Multiplying San Francisco’s housing stock through duplexes

The passage of Senate Bill 9 is a win for the future of The City

By Sonja Trauss

SB 9 has been signed by Governor Gavin Newsom and is now state law. Will its impacts in San Francisco be as dire as opponents predict? Hopefully, the answer is yes.

SB 9’s opponents promise that exclusive, expensive, single family neighborhoods would suddenly be overrun with low cost apartments, opening up the neighborhood to any Tom, Dick, Harry, Lisa, Angela, Pamela, Renee, Fatima, Muhammad or Kofi. This wonderful outcome could become reality, with support from local San Franciscans.

The first thing about SB 9 that is novel and exciting is that it applies specifically to single family zoned areas (also often called “RH-1 zones”). Most land use laws that facilitate denser, lower cost housing specifically exempt single family zones. This is because our land use and zoning laws are primarily concerned with creating and maintaining economic segregation. Requiring that each dwelling unit come with a big chunk of land makes housing more expensive.

SB 9, on the other hand, specifically targets single family zones and says that cities have to allow duplexes that are the same size as the biggest single family house allowed in the neighborhood, or are at least 1,600 square feet (800 square feet per apartment), whichever is bigger.

SB 9 would allow for duplexes in many of the purple lots, which are currently zoned for single family homes. (Image courtesy of Robert Fructman)

SB 9 would allow for duplexes in many of the purple lots, which are currently zoned for single family homes. (Image courtesy of Robert Fructman)

Another exciting aspect of this path to housing production is that duplexes will be built all over The City, and not only in neighborhoods like SoMa, the Mission and the Bayview. Over the last 10 years, a shocking 80% of new housing was built in only two supervisor districts: Districts 6 and 10 represented by Matt Haney and Shamann Walton, respectively. That leaves only 20% of new housing production spread out over the other nine districts. This is clearly unfair, and absolutely nothing can justify this inequity.

SB 9’s passage provides the possibility of a massive increase in housing spread out over the whole city, but its implementation can still be sabotaged. SB 9 grants exceptions to single family areas that are historic districts (and to fire zones, but that doesn’t impact San Francisco). Local housing opponents, both inside and outside the local government, will try to take advantage of this exception and of existing processes to fight, delay and discourage the large homes in their leafy, exclusive neighborhoods from becoming duplex apartments.

You can help housing get built by joining a local YIMBY group like SFYIMBY, or by just paying attention to what is happening in your neighborhood. When you get a chance, speak up for housing. Post in the comments on Nextdoor that, no, you don’t think a new proposed duplex is going to ruin the neighborhood. Hit reply all on your neighborhood listserv and say you think San Francisco needs more housing of all kinds, and that no, we shouldn’t be organizing to stop a local housing proposal. Email your supervisor and let them know that you like SB 9, you want to see it implemented quickly and you’re looking forward to more housing in your neighborhood.

These messages really matter. Most voices in the housing debate are speaking up to find some reason housing shouldn’t be built. We need voices that say YES.

Sonja Trauss is the executive director and co-founder of Yes In My Back Yard.

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