Sup. Wiener Proposes Waiving Restrictions on Castro ‘In Law’ Units

This converted out building behind the main property now serves as rental income for its owner. Photo: Institute of Urban and Regional Development

This converted out building behind the main property now serves as rental income for its owner. Photo: Institute of Urban and Regional Development

There’s little doubt it’s an ugly rental market  in the Castro right now. Evictions are way up and new rental units offered within freshly minted builds are priced well above a lot of citizen’s reach. To help alleviate some housing stress Dist. 8 Supervisor Wiener is sponsoring an amendment to SF’s Planning Code around Castro ‘In Law’ units waiving existing density restrictions and Code requirements. He believes this will create more affordable housing units in the Castro.

The change would allow property owners who have the space, or a existing garage, basement, or out building (shed) on their plot of land to construct or convert it into a In Law unit. These units must be fully functioning with a bathroom and kitchen, be no smaller than 300 and no larger than 750 square feet. To qualify the property must fall within the confines of the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District or within 1,750 feet of the District boundaries.

Basically if your lot meets the parameters -and- you can make it legal, to code and squeeze in another unit  on your property go for it. The Supervisor believes this idea will create more affordable, secondary units in the Castro and get in need renters in to new homes. He’s also proposing that if the building is rent controlled and the owners construct or convert space for a new In-Law unit that rent control policy would be extended to these rental units as well.

Scott Wiener framed in the door of his successful 2008 campaign headquarters for SF Dist. 8 Supervisor .

Scott Wiener framed in the door of his successful 2008 campaign headquarters for SF Dist. 8 Supervisor .

This idea of changing the Code and allowing in-law units to be added to existing property isn’t new. It’s been suggested and shot down before, but, these desperate rental times being what they are it might make it through all of City Hall hoops this go around.

The City is on track to hit 300 Ellis Act evictions this year – many targeting our neighborhood’s vulnerable seniors – City officials are scrambling to help, create new solutions and find affordable housing for those on limited incomes who are being displaced. For many seniors facing eviction is tantamount to a death sentence. The daunting task of finding new housing anywhere in the Castro (or greater Bay Area) proves to be next to impossible for most.

The Supervisors critics aren’t convinced. Commenters on recent posts on the In-Law subject have wondered how these new units will affect property values in an already skyrocketing real estate market? Will these new in-law units be an economical boon for some greedy and unscrupulous property owners? Will property now be reassessed for tax purposes once units are built, converted or illegal ones brought up to code and approved? And what’s to stop landlords from evicting people from these units using the Ellis Act provisions as well? How does the new in-law units effect density issues in a neighborhood currently experiencing such rapid new building growth along the Octavia Market corridor?

“There’s no silver bullet in improving affordability, but this is one piece of the puzzle – creating an option that is more affordable than most other options”, Mr. Wiener recently posted on his Facebook page.

Waiyde Palmer

Waiyde Palmer loves San Francisco, social activism and punk rock(ers). His work has appeared in Handbook Magazine. SF Bay Times, The Advocate, Diseased Pariah News and American Music Press . He also has an extensive and repeatedly redacted FBI file.

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19 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  2. Douglass Furr says:

    At the same time that Wiener is proposing creating new sub-standard housing stock for the Castro, he is also proposing that TIC’s be more easily turned into condos so that more tenants lose their rent control protections and become more susceptible to evictions. The real estate interests that have been bankrolling Wiener win on both accounts and tenants lose out on both accounts. Can we afford another term for Scott Wiener? Not if we can’t afford to pay him off.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10

    • Tim Denike says:

      The TIC conversion issue is already settled. The vast majority of TICs eligible for conversion are owner-occupied and have been for 7 years in the case of the first batch of buildings. The few buildings with tenants are required to sign lifetime rent-controlled leases if they want to convert.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. Me says:

    I would hope that if this came up for a vote the other supes would see the value of easing restrictions on in laws in all SF neighborhoods.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  4. sjg says:

