Distribution of Developments in San Francisco's Housing Pipeline

According to our survey of the Planning Department’s data, there are roughly 8,100 net-new units of housing currently under construction in San Francisco and 5,600 units for which the building permits have been issued, approved or requested and construction could soon begin.

Another 28,300 units of housing have been approved to be developed, but that includes the 10,500 units by Candlestick, 7,800 units on Treasure Island and 5,680 units at Parkmerced, projects which have overall timelines measured in decades, not years.

And with proposals for an additional 12,600 units of housing currently being reviewed by the City’s Planning Department, San Francisco’s overall Housing Pipeline currently totals roughly 55,000 units, up from 50,000 at the end of last year.

For context, roughly 3,000 units of housing wrapped-up construction in San Francisco last year and a total of 13,000 units were added from 2007 through 2014 (27,000 units since the year 2000).

UPDATE: Due to a table error, our original post undercounted the number of units under construction by 800 while overstating the number of units awaiting a permit by roughly the same amount. The numbers have since been corrected above.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by GoBlueInOakland

    These are still incredibly pathetic numbers. By contrast, our tech neighbor to the north – Seattle – delivered almost 5,000 apartment units in 2014, in a City with a population roughly 75% of that of San Francisco. (that is – roughly 200,000 less residents). Unit delivery for 2015 in Seattle is projected to easily top that. (around 7,000 units)

    But what we really need, is a housing moratorium.

    • Posted by RAGING BEAR

      Wow. Seattle’s experience provides a good perspective on SF’s efforts.

    • Posted by Serge

      Seattle is also 3 times the size of San Francisco. There seems to be a lot more available land in Seattle-proper as well. For instance, around South Lake Union there is a magnitude of parking lots ripe for development. Pretty sure that has a lot to do with it.

      • Posted by GoBlueInOakland

        Complete straw man argument. SF is way less dense than NYC, therefore NYC should build even less than SF. Which would be a retarded argument to make.

        You build to accommodate your growth – and change your land use regulations to accommodate it. SF has chosen an anti-growth path and VOLUNTARILY restricted supply via government fiat.

        • Posted by Serge

          The size difference is fact and attributes to the difference in the absolute number of units built.

          SF also has quite a few good height-limits to prevent completely ludicrous properties like this from being built

          • Posted by sf

            Love that building.

          • Posted by Serge

            You must be talking about the firehouse at 1088 Green. The fact that high rises like this popped up on Russian Hill is an atrocity.

        • Posted by bananas

          That is not what a “straw man” argument is.

      • Posted by John

        There are plenty of parking lots and abandoned ware houses and empty gas stations in SoMa, Richmond, Dogpatch, and Portrero. But the height limits in those areas are arbitrarily 4-stories so not much impact building in those areas.

    • Posted by Orland

      Seattle is roiled in controversy over “co-housing” (mini – units) which are being built throughput the neighborhoods to the protest of its own no-growth faction.

      • Posted by GoBlueInOakland

        The “protest” is going nowhere.

        • Posted by Orland

          Really? Legislation was passed last October significantly restricting where allowable micro-units can be built and imposing minimum requirements (mandatory baths and full kitchens as well as parking ratios) for all other “aPodments” drawing into question their continued viability. For purposes of our current discussion, the number of new dwelling units to come on line in Seattle in the future may be reduced as a result.

    • Posted by zig

      In fairness Seattle is spatially much different than SF

  2. Posted by Jake

    According to the Seattle Dept of Planning website (namelink):

    Seattle net new housing units added since 2004: 29,330. (They picked that period to feature, not me). By comparison, from the SF planning data, for years 2005-2014 SF added 21,343.

    Seattle has 83 sq miles of land. SF has 47 sq miles of land.
    29,330 housing units / 83 sq miles = 353 housing units per sq mile.
    21,343 housing units / 47 sq miles = 454 housing units per sq mile.
    Which city has added more housing density in the past decade?

    Those who rant by the stats…best choose them like they choose their weapons, carefully and with a grip on the non-lethal bits.

    BTW, Seattle today doesn’t even have as high a population density as the SF of 100 years ago or of the Sunset today or of the Richmond plus all of GG Park. Seattle is much closer in density to San Jose than to SF. I think it is generally easier and less expensive to build where the existing density is lower, though perhaps someone with knowledge of the development costs in both Seattle and SF could elaborate. Good for Seattle, then, since they have a hundred years of catching up to do and appear to have lost ground in the most recent decade.

