Student Housing Update – Planning Commission Approves

Under existing laws, housing units and SROs may be converted to student housing without special regulation by the Planning Code. The proposed ordinance would regulate the field for the first time. A significant goal of the proposed ordinance is to prevent existing forms of housing from being converted to student housing. Another goal of the ordinance is to enable the City to monitor student housing units to ensure that if the units return to unrestricted residential use, the City would be able to collect fees for the conversion.

On June 21, 2012, the Planning Commission approved a revised draft ordinance regarding student housing. The proposal will now move on to the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee for further consideration.

The student housing proposal, in its current form, defines student housing as a dwelling unit, group housing, or an SRO that is occupied by students of an accredited post-secondary educational institution. In addition, the housing must be owned or controlled by the educational institution.

Conversions from any existing form of housing to student housing would be prohibited with the exception of: (1) housing that was built by the post-secondary educational institution; (2) housing in a convent, monastery, or similar religious facility; or (3) is on a lot directly adjacent to a post-secondary educational institution that will own, operate, or control the student housing, so long as the lot has been owned by the post-secondary educational institution for at least 10 years.

Projects that qualify for conversion of existing housing to student housing will be exempt from affordable housing requirements.

Conversion in the other direction (from student housing to unrestricted residential use) can be accomplished only with approval from the Zoning Administrator, and only if the building owner has made an extensive and good faith effort to find another qualified educational institution to lease the space.

Additional clarifications in the ordinance specify that student housing may be transferred from one qualified educational institution to another. Also, the definition of student housing has been revised to state that such housing may consist of all or a part of a building.

Residential and SRO buildings that have been vacant for at least one year or underutilized for at least two years, and create blight, will be eligible for conversion to student housing with conditional use authorization. To be considered underutilized, a building would need to have an occupancy rate of 20% or less for at least 2 years prior to the application.

The ordinance, as proposed, will apply to all residential buildings, including residential hotels. The goal of this provision is the rehabilitation of blighted residential hotel buildings in the Tenderloin neighborhood, although it is not restricted to that area.

For construction of downtown student housing as additions for buildings in the C-3-G and C-3-S Districts that are not designated as historically significant, or contributory to a historic district, additional square footage above that otherwise permitted based on floor limits may be approved. Approval of bonus square footage above the floor area limit is subject to obtaining a conditional use authorization. Open space requirements for new student housing will be one third of the amount normally required for a dwelling unit.

Finally, all new student housing in the South Park District will be subject to obtaining a conditional use authorization.

The proposed student housing ordinance now goes back to the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee for further consideration. Overall, it encourages construction of new student housing, and prohibits, except in very limited circumstances, the conversion of existing housing to student housing.

We want to thank the San Francisco Housing Coalition who played a significant role working with the Planning Department and the sponsoring Supervisors on the proposed ordinance, and was successful in its efforts to encourage construction of new student housing.

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, 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.

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