New density bonus plan emerges for 100 percent affordable housing projects

San Francisco’s density bonus should apply only to projects that offer entirely affordable homes.

Such is the belief of supervisors Aaron Peskin and Eric Mar, who called Tuesday for replacing the Affordable Housing Bonus Program that was introduced last year with a new version that would only allow housing developments with 100 percent affordable homes to benefit from increased height limits.

“We are providing thoughtful policy making that can be pro-density and pro-development without sacrificing neighborhood character or small businesses,” Peskin said on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday amid dozens of supporters rallying in favor of his plan.

The version announced Tuesday aims to replace the current Affordable Housing Bonus Program, which was sent to the Board of Supervisors for approval by the Planning Commission in February.

That 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.

The greatest difference between the plans is the level of affordability required in order for a project to qualify for the incentives. However, Peskin said his plan also exempts projects that demolish any housing.

City planners have said the current program will not apply to projects that eliminate housing, which Peskin contends is inaccurate.

“That’s actually not in the language,” he said.

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.

Opponents of the program have expressed concerns it will lead to displacement or encourage developers to build taller buildings in areas where residents value neighborhood character.

In response, city planners countered that the program applies primarily areas zoned as neighborhood districts where commercial use is either required or permitted on the ground floor, with residential units above.

Mar, who represents the Richmond district, said he “didn’t feel comfortable” with the way the program proposed last year would apply to the largely residential west side of The City.

“I support development that is done equitably and without displacement,” Mar said Tuesday. “San Francisco needs housing but not for the 1 percent or the 11 percent that people estimate can afford the market-rate units — it’s for all of us.”

San Francisco must develop its own density bonus to bring The City into compliance with a state law that requires all California cities to offer incentives to housing developers that offer affordable units.

Peskin on Tuesday emphasized his proposal would still meet the requirements of the state mandate.

S.F. Examiner staff writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

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