    • Posted by GoBlueInOakland

      The “but we have more density so building less units is ok” argument is complete straw man. The relative densities are completely irrelevant. NYC is way more dense than SF, but that doesn’t mean NYC should build less units to accommodate ITS population growth.

      There is PLENTY of land to build on in SF. The entirety of the constraints on supply in SF are voluntary – they are a function of government supply restrictions via zoning and other land use controls – and nothing more.

      • Posted by NoeNeighbor

        Maybe people don’t want to live in the same density as New York, You seem to think that any limitation is “arbitrary”, but maybe you should consider why people don’t want growth.

        • Posted by GoBlueInOakland

          Its not the “people”‘s business to dictate to private property owners what they do with their own property. The entitled public of SF (and California generally) is operating under this fallacy that they should someone get to dictate what other people do with their private property – without paying a dime to do so.

          We don’t have a “Automobile Design Commission” dictating what make, model or color of car I get to purchase or park in front of my house. We don’t have a “Sneaker Brand Commission” dictating what kinds of shoes we all get to wear. Zoning is no different.

          It is one thing to have a system of loose land use controls to peremptorily avoid to creation of private nuisances by preventing glue factories from operating next to residences. But what we have in SF (and California in general) is so far from that as to be laughable.

          If you don’t want to live in a high rise – fine. Don’t move into one. But that’s as far as your rights should extend.

          • Posted by Ray

            Growth restrictions support the property values of all: 1) by limiting development, obviously but also 2) by creating a desirable place to develop.

            I you don’t want to live in a city that limits growth – fine. Don’t move into one.

            I hear Seattle is nice.

          • Posted by Orland

            Your first paragraph exemplifies the oxymoron that is “property rights.” Property has no rights whatsoever. People (including individual “owners”) and Society as a whole have interests in and rights to property. The exact mix is entirely a matter of consensus of opinion and ever-changing. If you have a different opinion as to what we in SF/Calif. believe are your rights do with “your” property what you chose, try to enforce them.

          • Posted by bananas

            There are actually quite a bit of restrictions on cars – even more so in CA.

          • Posted by Futurist

            It IS the people’s business to define limits and uses of private property. It’s called zoning and planning codes. Pretty simple and clear,don’t you think?

          • Posted by GoBlueInOakland

            Ray – the purpose of growth restrictions is NOT to support property values. The fact that NIMBYs have hijacked the land use planning process to use it for that does not mean its the intended purpose of land use law NOR does it justify it.

        • Posted by Futurist

          I agree. That’s why we live here in SF and not NY. Quality of life can be defined in many different ways, but our quality of life is envied by many, and it’s very livable.

          Goblue of course has it wrong. The public DOES have a right to decide on how private land is used, thru zoning and planning codes that are designed for the benefit of the PUBLIC AT LARGE, to protect open space, to regulate light and air, and density. I suppose Goblue can always go live somewhere that is growing wilding out of control with unlimited growth..say like Shanghai.

          • Posted by zig

            Zoning is also to keep out people you don’t like

      • Posted by Jake

        I didn’t make the argument you are attacking. You seem to want to makeup straw men, not me.

        I did point out facts: (1) SF is considerably denser and smaller than Seattle and (2) for the most recent decade outpaced Seattle in the rate at which it increased density. If that continues, then arithmetic tells us that SF will always be denser than Seattle and by an increasing amount. So, unless you expect SF to add more land area, it looks like SF is ahead, has been getting farther ahead, and there are no signs it will not stay far far ahead.

        Notice that this doesn’t depend on “relative densities” at all. Not a bit. If both cities were empty with zero housing units and then both built at the rates they have over the past decade, SF would be denser than Seattle.

        If you think normalizing growth by land area (the dread density) is “completely irrelevant”, then little wonder you also object to the planning codes. Cause they do care about little details like density of housing units. If those are your “voluntary constraints”, well then, I guess the city does impose them, and the citizens mostly want that imposition. Maybe your “voluntary” is our popular.

        Speaking of facts, NYC has more than 6 times the land area of SF. Not sure what you think you gain by throwing NYC in, except to avoid the fact that SF has been building more densely than Seattle. FWIW, NYC added ~190k housing units in the past decade, which is about the same rate as SF using your preferred metric of ‘net new units/existing units,’ but higher than SF using ‘net additional units/area.’ So, go figure. Maybe they have planning codes in NYC too.

        Most of your “plenty of land to build on in SF” is former industrial/port/military with varying hazmat, as can be seen in the map of SF population density at namelink. Hopefully, most of it will be remediated to be habitable, though there are some troubling signs from what has been done in HP.

