Saturday, January 12, 2019

Solving San Francisco's Housing Crisis

San Francisco is generally perceived to be in a housing crisis. Many reasons are given for this crisis. One reason could be that rent controlled properties are becoming less affordable. Another reason is that home prices in the city have far outrun inflation for over a decade. Underlying both of these  reasons is the fact that housing demand far outweighs supply in San Francisco.

In San Francisco buildings with more than 5 units account for 52% of the city's housing units. These buildings only occupy 19% of land in the city. Conversely 62% of San Francisco's land area is occupied by single-family homes. These single family-homes account for only 27% of the city's housing units. So one solution to the city's housing crisis is to ensure a higher percentage of land is used for buildings with multiple housing units.

Converting some of the land currently used by single-family homes into buildings with more housing units would help to address the lack of housing in the city. Alternatively (or in addition) the city could ensure that the majority of new buildings include multiple housing units.

The problem with this solution of building more multiple housing unit buildings is San Francisco's zoning laws. You can see how difficult it is to build new multiple housing unit buildings in the city on the SF Zoning Laws Make it Illegal to Build Apartments in Most of the City interactive map. The red areas on the map show the 73.5% land area of the city where it is illegal to build apartment buildings. Apartment buildings are defined as buildings with more than 3 housing units. New buildings with more than 5 housing units are illegal in 87% of San Francisco.

Creating more buildings with more than 5 housing units would have a material affect on how the city looks. For example it would contribute to an overall increase in building heights. You can view the current heights of all San Francisco's buildings on the SF Building Height map.

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