Mayor Breed Takes Proposal to Streamline Affordable Housing to the Voters

Mayor London Breed recently introduced the “Affordable Homes Now Initiative,” which would streamline approvals for both 100% affordable housing projects and market-rate projects that exceed the City’s affordability requirements. The proposed ballot measure needs signatures equivalent to at least 10% of the total number of registered voters to be on the November 2020 ballot. Eligible projects would be ministerially approved if they meet the requirements summarized below. Because ministerially approved projects are not subject to environmental review, the ballot initiative would dramatically shorten approval timelines and mandate that both the Planning and Building Departments approve eligible projects within 180 days of submittal.

Eligibility Requirements

  1. Affordability

100% affordable housing projects include residential buildings, as well as mixed-use residential developments with ground floor nonresidential uses. For such projects, all of the residential units must be affordable with up to a maximum overall average of 120% area median income (“AMI”) across all units. However, the maximum rent or sales price for these affordable units cannot be higher than 20% below median market rents or sales prices for the neighborhood in which the project is located.

The ballot measure would also extend streamlined approvals to increased affordability housing projects (“IAHP”) as follows:

  • Projects with less than 25 units must exceed the on-site affordable housing requirement under the City’s Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program (“Inclusionary Program”).
  • Projects with 25 or more units must comply with the Inclusionary Program and provide additional on-site affordable units equal to 15% of the number of units required under the Inclusionary Program.

For example, a 100-unit project with a 24% on-site requirement would be required to provide 24 on-site units under the Inclusionary Program. In order to qualify as an IAHP, an additional 15% of the required 24 units, or 4 units, would need to be provided on-site for a total of 28 below market rate units.

For both 100% affordable projects and IAHPs, each on-site unit cannot exceed a maximum purchase price or rent of 140% AMI. For rental projects, the rent cannot exceed 30% of the applicable household income limit; For ownership projects, the annual housing cost cannot exceed 33% of the applicable income limit. Finally, the units must be restricted as affordable for the life of the project, or a minimum of 55 years, through a recorded regulatory agreement.

  1. Code Compliant

Any eligible housing project must also comply with objective standards of the Planning Code or state law, including height and bulk requirements. Conditional use requirements that might otherwise require Planning Commission approval for height or large lot developments, for example, are waived with the exception of conditional uses for non-residential use, parking, modification of dwelling unit mix requirements, and location of curb cuts. In addition, project sponsors of eligible projects may request certain exceptions as-of-right, and available density bonus programs can be used in conjunction with this streamlining measure.

  1. Additional Requirements

Finally, eligible affordable housing projects cannot involve the removal of existing residential units, demolition of certain designated historic buildings, or construction on lots under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Parks Department, and must be in a zoning district that allows dwelling units. Projects with more than 30 units must also pay prevailing wages to construction workers.

Streamlined Ministerial Approval

Prior to submitting a development application for a streamlined affordable housing project, the project sponsor must place a poster at the property for 30 days, describing the project and stating that the project is expected to be subject to the streamlined review process. After a complete development application is submitted, the Planning Department would have a 60-day period to: (1) determine whether the project is eligible for streamlining and (2) complete design review.

Projects that meet these eligibility requirements would be ministerially approved and exempt from any discretionary approvals and review by the City, including by the Planning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Arts Commission, Board of Supervisors, and Board of Appeals. Any building permits must also be ministerially approved by the Planning Department and issued by the Department of Building Inspection within 180 days of submittal of a complete development application. The Board of Appeals would still have jurisdiction over appeals of building permits issued to eligible affordable housing projects, but would only narrowly consider whether the permits comply with objective standards in the Building Code.

Because these projects would be approved ministerially, environmental review under CEQA would not apply. Project opponents often appeal CEQA determinations to the Board of Supervisors, resulting in both subjective political decision-making and significant delays to entitlement schedules. As a result, the ballot initiative would allow eligible affordable housing projects to be approved much faster than they are currently.

We will continue track the progress of Mayor Breed’s proposed ballot measure.

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tiffany Kats

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.