November Ballot Measure Seeks to Increase Affordable Housing Production

Housing

The “Affordable Homes Now” measure submitted in March by a coalition of labor and housing advocates, has successfully collected the 52,000 signatures required to qualify for San Francisco’s November 2022 ballot. Citing a study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, the measure describes San Francisco’s four-year average to permit multifamily residential buildings as “one major obstacle to the goal of increasing affordable housing.” The measure attributes soaring housing costs to the difficulty many small businesses and essential service providers have with hiring and retaining workers, resulting in high turnover among public school and community college teachers. Finally, it notes that the lack of a “large, stable, and productive construction workforce” is a further constraint on housing production, driving delays, cost overruns, and safety incidents.

Affordable Homes Now takes aim at these issues with a program to bolster and expedite the production of local affordable housing by providing streamlined, ministerial approval for the following types of development:

  • 100% Affordable Housing Projects,” in which (a) all residential uses are restricted as affordable housing with a maximum overall average income of 120%, and (b) maximum sales or rental prices do not exceed 80% of median market rents or sales for the neighborhood, as determined by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (“MOHCD”). To provide for the “missing middle” that is not served by existing affordable housing programs, households earning up to 140% of AMI would be eligible for residency, so long as they comply with the overall average affordability requirements above. Qualifying projects may include non-residential use at the ground floor, and those accessory to and supportive of on-site housing;
  • Increased Affordable Housing Projects,” which contain 10 or more units, and agree to provide on-site affordable units in an amount that is 15% greater than otherwise required under the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program or local HOME-SF density program. For example, a project subject to a 21.5% on-site requirement under the Inclusionary Program would be required to make 24.7% of its units affordable under the Affordable Homes Now measure. In a 100-unit project, the total number of affordable units would increase from 22 to 25; and
  • Educator Housing Projects,” as currently defined in Planning Code Section 206.9. Among other criteria, this includes providing all residential units as deed-restricted for the life of the project for occupancy by at least one employee of the San Francisco Unified School District (“SFUSD”) or San Francisco Community College District (“SFCCD”); providing at least 4/5ths of all units as affordable to households with income ranging from 30%-140% of AMI, with the overall average of 100% AMI across all units, and the remaining 1/5th of all units affordable up to a maximum 160% AMI.

To protect historic buildings, recreational resources, prevent tenant displacement or development that would conflict with certain zoning standards or preexisting uses, the measure would not apply to Projects that:

  • Remove or demolish historic landmarks, contributory buildings to a designated historic district, or Category I or II “significant” buildings under Article 11 of the Planning Code;
  • Are located on Recreation and Parks Department property;
  • Are located on sites not zoned for residential use;
  • Demolish, remove, or convert any residential units, movie theaters, or nighttime entertainment use; or
  • Include non-residential uses that require Conditional Use Authorization under the Planning Code.

Similar to the statewide SB-35 legislation which took effect in 2018, qualifying Affordable Homes Now projects that meet objective zoning standards would receive streamlined processing and be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Such projects would require no discretionary approvals by City Boards, commissions, or officials, and would not be subject to Discretionary Review. Associated building permits and other city permits necessary for construction would also receive streamlined, ministerial processing.

Projects qualifying under this measure could also utilize State Density Bonus Law to increase residential density, in which case any waivers, concessions or incentives would be considered consistent with objective zoning standards. However, for projects that do not utilize State Density Bonus Law, the measure would allow for administrative waivers or reductions from certain development standards including residential density; ground floor ceiling height; rear yard setback; dwelling unit exposure; loading; parking and open space.

Affordable Homes Now projects would not be required to submit for a Preliminary Project Assessment before filing a formal development application. Following submission of a complete development application, the City would have approximately six to nine months to approve qualifying projects, depending upon the number of residential units they contain.

Finally, the measure aims to attract a larger, more stable, and skilled construction workforce by setting minimum labor standards for Affordable Homes Now projects. These standard scale up based on the size of a project:

  • 10+ units – All workers must be paid at least the applicable prevailing wage.
  • 40+ units – In addition to the prevailing wage requirements, contractors that will employ construction craft employees for 1,000 or more hours are (a) required to provide medical insurance or make an $11.90/hour contribution to Healthy San Francisco per hour worked up to a weekly maximum of $476 and participate in state-approved apprenticeship programs; or (b) use contractors that are a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement that requires participation in a state-approved apprenticeship program. If no apprentices are available, projects may move forward without delay. The labor requirements are to be monitored through San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, with contractors and subcontractors required to submit monthly reports confirming compliance with the above standards. Failure to submit a monthly report is subject to a $10,000 fine per month for each month the report is not provided, as well as fines of $200 per worker per day employed in contravention of Affordable Homes Now requirements.

