EVNA skeptical of Wiener In-Law legislation; survey asks for feedback

In-Law legislation boundaries. Blue circle indicates Montecito no build area.

In-Law legislation boundaries. Blue circle indicates Montecito no build area.

Last October, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation to the Board of Supervisors to amend the Planning and Administrative codes to allow construction of in-law units in existing residential buildings or auxiliary structures on the same lot as a response to the now acute housing crisis in San Francisco. The legislation does not extend the planning and administrative code exemption to the entire city, only to the residential properties within 1750 feet of the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District and also prohibits any construction of in-law units within 500 feet of the Montecito North building at 4096 17th Street (UPDATE: 7:50PM — Supervisor Wiener owns a condo in the complex and California law prohibits him from legislating a rezoning within 500 feet of property he owns).

  • In-law units can be 220 to 750 square feet complete with kitchen and bathroom.
  • Units will have to be within the building’s existing space, e.g., a garage, a large storage space, a large basement area within the existing envelope of the building or within the envelope of an existing accessory building on the same lot, e.g., a studio in the rear yard.
  • Buildings of 10 or fewer units can add one in-law unit above existing zoning limits and buildings of more than 10 units can add two.

District 3 Supervisor David Chiu has also introduced in-law unit legislation which seeks to legalize existing illegal in-law units. The legislation does not increase housing availability, but it does protect existing tenants from eviction or harassment.

The Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association is concerned about the actual impact Supervisor Wiener’s legislation will have on increasing the availability of housing stock in the Castro area. They are conducting a study on the legislation and have put together a survey on their website that allows the community to provide their feedback. The EVNA board will be doing a formal vote after conducting interviews with neighbors, collecting the data from the survey, and working with Supervisor Wiener to provide feedback and recommendations. The survey will close Monday, March 3rd.

The EVNA is mainly concerned that the legislation will be changing the planning code too dramatically and in too fine a geographic area for very little return. On their website they mention,

…how effective will this policy be in providing more affordable housing to people who want to live with us here in the Castro? The proposed geographical area is quite small, about the three blocks surrounding the Castro NCD. A major portion to the NorthWest is excluded. Then of existing housing stock in this small area, a residential building has to have 225-750 sq-ft of extra space in the basement or an existing outbuilding to carve out one new unit (two if the building has 6 or more units). More significantly,property owners will need to be convinced that adding another unit on their property is a “good thing” for them, or else we won’t see many additional units added to our housing stock. “What’s in it for me?” There must be positive incentives for property owners to provide this additional housing, or we won’t realize any.

It’s an election year cycle and Supervisor Wiener (so far running largely unopposed) and City Hall are facing pressure from housing rights advocates to do SOMETHING about housing availability and evictions in the city. Many people see Wiener’s legislation as political grandstanding and others see it as a step in the right direction to solve a complicated housing crisis.

In an op-ed in the BAR in November, Supervisor Wiener said that the legislation is by no means a solution to the city’s housing problems, but rather one piece in a puzzle of action that can be taken now, “In-law units are by no means a global solution, but they are one piece of the puzzle, one that will allow people to stay in the neighborhood when they otherwise would have no realistic option to do so. It’s time to take a serious stab at addressing our community’s housing needs by implementing realistic solutions.”

The legislation will be heard by the Planning Commission tentatively on March 6, 2014, and then it will go before the Board of Supervisors Planning and Land Use Committee sometime in March with Board of Supervisors vote the following week.

Roy McKenzie

Roy has been a Castro resident since 2010 and is passionate about politics, camping, and food. Follow his babbling on Twitter.

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19 Responses

  1. DerekSF says:

    My concern would be for each garage converted to an in-law apartment, you are potentially putting two more cars on the street, that of the property owner and that of the new tenant. Within the last year, I’ve noticed trying to park on street has gotten significantly more difficult.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

    • Muni, walking, biking, ride-sharing/carpooling… all great ways around this issue.

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      • DerekSF says:

        I agree as a Transit First City, we should have viable alternatives, but until we significantly invest in Muni improvements, people will continue to use cars if they can. Between waiting and transfers a simple trip to Trader Joe’s from the Castro often takes 45 minutes each way, but only 5 by car.

