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Planning Commission questions site eligibility for Affordable Housing Bonus Program

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A change to The City’s Affordable Housing Bonus Program aims to incentivize more below-market-rate housing built in exchange for allowing taller or denser buildings. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner0

The Planning Commission late Thursday night continued to question a proposed program that aims to incentivize more below-market-rate housing in new developments in San Francisco.

After hearing two hours of public comment — people both supporting the Affordable Housing Bonus Program and urging its demise — commissioners weighed whether to recommend approval of the program to the Board of Supervisors.

The program provides incentives for developers of projects with at least five units, primarily in areas zoned as neighborhood commercial districts, to build at least 30 percent of the units as below-market-rate. In return, developers can build up to two additional stories, among other incentives.

In addition to the overall program, commissioners were asked to review six issues raised at the commission’s Jan. 28 meeting, when it previously discussed offering a density bonus to developers. Topics set to be discussed Thursday night included which sites should be eligible for the density bonus, and whether The City’s infrastructure can support more development.

The bonus program asks the Planning Commission to exempt any development that eliminates a residential unit from the program, which commissioners appeared to support.

“It seems to be a concern,” Commissioner Michael Antonini said of displacement worries among those who oppose the program. “Taking all the residential units out of [consideration for demolition] would be recommended.”

The program would apply to more than 30,000 parcels, and city planners have estimated that even if projects that remove housing units are exempt, the program could still add 5,000 below-market-rate homes to San Francisco’s housing stock in the next two decades.

But commissioners questioned which sites may still be eligible for the program, noting some neighborhood commercial corridors like Geary Boulevard and Oak and Fell streets would benefit from greater density more than other areas.

“There’s [places] like the McDonald’s site at Haight and Stanyan [streets] that people have cried out for development,” Commissioner Rich Hillis said. “I truly think those parcels could work under this program and generate more affordable housing, and you could have additional stories on there that aren’t impactful for the neighborhood.”

He added, “There are, though, [parcels] that I don’t think can work.”

Programs that demolish a historic structure or cause significant shadow impacts on public parks are also recommended to be exempt from the program.

The program would establish The City’s first permanent source of middle-income housing. Of the 30 percent below-market-rate housing included in exchange for taller or denser buildings, 18 percent would be affordable to moderate- or middle-income households, and 12 percent would be designated for the low-income bracket.

Per city planners’ latest recommendation for the program, the level of affordability within the 18 percent could differ. Though an exact number has not been determined, rentals would be available to households that earn between 55 and 120 percent of the area median income, and homeownership for households that earn between 90 and 140 percent.

Thursday marked the fifth time the program has come before the Planning Commission.