The Affordable Homes Now Initiative is proposed by a coalition of labor and housing advocates, including the Nor Cal Carpenters Union; Housing Action Coalition; Habitat for Humanity; Greenbelt Alliance; YIMBY Action; SPUR; and Grow SF. It is backed by Mayor London Breed; Senator Scott Weiner; and Supervisor Matt Dorsey. The 52,000 signatures gathered to place the measure on the ballot represent more than 10 percent of registered San Francisco voters.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Melinda Sarjapur and Daniel Frattin.

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.

State Takes Aim at Housing Fees and Permit Delays

housing fees

After a productive legislative year in 2021, the state legislature is continuing to tackle California’s ongoing challenges related to the housing crisis and lengthy processing times. Two bills would aim to minimize some of the roadblocks facing housing projects by bringing down both direct costs and holding costs. First, AB 2063 proposes to codify the state’s often disregarded stance that affordable housing fees do not apply to density bonus units. This would eliminate a significant cost for density bonus projects, which play a vital role in increasing housing production across the state. Second, AB 2234 proposes to enact time limits on processing and approving post-entitlement permits to create a more efficient and consistent process.  Both of these bills would help address some of the root causes of the high cost of building housing, including increasing impact fees and long-term holding costs associated with permitting.

AB 2063

This bill would update the State Density Bonus Law to clarify that affordable housing fees cannot be applied to density bonus units, except in limited circumstances. Although this is a relatively simple bill, its impact would be huge for housing projects in jurisdictions that have been requiring hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, in affordable housing fees on top of the on-site affordable housing units needed to qualify for the density bonus. The Attorney General issued an opinion in 2019 that this practice of applying impact fees on density bonus units was not permitted under the State Density Bonus Law. The Attorney General’s reasoning was that the imposition of these fees on density bonus units disincentivizes what the legislature clearly wished to incentivize—the construction of affordable housing. Despite the Attorney General’s opinion, some cities continue to apply affordable housing fees on density bonus units. This bill would codify the Attorney General’s opinion, putting this practice to rest.

The bill was introduced on February 14, 2022 by Assembly Member Berman and is sponsored by the Housing Action Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for building more housing for California residents of all income levels. It was unanimously passed by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee on April 5th and the Assembly Local Government Committee on April 20th. It is now under review by the Appropriations Committee.

AB 2234

The Permit Streamlining Act sets time limits for the review and approval of entitlements. Its impact has been limited since its time limits run from completion of CEQA review, which is typically the main driver of entitlement schedules. This bill aims to put a similar, but more effective, framework in place for post-entitlement approvals. Due to challenges associated with staffing, permitting backlogs have long been a problem, especially in large cities with high volumes of construction. These delays increase holding costs and slow overall housing production. Given today’s inflationary environment, delays are even more problematic.

The bill would apply limits on the review process for all nondiscretionary permits for projects that are at least two-thirds residential. This would apply to building permits and permits for off-site improvements, demolition, excavation, and grading. Failure to meet any of the time limits would be treated as a violation of the Housing Accountability Act.

Specifically, the bill would require local jurisdictions to:

  • Publish an online checklist of requirements for applications to be deemed complete along with an example of an ideal application that developers can use as a reference. Cities with a population of at least 250,000 will also be required to accept and update the status of applications online, including noting whether anything is required from the applicant.
  • Provide written notice regarding whether the application is complete within 15 days. If a local agency does not make a timely determination, the application will be deemed complete.
  • Approve or deny a post-entitlement permit within 30 days of deeming the application complete for projects with up to 25 units, or within 60 days for projects with 26 or more units. This would not apply if the city makes a written finding that the permit may have a specific adverse impact on public health or safety and additional time is necessary to process the application.
  • Provide a process for applicants to appeal an incomplete determination and denial of a complete application within 60 days for projects with up to 25 units, or 90 days for projects with at least 26 units.

