City of San Francisco Kicks off 2022 Housing Element Update

San Francisco, Regional Housing Needs Allocation, Housing Element 2022 Update
Image Courtesy of the San Francisco Planning Department

By Meghan Hall

In accordance with state regulations, San Francisco officials are gearing up for a major policy update when it comes to housing initiatives within the City. At the end of May, the San Francisco Planning Department kicked off its 2022 Housing Element Update in an effort to maintain compliance with guidelines when it comes to housing production in San Francisco.

The Housing Element is not new for the city. Initiatives like it first began to emerge in 1969, when the State of California mandated that all local governments plan for the housing needs of their residents by creating adequate opportunities for housing development. That mandate, known as The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), provides the basis for San Francisco’s Housing Element policies. Under these guidelines, state law requires that the Housing Element address, remove, or mitigate governmental and non-governmental barriers to housing production. The Housing Element is also required to create equal housing opportunities for residents, improve and conserve existing housing stock and preserve units that are at-risk of conversation from affordable to market-rate.

Updates to the Housing Element occur approximately every eight years, with the last major update occurring in about 2009. The 2014 Housing Element, a smaller update, is set to expire in January 2023. The update is important, the Planning Department notes in documents, because it often serves as a prerequisite to receive federal, state, and regional funding for affordable housing. Additional failure to comply could mean the City could pay up to $100,000 per month in fines.

By the end of 2019, housing production was up within San Francisco, according to a separate housing report, reaching one of the highest levels of production in 20 years. In 2019, San Francisco constructed more than 4,800 new units, an 81 percent increase from 2018. 1,456 affordable units were also brought to market, 50 percent above the five-year average of affordable housing units produced. However, for as quickly San Francisco has grown, that has not yet proven to be enough, and housing affordability remains a challenge across all income levels.

Additionally, the Planning Department notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has already disproportionately affected vulnerable populations throughout San Francisco and intensifying housing challenges by making it difficult for tenants to pay rent and for landlords or developers to move forward with construction, exacerbating supply and demand imbalances. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the housing challenges we were already facing in San Francisco and magnifying the city’s longstanding inequalities,” states the Planning Department on its website. “It is hitting communities of color and low-income communities the hardest. The Housing Element 2022 Update presents the opportunity to incorporate a long-term recovery based on these bold actions when shaping the future of housing for the City, centered in racial and social equity.”

It is important to note, however, that while the Housing Element provides an analysis of policies that address housing needs, the Housing Element does not modify land use, height, or density, nor does it direct funding for housing development or amend zoning or planning codes.

Right now, the creation of the 2022 Housing Element Update is still in its nascent stages; currently, city officials are seeking public input through digital platforms. City officials are emphasizing that the 2022 update will differ from previous iterations in that it will focus on several additional principles, including: racial and social equality, more housing for all, across all neighborhoods, minimizing displacement, and creating neighborhoods that are resilient to climate and health crises. However, the City emphasized that how these ideas are presented will also depend greatly on community commentary.

“To make sure these policies and programs are inclusive and represent the values and ideas of our city’s diverse population, we want to hear from as many San Francisco residents and community members as possible,” explained the Planning Department.

The first phase of the update is expected to last until September of this year and will involve vetting ideas with the community. Phase Two, which will last roughly a year between October 2020 and September 2021, will include refining proposed policies even further. Phase Three will occur between October 2021 and March 2023, and work towards policy adoption.

As of this writing, the San Francisco Planning Department had not yet responded to The Registry’s request for updated comment.

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