in-law step as "Chinatown-ization" but if we keep allowing these gradual changes, Chinatown everywhere is what we will get. Is that what we want?

I think we should be solving San Francisco's affordable housing problem through the improvement of neighborhoods in Vallejo and Oakland, places where we already have existing ferry and mass transit systems set up. At the very least the Bayview or Visitacion Valley.

Somehow it seems wrong to expect people to live in closets in the Castro.*

(*Right? I mean, I draft a basically serious comment and then undercut my earnestness with that kind of humor. Ridiculous.)

Posted by: soccermom at November 2, 2013 2:54 PM

As someone who used to live in the U.K., trust me, building more housing, or creating more density will not make housing less expensive, just more crowded. Britain is now the most densely populated country in Europe. More density than India, China or Japan. With over 3 million housing units built in the last 10 years, prices continue to rise as massive immigration creates the worst housing shortage in the U.K. since WWII.

The San Francisco Bay Area, like London, is very desirable, and no matter how expensive, people still want to move here, both for the economic opportunities and the lifestyle. I submit that even if rent control were removed, and 100K new housing units were built in the city prices would not drop. At some point desirable areas will have to decide if trying to squeeze more people in makes things better or cheaper. I would say "NO" on both counts.

Posted by: FromMaidenhead at November 2, 2013 6:39 PM

^The UK is not more densely populated than Japan or India (not even close), so I don't know why you're lying.

Even China, while technically less densely populated than the UK, is only that way because half of the country's land is literally impossible to live on.

And "most densely populated country in Europe"? What?!?! The Netherlands, Belgium, Malta, and half a dozen other small European countries are significantly more dense than the UK.

Posted by: anon at November 2, 2013 6:51 PM

Not a lie....
"As a result England has become the sixth most densely populated major nation, according to the analysis from the MigrationWatch think-tank. Only Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea, Lebanon and Rwanda have more people per square mile."
(Dailymail November 18, 2011)

Hey Anon" (great original name btw), before you post people are lying, why don't you take your "facts" somewhere else. It is common knowledge in Europe about the overpopulation problem of England.

"The number of people living in England has overtaken the population density of Holland, which has traditionally been the most densely-populated major nation on the continent"
The Telegraph Sept. 16, 2008 from article
"England is most crowded country in Europe "

Posted by: FromMaidenhead at November 2, 2013 7:56 PM

FWIW:

England has a greater population density than India, Japan, Netherlands, or Belgium.

UK has a lower population density than India, Japan, Netherlands, or Belgium.

Not sure why it matters to SF though.

Posted by: Jake at November 2, 2013 8:34 PM

@FromMaidenhead - your first post said UK. It wasn't until you were called on your lies that you changed your story to England.

Posted by: anon at November 2, 2013 10:13 PM

While you are all clucking about which country has what density, sadly the point was lost, which is how much housing would have to be built in San Francisco to supposedly try to reduce the cost of housing?

I myself am not against more housing, but I do also laugh at the idea that if we just built more housing it would reduce the cost, for this would not be the case. I know of many friends who would move to San Francisco if it were slightly less expensive, so what you would really end up with is a much more crowded city. If living in San Francisco is as desirable as it seems, it should be a goal you need to strive for, not something that you expect government policy to provide. Rent Control needs to go away and the true cost of living in San Francisco should be as expensive as it is desirable.

Posted by: AnonToo at November 3, 2013 1:51 AM

San Francisco would not be less desirable to me if it were more crowded, but MUCH, MUCH more so. Get us up to 40,000 ppsm and I'd be in heaven.

Posted by: anon at November 3, 2013 8:53 AM

O.K. "anon", so you have a Hong Kong fantasy for San Francisco, which is fine, BUT, thanks again for MISSING the POINT.

Again and again, people post here saying if we build more housing costs will come down. I am saying that will NOT be the case. Desirable cities are very expensive no matter how much housing is built. Tokyo, N.Y., London, etc. are all very dense and very expensive. We have a worldwide population explosion!

I like city life myself, sold my flat in 94115, and now live on the 18th floor of a high rise in a very walkable part of town. I'm not interested in living in a Noe Valley or Potrero Hill house with yard & garage, then pretending that is city life.