The bill was introduced by Assembly Members Rivas and Grayson on February 15, 2022 and is cosponsored by the Housing Action Coalition and Silicon Valley Leadership Group. It is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Local Government Committee today.

We will continue to monitor these bills and keep you updated as they move through the legislative process.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Sabrina Eshaghi.

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.

Supervisor Safai Introduces Competing Fourplex Legislation

affordable

On November 30, 2021, Supervisor Ahsha Safai introduced legislation that would allow up to four units on lots zoned RH-1(D), RH-1, and RH-2 with the addition of affordable housing for moderate-income families. This competes with Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s fourplex legislation, which would allow up to four units in all RH zones without any affordability requirement. Supervisor Safai’s legislation takes a different approach that would require at least one deed-restricted middle-income housing unit in order to build a fourplex. Safai’s legislation would also allow exceptions to certain Planning Code requirements, provide priority processing, and eliminate 311 notice and discretionary review.

Specifically, the legislation would create what it calls the Affordable Housing Incentive Program, which would apply to lots that are (1) located in the RH-1(D), RH-1, or RH-2 districts, (2) within one mile of a major transit stop, and (3) no smaller than 2,500 square feet. In addition, the project cannot be subject to any other density bonus programs and any existing “protected” units, which includes rent controlled or affordable housing units, must be replaced.

Under the Program, one affordable housing unit is required to allow up to three units per lot and two affordable units are required to allow up to four units per lot. The affordable housing units must be provided at 110% of the area median income (“AMI”) for rental units, or 140% AMI for owned units. Currently, these income levels for a single person household translate to $102,600 and $130,550, respectively. At the 110% AMI level, base rent for a one-bedroom unit would be limited to $2,713 and $3,010 for a two-bedroom unit. The affordable units are also subject to certain size requirements.

In exchange for the affordable housing, the Program allows a variety of Code modifications and shorter processing times. For example, lots in the RH-1(D) and RH-1 zoning districts are currently limited to a height of 35 feet, but the Program would generally allow up to 40 feet. In addition, projects under the Program would be entitled to reduced rear yard, dwelling unit exposure, and open space requirements. The Planning Director may also grant minor exceptions from Code requirements to allow building mass to appropriately shift to respond to surrounding context when the proposed modification would not substantially reduce or increase the overall building envelope. Likewise, the provisions of the Residential Design Guidelines related to “building scale and form” and “building scale at the mid-block open space” would not apply.

To provide more certainty in the approval process, the Program requires projects to be approved within 180 days of submittal of a complete project application, unless an environmental impact report is required. It also eliminates 311 neighborhood notification and discretionary review. Instead, the only opportunity to appeal would be through the associated building permit.

The legislation is currently in a mandatory 30-day holding period before any Planning Commission or Board Committee hearings can take place. Meanwhile Supervisor Mandelman’s legislation has already advanced from the Planning Commission and is awaiting a Land Use Committee hearing date. It remains to be seen what version of the fourplex legislation will make it to the full Board.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Sabrina Eshaghi.

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.

Impact Fee Update

Affordable Housing

San Francisco School Fees Expanded

On January 11, 2021, San Francisco issued the 2021 Impact Fee Schedule. One change of note is the calculation of the San Francisco Unified School District Fee (“School Fee”) as applied to multi-unit residential developments. The change would increase the fee on such developments by increasing the space in the building subject to the fee.

The School Fee applies to new residential developments and additions to existing residential properties of greater than 500 square feet. Although the School Fee is collected upon issuance of the first construction document along with the fees paid to the City and County of San Francisco, the School Fee is subject to its own calculation rules under California Government Code Section 65995(b)(1).

Currently, San Francisco applies the School Fee to “total habitable space,” defined as space in a structure used for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. The calculation excludes bathrooms, toilet compartments, closets, halls, storage or utility space, and similar areas.

Effective February 1, 2021, the assessable space for calculation of the School Fee for any new residential development will include all of the square footage within the perimeter of the structure. Space still excluded from the Fee calculation includes any carport, covered or uncovered walkway, garage, overhang, patio, enclosed patio, detached accessory structure, or similar area.

