48 Hills: What Wiener wrought: Demolition and oversized housing meeting no need

By Tim Redmond for 48 Hills

Castro project too tall, too expensive, no family housing, probably corporate rentals—but the city has to approve it anyway.

So this is what Scott Wiener and his allies the Yimbys have done to San Francisco:

On Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission, without comment by a single commissioner except the chair, who brought it to a vote, approved a new tech-worker dorm in the Castro that even the planners admit doesn’t meet existing rules and will do nothing for the housing crisis.

The developer asked for six stories to build 19 tiny units that are called “group housing.” That definition lets builders cut a lot of costs:

The original idea of “group housing” was residential hotels and similar places (including, in the early definition, fraternity and sorority houses, which don’t exist right now in SF) where people lived in fairly small quarters without private bathrooms or kitchens.

That’s been shifted by developers, with the approval of the City Planning Department, to increasingly mean tiny studios that might have shared bathrooms but include refrigerators, kitchen counters with stoves, and microwave ovens.

Not, in other words, all that different from traditional studio apartments.

The supes have changed the rules a bit, to make it harder to build what will probably be used as corporate rentals and will clearly not be housing for families, but this developer argued that the project was proposed before the new rules we approved, so the old rules still apply.

More: Since the project qualifies under the State Density Bonus rules (three of the 19 units will be available to people who make less than 150 percent of AMI), the Planning Commission’s decision to cut the height to five stories is invalid.

These will be for-sale condos. A person (and this can’t be a family, since the units are barely big enough for one person) who makes $145,000 would qualify for a BMR unit at 150 percent of AMI. If two people who really like each other squeeze in, it’s $166,000.

That’s a housing payment of $3,600 a month—which doesn’t include Home Owner’s Association fees, which are often high enough to make even “affordable” units too expensive for anyone who isn’t pretty well off.

There are plenty of market-rate studios in the city right now for people who can afford that kind of payment. There’s hardly any housing for people who can’t.

Plus, the project involves demolishing an existing family-sized house, which was built around 1900—a Victorian cottage that will never be replaced. (I don’t think anyone 100 years from now will look at a single for-profit housing project built in the last 20 years in SF and say it has historic or architectural significance. It’s all about making things a cheap as possible so the developers can make more money.)

Thanks to Wiener and Co., bulldozers may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you.

And yet, the city has no choice. As one opponent pointed out during testimony, “not every housing project is a good project.” But Wiener and crew have made sure that the city can no longer make that choice.

So the commission had to approve the project as originally presented. That’s what the state law says. Thanks, Scott.

This article originally appeared in 48 Hills


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