        I do agree that there are voluntary constraints on the housing supply in SF. Afterall, the city government spent 20 years trying to get Mission Bay built, but developers voluntarily declined, and repeatedly so. It wasn’t until the city conceded a huge chunk to a non-property-tax paying tenant to anchor it (UCSF) and the dotcom boom brought development to the edge of MIssion Bay, that developers voluntarily went ahead with what the city had wanted for a generation. Amazing how many developers volunteer when there are profits to be made.

        • Posted by Sierrajeff

          @Jake, your posts, which focus on actual facts and data, are breaths of fresh air as always, and you beat me to the punch on rejoinding @GoBlueinOAK on trying to rebut an argument you weren’t making.

      • Posted by zig

        It is not an excuse for not acting but it is indeed a strong reason for why. Seattle is full of lower density neighborhoods

  3. Posted by SocketSite

    UPDATE: Due to a table error, our original post undercounted the number of units under construction by 800 while overstating the number of units awaiting a permit by roughly the same amount. The numbers have since been corrected above.

  4. Posted by BayviewSF

    I am surprised that Richmond and Excelsior have a lot of new housing in pipeline. Are those remodel of the existing housing instead? I did not notice much construction activity in Richmond and Excelsior.

    • Posted by SocketSite

      Our numbers and map above are based on net-new units and don’t include remodeling projects unless at least one new unit is being added.

    • Posted by Jake

      The 2015 Pipeline Q2 data set at namelink has a data bug for the excelsior. They list a two unit housing project as 77 net units (268 Madison). It has been built and is only a pair of SFH. Otherwise, almost all the excelsior new units are a single proposal to demolish the Fellowship Academy and build 34 units. So, you shouldn’t see much construction in excelsior.

      The entire net gain in the plan for Richmond is about 200 units. The Richmond has ~34k housing units, so a couple hundred won’t be very noticeable. By contrast SoMa has 16 projects of 200 units or more in the pipeline report.

      BTW, SF Planning ‘s Pipeline data at namelink has a map where you can drill down to any project in the report with linkage to the spreadsheet data and to googlemaps. Not a bad graphic, actually a very useful and easy to use one. Try it.

  5. Posted by BobN

    Are the various City departments competing to produce the most incomprehensible graphics?

  6. Posted by pringles

    There’s a void around West Portal. This is prime land due to direct transit options that should be zoned accordingly.

    • Posted by Ray

      People throw “should” around in a pretty cavalier manner on this site.

    • Posted by Aaron Goodman

      exactly, three train lines, and low-scale buildings and bank parking lots and one story buildings… , UPZONE west portal, they should not be “exempt” from the density. And demand Stonestown be forward on intentions, or immenent domain the parking lots for new housing…

      don’t let only the poor neighborhoods get bulldozed, now look at the wealthy home-owner neighborhoods and fix the transit issues as a priority… infrastructure prior to more housing!!!

      • Posted by zig

        Basically on one street. There is very little in West Portal that is not SFHs

  7. Posted by timbad

    why aren’t Park Merced’s new units reflected on the map? I would have expected a big yellow or even orange blotch for a project that represents over 10% of all new pipeline housing

    • Posted by Jake

      you don’t see a big blotch for Park Merced on that heat map because it maps the 1119 projects in the pipeline, not the number of units in the projects. Park Merced is one project. You can go to the actual interactive map and recreate this heat map in about one minute of effort. Select the visualize button, plot style: Heat Map, Apply button, then zoom out. This vis tool doesn’t let you create a heat map of units so easily. The subgenius of your tax dollars is but a click away.

  8. Posted by Aaron Goodman

    The heat maps show clearly the problem…
    Without NORTH to SOUTH transit improvements along 19th or sunset blvd. you cannot add more density.

    I watched as a sunset blvd. bus drive by 4 stops with tons of people waiting for a bus… ridiculous, this is why transit and traffic are such a concern on the west-side.

    The 19th ave transit study does diddly-squat to solve the real transit needs of the west-side.

    SOLVE TRANSIT and you can build to the moon….

    • Posted by anon

      Exactly right! It should be illegal to build more housing or offices until transit and roads are improved. It’s a clusterf*** all too often. But because SF is the apathy center of the universe, people are too into their mobile phones to notice or complain.

    • Posted by Futurist

      Not really. Just because we could “solve transit” does not by inference mean we should “build to the moon”.