    It’s not an idea completely without merit. However, I do question how much it will really create any “affordable” housing (whatever that term means anymore). Your previous story reported 81 new apartments now available starting at $2950 (yikes!). I don’t see how any additions of in-laws would do anything other than create more market rate housing. There would have to be a flood of such units to have any impact which just won’t happen.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  5. Sasha says:

    Discussions of housing in SF by people of good will seem to have degenerated into fear pits where no possible way forward is a good one. Housing prices and rents are shooting up, in part because SF building has in no way kept up with demand for several decades. The simple solution is to build more units. Clearly that won’t help this year, or maybe even this decade. It won’t stop people being forced out of their neighborhoods by climbing prices right now. But we can be pretty sure that if we *don’t* build a lot more housing, demand for the small pool of existing housing–especially in walkable neighborhoods and transit-rich areas, like the Castro–will continue to push prices up. Just because some property owners are or come off as greedy is no reason to stop all development of new housing.
    And the idea of adding in-law units seems to me more likely to create more rental housing owned by small “mom & pop” landlords, rather than the “evil” real-estate companies that are so often trotted out in discussions of SF housing problems. Personally, I think leaving something as basic as housing to a profit-driven system is fundamentally insane. But I also don’t think that’s going to change tomorrow, and if nothing else we need to take some steps forward to make things better. I haven’t always been a fan of Scott Wiener, but this proposal seems like on balance, it’d benefit the Castro and the city as a whole.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

    • Shane says:

      Unfortunately his “plan” only benefits the Castro as he’s not pushing for in-laws in any other district but his own.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that ALL building stop immediately. The story about the shortage of units has been sufficiently disseminated.

      Reasonable people are wondering why ALL (or 98%) of the building being done is for LUXURY units with 2% going to BMR units. Most people can’t possibly (or refuse to subject themselves to) afford the grossly inflated market rate. Those same people aren’t eligible for BMR housing because they either make too much money individually or as a couple to even apply.

      The dissipating big fat middle is being ignored and they, unfortunately, aren’t going to fit into any landlord’s converted pantry for $3000 / month.

      Some people (SW) will do anything to see their name in lights.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

      • RemyMarathe says:

        Ok. What’s YOUR plan, then?

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

      • ls says:

        If too many luxury condos are built, then their price will lower. If richer people can find luxury condos, maybe they will stop to compete with the rest of us on older condos.

        As long as they build, no matter what (luxury vs. normal), it is fine, the market will eventually adjust (assuming people still want to leave in the City). The older condos will eventually become the new BMR.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  6. Peter P. says:

    Do property owners really want more rent controlled tenants? Seems like more hassle than it’s worth.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

    • Are you suggesting that a landlord wouldn’t be willing to rent out a broom closet for the market rate of $3000 a month because it would be rent controlled??

      That sounds like more of a hassle to the tenant.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  7. sfjohn says:

    Actually this is not a new idea – Willie Brown proposed something similar for all in laws throughout the City when he was mayor. Some aren’t that bad (I lived in an in law for years on Guerrero), some are glorified closets/ shacks. So let’s see how Weiner is going to elaborate (bldg code requirements, access/egress, etc)

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  8. Brian basinger says:

    Illegal units cannot be sold as TIC’s or condo converted. All this legislation does is create additional $600,000 or more in profit for people evicting tenants in the Castro. There is nothing in the legislation that protects tenants from being evicted or ensures these units are affordable to the people who already live here. If Supervisor Wiener really wanted to achieve what he is promoting – protecting tenants from displacement and ensuring affordability – there are ways he could have achieved that in this legislation. I for one am getting bored with this bait and switch.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  9. Sasha says:

    I’m also not a big fan of the fact that almost everything being built seems to be high-end units. I hold out hope, though, that all the new luxury apartments and condos might absorb some demand that would otherwise bid up modest apartments or small houses, relieving some demand (and therefore price hikes) on non-luxury housing. Not sure how much of a difference that will make in the short term, though.

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  10. J says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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