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    • loic says:

      That is the reason why we are discussing this new legislation. Not all garages are used to park cars. But you are right, potentially some cars might have to move. What we can ask Supervisor Wiener is to put some words like the space in front of the garage, on the street will be converted in parking space (i.e. no more driveway). That would mitigate the impact.

      When I see all the garages not used to store a car, I wish the curb in front of it could be used as a parking spots…

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  2. chuck says:

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

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    • Sanchez Resident says:

      I’m sure housing will be a topic for the debates amongst the District 8 candidates in the upcoming election. If you don’t like the current supervisor, then you might want to consider the alternatives. Please be aware that the alternatives can be far worse.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  3. Tim Denike says:

    Is it just me or does the boundary map look like a death star? pew pew!

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  4. Rob says:

    what is the deal with nothing being added near the Montecito apartments on 17th street? Does anybody know?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Yes. Under California law, Supervisor Wiener cannot legislate a rezoning within 500 feet of property he owns. Wiener owns a condo in Montecito North.

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  5. So an in-law unit can be rented at market rate, right? Need a broom closet w/ toilet and hot plate? We’ve got it for $3000/month. It’s a win/win!

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  6. Larry Bush says:

    I support allowing in-law or secondary units for several reasons. A goal for the LGBT community is to age in the community, and many of us are nearing or passing 70. The ability to offer a caregiver housing as part of an arrangement creates greater stability for both the caregiver and the resident. Also, many such units already exist, and the potential loss due to enforcement means loss opportunities for people to live in our community. The lack of legal status also means that any income from them can not be included in calculating mortgage eligibility, and expanding the pool of people eligible for mortgages helps potential homeowners afford to live here. I understand the parking issue, but nearly every property in this zone has a walk score of 97 or higher. A car is not as essential here, and we have car share capacity expanding when it is necessary. A secondary unit would also fall under rent control, which is a positive in my view. I think there are some points that could be added to make this friendlier to the neighborhoods, such as a tax credit for adding handicap accessible features, or a limit on the number of S stickers per household (currently you might have two tenants yet five or more parking permits — where is the sense in that?). We are a city that relies on expanding housing options. I would far prefer more secondary units to having more glass boxes like those going up on upper Market that make me feel like I’m in Raleigh NC.

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

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  8. sjg says:

    I don’t really see how this legislation will make any impact. It won’t really address the affordability issue. Any units created will just get rented a market rate. I would disagree that rent control will play a huge issue if a unit is renting at $3000+. I just rented my downstairs 2 bedroom unit for $4000, it is rent controlled. I’m not too worried about losing money over the long run.
    If the legislation passes, it’s fine. It’s a nice effort I suppose.

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    • loic says:

      Depending on the in-law, but I doubt it would find someone paying $3,000+. The market will tell I guess… if enough people take advantage of it, it might create more housing stock. While it won’t probably make a big difference in the Castro, if this is successful in our neighborhood, it would extended to the City. It is one way to add more housing options. It creates higher density, without relying on “luxury glass boxes” (since it is the only thing that is built in the City). It is not the solution of all housing issues, but it should not hurt.

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  9. Castro Resident says:

    Why are we proposing spot zoning? If this is good for the Castro, why not the whole city? Likely because in many parts of the city it would not have ANY chance. If you own a single family house, in a neighborhood of single family houses, why should your neighbor change the character of the neighborhood by putting a second residence on a small urban lot. One cottage at a time is not the way to solve a much larger issue, IMO.

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    • rblack says:

      It’s my understanding that Sup Wiener wanted to test it out in his own district before rolling it out to the rest of the city.

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      • chuck says:

        Sup Wiener should not be allowed to break the law to “test” ideas in his own nieghborhood.

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        • Larry Bush says:

          If the Board approves a project, even in a pilot or test, if it not breaking the law. With regards to this being Sup. Wiener’s district, it is also the district most likely to have or want inlaw units because of the accessibility of transportation, shopping and overall convenience and doesn’t significantly add to the population.
          For that matter, the law allows all buildings here to be up to three stories (more if grandfathered in). Would you like to see two story homes torn down to put in a three story home everywhere? That would be legal, but in my view, harms the neighborhood.

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