Supporters and opponents of SB827 stand off in front of city hall. Photo by Michael Toren

As the mayoral race heats up, the city got some sobering news: despite all the talk about the need for more housing, the city added fewer new units last year than it had in 2016.

San Francisco added 4,441 housing units in 2017 — a 12 percent decrease, compared to net additions in 2016. Last year’s additions, however, are well above the 10-year average of 2,745 units built each year.

Those numbers were released this month in the Planning Department’s “Housing Inventory,” an annual survey of housing production in San Francisco. It will be discussed at Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.

As people continue to flock to San Francisco and prices continue to rise, housing advocates argue that the city is not building enough units to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, longtime residents fear that an influx of mostly market-rate housing projects will only make neighborhoods more unaffordable.

All told, San Francisco had 392,000 dwelling units by the end of 2017, compared to 387,600 at the end of 2016. Although fewer new housing units were built, the population increased.

By July 2017, San Francisco had added 8,260 residents over the previous year, making city’s total population roughly 884,363, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Meanwhile, the city saw a total of 4,500 new units in 2017, including 4,270 in new construction and 242 units through conversions and expansion of existing structures. (70 units were lost through demolitions, including the removal of illegal units, unit mergers, conversions and corrections.)

In 2011, the construction of new units hit an all-time low of 348.

Some 94 percent of the city’s new housing came from new projects totaling more than 20 units. The remaining 6 percent came from the new construction of projects totaling less than 19 units, with single-family homes accounting for 1 percent.

In spite of the overall downward trend in production, affordable housing production actually increased 83 percent in 2017, to 1,460, up from 802 in 2016. Those new affordable units made up 34 percent of last year’s new units. Eighty-five percent of those new units are affordable to “extremely low,” “very low,” and low-income households. Affordable units for seniors made up 3 percent.

A majority of the affordable units were contained in fully affordable projects, while 421 of the units, according to the report, were inclusionary — meaning they were mixed into a predominantly market-rate development — while 99 of the affordable units were considered “secondary,” or units added to an existing residential building.

While housing production lagged in 2017, the number of units authorized dramatically increased by 65 percent from 2016, as the Planning Department authorized 6,731 units in 2017. The department approved 4,059 in 2016. Approvals hit an all-time low in 2009, when only 752 units were approved.

San Francisco authorized 21 percent of the Bay Area’s housing stock, the third-most in the region. But Santa Clara County is the Bay Area’s biggest builder, having authorized 34 percent of the region’s total at 10,626 units last year. The second-highest number of unit authorizations came from Alameda County, with 8,523 units authorized, representing 27 percent of the region’s total.  

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Property owners in San Francisco have for been given financial incentives (accelerated property values with limited taxation) to keep building to a minimum. Hundreds of otherwise progressive groups have pushed for restrictive zoning and neighborhood for decades, because it suited their short-term purposes. The city has without fail upheld zoning and permitting processes that everybody and their mother uses to kill anything that isn’t 100% to their liking.

    San Francisco real estate exists to make long-term residents rich, and its doing great at that.

  2. Great piece. We need to get back to 5,000 new homes a year, at a minimum. I do want to add something to this:

    “[H]ousing advocates argue that the city is not building enough units to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, longtime residents fear that an influx of mostly market-rate housing projects will only make neighborhoods more unaffordable.”

    This isn’t the full story if you look outside the Mission to other neighborhoods. There’s very little construction in the wealthy parts of town. In Forest Hill, an affordable senior project was just canceled due to opposition; over by City College, Westwood Park residents are trying to block a 50% affordable project on a parking lot; in Presidio Heights, a market-rate project got cut in half because the developer was scared of a lawsuit.

    Longtime residents of Forest Hill, Westwood Park and Presidio Heights aren’t worried their neighborhoods will become unaffordable. They mostly own their homes. Some of them just don’t want to deal with new neighbors. And a lot of people don’t realize this, but part of why new homebuilding has been so concentrated in the Mission, is that some of these rich folks have been so successful keeping it out of the rest of the city – and it wasn’t affordability they were concerned about, at all.

  3. The basics of the housing crisis (in SF and state wide) are beyond dispute: not enough residential units are being constructed so someone has to go without. Really it’s that simple. The current bill being put forward to boost density near public transportation hubs, SB 827, would indisputably stimulate housing production would indisputably build more housing, yet SF board of supervisors vote to not support it.

    Tang, Ronen, Peskin, Kim, Cohen, Yee, Stefani all voted against SB 827. That puts the housing crisis on their shoulders and they need to be held responsible for it: elimination of the SF middle class, rampant child poverty, crushing housing costs for even those with good jobs and intractable homelessness and vagrancy. Until voters stop rewarding such moral hypocrisy, there will be zero progress made in CA disfiguring poverty and class stratification, irrespective of the amount spent.

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