      Responsible growth with limits is still valid,

  9. Posted by GoBlueInOakland

    We are so far behind on housing unit production vs job growth, that any calls for “responsible growth” is just NIMBYism with a different mask – and is franky, both ignorant and immoral –

  10. Posted by Frank C.

    This problem will only be solved region-wide. Yet the amount of development needed in places like, say, Oakland, to compensate for SF’s reluctance don’t pencil out – and of course there is NIMBYism everywhere. Across the USA, too. (See: Tacoma) In Oakland, there is a nice new pipeline, but it’s small (less than 5k units), and only a fraction may get built before this cycle turns and lending makes new construction there impossible again.

    SF has too many wealthy close-the-drawbridge residents now to permit enough change to add many more housing units than are currently planned. How about 20, 30 years from now? Will be a different population, and they may indeed be willing to build more then – and the tech industry will no longer be so centralized (probably won’t be within 20 years).

  11. Posted by Amewsed

    I agree with GoBlue. The amount of overlapping, cumbersome, and ill conceived regulations esp. onerous legislation on rent controlled units is mind-boggling. Add that to existing government inefficiencies and the political agendas of a few supervisors and the end result is a sub-par city such as SF. Any simple comparision to other less restrictive cities such as Seattle, Vancouver reveals SF’s weaknesses. No, SF is not so unique, special, or desirable. Thinking otherwise is like an arts student at AAU wondering why his/her work product isn’t being displayed at the Louvre.

    • Posted by cfb

      “SF is not so unique, special, or desirable” -Amewsed

      Uh…yeah, it is. That’s why it’s so desirable. The development process in SF is screwed up for sure, and there are too many NIMBYs, but that doesn’t change the fact that SF is a unique city in a beautiful setting, with a booming economy, that a lot of people really want to live in.

      • Posted by Futurist

        Yes, exactly. Growth can occur in a responsible, planned way that respects existing context, scale and neighborhood character, without destroying our unique, beautiful city.

  12. Posted by Bayview_dweller

    I’d like to add a point that is so often overlooked, because it is not usually a visible concern and that is that many of the developments are not only subject to Planning Codes and Zoning, but that approvals must also go through the approvals from the SFPUC.

    There is the presumption that we should be building nothing but 8+ story buildings, but that hypothetical building, also has a infrastructure loading factors well above that of say a 4 story building. San Francisco has aging infrastructure that developers are increasingly being held responsible for upgrading should their developments create potential surge or overloading issues to the system. Meaning not only are developers responsible for a capacity charge per unit constructed, they could potentially be held partially/fully responsible for much larger sewer system upgrades for which there is no cost recoup, and with increasing density arbitrarily replacing a sewer is not a small financial decision. So while you may want to argue about what gets built above ground, design aesthetics, there is no arguing about what is already below ground.

    New buildings that replace parking lots, gas stations, warehouses etc. all have an impact upon the existing infrastructure, and its capacity, etc. For that reason what gets built isn’t just about Planning/Zoning, but also comes down to what the City can bear in order to maintain one of the most basic of services. God knows nobody wants to see rate hikes, and objections are instantaneous, yet the clamor continues to be to build bigger, increase density in areas of particular demand without considering we all will be paying for it in some way as well.

    • Posted by Serge

      Ding ding. This is one aspect that is often not considered. The added load on public utilities and infrastructure.

  13. Posted by DM

    Seattle is very nice. It’s why I moved there after 40+ years in SF.

  14. Posted by Amewsed

    Very easy for commenters to opined about how things should be in SF when they haven’t built or owned anything or lived anywhere else. I was in line at the Chinese Consulate in SF behind a middle aged couple who were attending a week long conference on Smart Industrial Cities in…Inner Mongolia. They joked it would be embarrassing if Inner Mongolia had better long term strategic planning for technology and growth.

    • Posted by Jake

      Better or worse could be subjective, but certainly a greater percentage of whatever technology and growth they have there (a 24 million population province of the PRC) in the long term will be a result of government planning than here, whether comparing it to SF or the Bay Area or, more appropriately, California. We allow much more private decision making with much much less government control/influence than in the PRC. And much more resources are under private control just about everywhere in America compared to just about anywhere in the PRC, except Hong Kong. We depend mostly on growth and tech innovation to emerge from private enterprise, while they may be evolving that way, they still depend much more than we do on government to stimulate/regulate behavior.

  15. Seattle also has the hightest suicide rates in the country, from it’s bleak and rainy weather throughout the year.

    I’d rather live in Detroit and risk getting shot at, than live in Seattle and kill myself from S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

  16. Posted by Pablito

    27,000 units added since the year 2000. So about 2,000 units a year. The Planning Department says there are 375,000 total existing housing units. So we are adding about 0.5% a year. At that rate – it will take 200 years to replace the existing housing stock.

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