What is affordable housing?
Affordable housing is housing that has lower rents than the market rate. Affordable housing allows people who have incomes much lower than the San Francisco average to live here. Most affordable housing is subsidized by the local, state and federal governments.
Who benefits from Affordable Housing?
Affordable Housing benefits everyone in society. It benefits the people that live there, of course, but it also benefits all of the people that socialize, work with, or employ the person that lives in the affordable housing.
Affordable housing is for people who have as little as zero income, like retired people, up to people who make $35/ hour and have a family. If you go to a restaurant, have a child who goes to school or day care, or interact in any way with anyone who makes $15-$20/ hour, or make that income level yourself, you are or are interacting with people who would qualify for the affordable housing.
Zoning makes it illegal to build affordable housing in the red areas on the map above. This increases economic segregation and makes it harder for non-profit developers of affordable housing to find land to build on.
The dots in the map above show the location of existing affordable housing developments in San Francisco. Notice that affordable housing is concentrated in a few neighborhoods, and is totally absent from other neighborhoods.
Why is it illegal to build affordable housing in so much of San Francisco?
In San Francisco, an affordable housing project can only get funding to be built if it has more than 50 units. That means apartment buildings. But, most of San Francisco is zoned for low-density housing, which means that new apartment buildings are illegal to build in 86% of San Francisco.
See the red and green map? Anywhere on it that’s red is a place where building affordable housing is literally against the law—the zoning law.
More affordable housing for our money
Areas that are currently zoned for Affordable Housing (the Financial District, Mission Bay, the Tenderloin, Eastern SOMA) are mostly built out and are zoned for very expensive uses like high-density market rate residential, office and hotel. This means non-profits that build affordable housing have to compete with big, for-profit developers for land in a tiny fraction of the City. That competition means that affordable housing is more expensive, so we can't build as many units of affordable housing as we could otherwise.
By changing the zoning to permit affordable housing everywhere in San Francisco, we can get more units of affordable housing using the funding we already have, and reduce economic segregation.
Let's fix a broken law!
We've written draft legislation that would legalize affordable housing across San Francisco. Read more about the legislation's guiding principles and the legislation itself below.
We need a Planning Code that gives affordable housing a fair shot. Non-profits should be able to build housing projects up to seven stories tall anywhere in the City, if they keep every single unit affordable to people making between 0% and 55% of San Francisco’s Area Median Income.
Affordable housing projects shouldn't be shackled by mandatory street set-backs, artificial density limits, or a ban on merging multiple lots—those are all the law right now, and they're designed to limit the number of units that get built, and the number of people that can live in them. Why are we trying to limit who can afford to live here?
No more giant sections of the City forever out of reach for seniors, working families, immigrant communities, and educators. Instead, a giant step toward a San Francisco where no one is excluded, where people of all incomes live, work, and play together—the vision that's been San Francisco's hallmark since we were founded.
How you can help
- Sign up for updates in the form.
- Send a letter to your Supervisor telling them you support making affordable housing legal everywhere: Customize this Template Letter of Support
- Talk to your neighbors! Find your local neighborhood group and let them know we need to change the law, and we need to change it now!
Is there room in San Francisco for more affordable housing?
Yes! This map shows just the places that are shovel-ready right now where non-profits could break ground on affordable housing developments. You might notice that a lot of those green spots are in neighborhoods where low- and medium-income San Franciscans can no longer afford to live—and that’s the point! We can re-open the City to everyone!
Who qualifies for affordable housing?
Because of the rules for state and federal grant programs, most subsidized housing is for people making 0-55% of the Area Median Income. For a single person, people making up to $45,600 / year would qualify. For a family of four, the maximum total household income would be $65,100.
Legalizing affordable housing across San Francisco could also facilitate the creation of housing for people up to 80% of median income, which is $66,300 for a single person and $94,700 for a family of four. See the whole household size / income limit chart here.
How did we find ourselves in this broken system?
We've all heard from some of our neighbors that apartment buildings can't go near houses, that different neighborhoods should be for different folks who live in different types of buildings, that part of the "character" of our neighborhoods is that not very many people can fit in them. We get it. No one likes to see a beloved neighborhood change from how they've always known it. And our zoning laws reflect that view, making it harder and harder every year to change anything from The Way Things Used To Be.
But now we're staring the consequences of economic exclusion right in the face. The housing crisis in San Francisco is turning our City into a playground for the wealthy at the expense of communities of color, elderly people, immigrant populations, and an entire generation of younger people—we're turning away both our past and our future, instead of living up to our historic commitments to the ideals of progress and inclusion.