Posted by: AnonToo at November 3, 2013 9:47 AM

^I've never said that. Change rent control, prop 13, and ridiculously low building heights across SF and three year long approval processes, which will cause a gigantic increase in housing being built and a reshuffling of the market, and prices will stop increasing at the enormous rates that we're used to. Perhaps not come down in nominal terms, but probably in real terms over time.

Also, 40,000 ppsm is not Hong Kong, but more like Brooklyn levels of density. Perfection, in my mind.

Posted by: anon at November 3, 2013 9:55 AM

Well, Brooklyn may be perfection for some, but I would prefer Copenhagen or some cities in Sweden or Norway. (All very expensive cities loaded with people sitting around all day in cafes drinking coffee and riding bikes, sort of like...eh...San Francisco :-/ )

Posted by: AnonToo at November 3, 2013 7:14 PM

^That's be fine too, though that would require converting many auto lanes to bikes only infrastructure, which many folks here seem to hate.

Posted by: anon at November 3, 2013 9:00 PM

Anyone know offhand if this new code will allow for prefab cottages in the backyard? We have a 125' lot with a chunk of unused space - what is the current % of open garden space required? It is SO difficult to find this information on the DBI site. Thanks!

Posted by: MichelleL at November 4, 2013 1:44 PM

Scott Wiener is a lawyer (and I am not) so I have to assume that he's done his homework when he says that any new sub-standard, additional dwelling units constructed as allowed by this proposed ordinance "would still be subject to Rent Control if the existing building…in which the new units built are currently subject to Rent Control."

Like observant neighbor; I don't see how this measure is going to get around the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act when the new units created will have their certificate of occupancy granted after Costa-Hawkins came into effect and hence are exempted from being subject to rent control.

Either he's hanging the rent control preservation provision on some obscure legal angle, or he's being incredibly cynical, and knows full well that if this proposed ordinance passes, the provisions that allow homeowners to add units will go into effect, the units added will go on the market, litigation will follow, and then the parts preserving rent control will get thrown out in court, but the parts that allow owners to build the s-called "in law" units will stay in effect, and thus the landed gentry in the Castro will get a legislatively-granted windfall (which they will probably happily take a portion of and contribute to Supervisor Wiener's next election campaign).

Hopefully this will all get aired out in committee.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at November 5, 2013 7:02 AM

landed gentry

Class envy much, Brahma? My Castro owner neighbors are everything but gentry. If anything the wealthiest guy I know on my block is a lawyer renter who is being bought out of his rentals every 3 to 5 years.

If we define gentry as a population that lives from the fruits of other people's work, then look no further than some rent controled tenants who 1) pay 1/3 of market rate or less 2) will demand 100k or more to vacate property they do not own 3) make a big stink when the extortion has not worked out.

Posted by: lol at November 5, 2013 8:12 AM

One could argue that this will cause more evictions.

If the city is going to offer amnesty to the owners of these illegal units than it must be have plans to increase and enforce more fines and penalties for not legalizing them. Otherwise, why would an owner go to the expense of legalization?

Most illegal in-law units are in dark basements with low ceilings, and strange floor plans. We are not talking about adding space that has significant value. In most cases by changing the status of the building it actually reduces the value of the building.

If an in-law unit in a single-family house becomes legal than it is no longer a single-family home it is a 2-unit building. As a 2-unit building it is subject to all of the controls of the SF Rental Ordinance. This will significantly decrease the value of the property.

If an in-law in a 2-unit building is legalized the building becomes a 3-unit building. Now it is not eligible to bypass the condo lottery. Since there will be no lottery for 10 years, this will significantly reduce the value.

If you have an illegal in-law in a 4-unit building and you legalize the in-law the building becomes a 5-unit building. 5-unit buildings are no longer considered residential homes therefore purchase loans will be commercial loans. Offered by fewer lenders and at much higher interest rates requiring larger down payments.

The only situation in which the value of the building could be improved by legalization is in a 3-unit building.

If I owned an illegal unit in anything other than a 3 unit building. I would come clean, pull the permits to remove the unit and evict the tenant.

Posted by: Gary Belk at December 3, 2013 2:33 PM

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