San Francisco Housing Element Rezoning Program – Status

As previously discussed in a February 2024 Update, the Planning Commission has been holding informational hearings concerning its state-mandated implementation actions and zoning amendments identified in the certified 2022 Housing Element. The Housing Element was adopted in January 2023.  Beginning in Spring 2023, the Department began working on four key Housing Element implementation areas:

  • Affordable Housing Funding and Strategies
  • Activating Community Priorities
  • Housing Production and Process Improvements
  • Expanding Housing Choice (Housing Element Rezoning Program)

On June 6, the Planning Department updated the Commission and public on the Expanding Housing Choice program and coordinating with the Mayor’s Executive Directive on “Housing for All”.

Expanding Housing Choice

Expanding Housing Choice will amend zoning policies in Housing Opportunity Areas (“Well-Resourced Neighborhoods”) to increase capacity for multi-family housing to satisfy the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) gap of 36,200 housing units.  Within the broad geography covered by the Housing Opportunity Areas, the rezoning program is focused on transit corridors, commercial corridors, and key opportunity sites, as these locations leverage existing infrastructure and feature the types of sites more likely to be developed and expected to yield the greatest amount of new housing.  Most rezoned areas will allow midrise housing (65’-85’ tall, or 6-8 stories), with higher height limits considered in selected locations.  In the areas surrounding these transit corridors and key sites, parcels will be permitted to build 4-plexes and 6-plexes under recently adopted legislation.  The Planning Department has set a target of building 25-50% of the City’s new permanently affordable housing units in the Housing Opportunity Areas.

Objective Design Standards

As discussed in previous Commission hearings, the Planning Department is developing Objective Design Standards (ODS) in parallel with Expanding Housing Choice that will complement the Planning Code and provide objective development standards. Under the California Housing Accountability Act (HAA), local jurisdictions cannot use subjectivity in determining whether a project can be approved or denied. They may only evaluate projects against objective standards, defined as rules which:

“…Involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion available and knowable by both the development applicant or proponent and the public official before submittal.”

A copy of the draft ODS is available here:  SF Objective Design Guidelines

Ultimately, the Planning Department will create Objective Design Standards for every scale and typical residential project type subject to the HAA.  Subsequent updates will expand these standards to apply to other residential project types, sizes, and geographies.  As an initial step, the ODS will be primarily applicable to housing projects in the Housing Opportunity Areas. Specifically, the draft standards were created to apply to midrise housing developments (e.g., 65’ to 85’ tall, or 6-8 stories), large sites (e.g., greater than 1 acre), and sites allowing tall buildings (>85’). These standards were scoped as a companion to the rezoning and focus on the Housing Opportunity Areas and rezoned parcels.

The Planning Department is continuing to meet with community organizations to solicit feedback to refine the draft zoning proposal and will schedule additional informational hearings to provide updates and delve into additional topics related to the rezoning.  We will continue to keep readers apprised.


Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Thomas Tunny.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.