The change is based on a 2018 appeals court decision that settled the long-contested question of whether school district fees should be assessed on interior common areas. 901 First Street Owner, LLC v. Tustin Unified School District held that interior space outside of individual units, such as interior hallways, storage rooms, mechanical rooms, fitness centers, lounges, and other interior common areas should be included in the fee calculation under the language of Government Code Section 65995(b)(1). Based on this, the School Fee was expanded, which could lead to a significant increase in fees for projects anticipating paying the fee on the square-footage of the units only.

Oakland Eyes Increased Affordable Housing Fees

Oakland is currently undertaking a mandatory five-year review of its impact fee program. The focus of the review for many is impact fees for affordable housing. Currently, affordable housing fees are tiered depending on the type of housing proposed and the location of the property in one of three regions of the city based on the level of demand for development in that region. There is debate about whether the tiered system should be eliminated, as well as whether fees should be increased over the tiers.

Affordable housing advocates believe that fees should already have been increased to fund construction of affordable housing during the last several years of strong development. Developers have expressed concern that higher impact fees could stifle further development.

Officials and advocates are also looking at other aspects of the implementation of affordable housing requirements. Discussion is underway about how affordable housing is best produced, whether through construction of on-site affordable units or through funding construction of affordable units with impact fees. Also under review is the policy of collecting 50% of the affordable housing fee at permit issuance and 50% only after a certificate of occupancy is issued.

We will continue to watch the Oakland impact fee review process as it unfolds in 2021. We will also watch for earlier changes to fees spurred by the current debate.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Jody Knight.

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.

California Increases Density Bonus to 50%

density bonus

Starting in 2021, residential projects in California with on-site affordable housing can get a density bonus of up to 50%.  Currently, under Government Code Section 65915—commonly known as the Density Bonus Law—the maximum bonus is 35%.  It is available for projects that include 11% very low income below market rate (“BMR”) units, 20% low income BMRs, or 40% moderate income BMRs.  Under a new law that flew somewhat under the radar during the last legislative session in Sacramento, a 50% bonus is available with increased affordability.  Specifically, 15% very low income, 24% low income, or 44% moderate income allow the full 50% bonus.

The new state law, AB 2345, requires cities and counties to comply even if they have not yet updated local implementing ordinances.  This means starting January 1, 2021, all jurisdictions in California are required to process projects proposing up to 50% additional density as long as those projects provide the additional BMRs in the “base” portion of the project, unless the locality already allows a bonus above 35%.

AB 2345 also lowered the BMR thresholds for concessions and incentives for projects with low income BMRs.  For background, in addition to waivers from development controls that preclude a project from achieving the density bonus it is guaranteed (with some narrow exceptions) in exchange for on-site BMRs, the Density Bonus Law allows sponsors to ask for “concessions and incentives” from zoning and development regulations that would make the project more expensive to construct.  Starting in 2021, projects with 17% low income BMRs can qualify for two concessions or incentives, and projects with 24% low income BMRs can qualify for three.

Finally, density bonus projects within one-half mile of a major transit stop and with direct access to the stop may be able to avoid minimum parking requirements.

All-Electric New Construction in San Francisco Starting in June 2021

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law mandating new construction projects be all-electric.  The building or project will need to use a permanent supply of electricity as the source of energy for all space conditioning including heating and cooling, water heating, pools and spas, cooking appliances, and clothes drying appliances.  Gas or propane piping systems are not permitted from the point of delivery at the gas meter.

The all-electric requirement takes effect on June 1, 2021.  Starting then, all new building or site permit applications will need to comply.  Sponsors should keep in mind there is currently a multi-month delay to file permits at the Department of Building Inspection (“DBI”), and should not wait until the last minute to get their building or site permits on file.

There are two minor exceptions.  If it would be physically or technically infeasible to construct an all-electric building, DBI can grant modifications, but only to those portions of the building where infeasibility can be demonstrated, and the alternative design provides equivalent health, safety, and fire protection.  Importantly, financial considerations cannot be used to show infeasibility.

Also, a restaurant is allowed to have gas facilities used exclusively for cooking equipment.  For permits filed through December 31, 2021, permits identifying a restaurant use will be allowed to have gas facilities.  After 2021, the exception is narrowed and DBI has to determine that the gas system is necessary for the specific restaurant using the space.  Identifying a specific restaurant tenant that early in the process will likely be a challenge for many new construction projects.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Mark Loper.

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.