Affordable housing is illegal to build in 86% of San Francisco.

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.

Affordable for who?

Because of the limits of state and federal grant programs, most subsidized housing created by this program would be 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.

This program 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.

Why is it illegal to build 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 that map there? Anywhere on it that’s red is a place where building affordable housing is literally against the law—the zoning law. And we wonder why there’s a housing crisis!

More affordable housing for our money

Now look at the green spots: these areas are mostly built out (the Financial district, mission bay, the tenderloin, Eastern SOMA) with new buildings and are also 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.

Let's get MORE affordable housing per public dollar, and reduce economic segregation by changing the zoning to permit affordable housing everywhere in San Francisco.

The proposal: fix a broken law!

Read and comment on our draft legislation here.

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.

The dots indicate affordable housing developments in San Francisco. Notice that affordable housing is concentrated in a few neighborhoods, and totally absent from other neighborhoods.

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!

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.

How you can help:

  1. Use the form below to sign up to stay updated.
  2. Send a letter to your Supervisor telling them you support making affordable housing legal everywhere:
  3. 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! [Link to group form?]

A project of YIMBY Action.