Planning to Wiener on Castro in-law legislation: Yes, but work on it
The Examiner reported yesterday that Supervisor Wiener’s sponsored in-law unit (or accessory dwelling unit) legislation passed the Planning Commission on March 6th and is enroute to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. We covered the proposal last year which includes lifting restrictions for property owners who have the space, or an existing garage, basement, or out building on their property to construct or convert it into a in-law unit. These units must be fully functioning with a bathroom and kitchen and be no smaller than 220 sqft and no larger than 750 sqft. The legislation applies only to 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 (Supervisor Wiener owns a condo in Montecito North and, due to California law, is not permitted to legislate a rezoning within 500 feet of property he owns).
Each new in-law unit built will be subject to rent control if an existing unit in the building is currently under rent control. In-law units added to pre-1979 units are subject to the full standards of San Francisco’s rent control regulations. In-law units added to post-1979 buildings would not be subject to rent control.
District 3 Supervisor David Chiu has also introduced in-law unit legislation which seeks to legalize existing illegal in-law units citywide. Chiu’s legislation does not increase housing availability, but it would protect existing tenants from eviction or harassment. We asked Supervisor Wiener if he supported David Chiu’s legislation and he mentioned he was actually co-sponsoring the plan.
The Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the Planning Commission endorsing Supervisor Wiener’s legislation and included specific points where they would see the legislation improved. The EVNA was initially skeptical of how effective this legislation would be at increasing the availability of housing stock in the Castro area and was mainly concerned that the legislation would be changing the planning code too dramatically and in too fine a geographic area for very little return. We reported back in February that the EVNA was surveying local property owners and renters to gauge their feedback on the legislation and their interest in participating in building an additional unit on their property. Results of the survey showed that 69% (120) strongly approve or approve, 6% (10) neither approve nor disapprove and 25% (44) disapprove or strongly disapprove of the legislation.
We asked Supervisor Wiener how many units he sees being built within the first year if his legislation passes. “I can’t say for sure, but it will take some time to ramp up. Our planning permit process is very slow for all construction, and this will be no exception. Also the Department of Building Inspection will need to issue bulletins relaxing the building code where appropriate, which will take some time. These timing issues — planning process and building code — apply to David Chiu’s legislation as well,” wrote the Supervisor.
Supervisor Wiener also mentioned that various folks have approached him expressing interest in building an in-law unit if the legislation passes, but that there are many cost variables to consider when adding a to-code unit onto an existing property. “People will need to assess how feasible it is for their particular building. It will work very well in some, but not all, buildings,” wrote Supervisor Wiener.
During the public comment period at the Planning Commission meeting many members of the community including folks from outside the Castro spoke in favor of the legislation. A representative from the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition also spoke in broad support of the legislation saying, “in essence we think we generally share the goals of the proposal by Supervisor Wiener and that there’s a number of positive elements to it.” The SFADC in addition to Planning Commission President Cindy Wu and other commissioners believe that Supervisor Wiener’s and Supervisor Chiu’s bills should be considered in tandem. They mentioned adapting Wiener’s legislation to include verbiage from Chiu’s legislation that protects renters by preventing TIC and condo-conversion of these new units and pushed Wiener to consider it at either the Land Use and Economic Development Committee or the full Board of Supervisors meeting.
Commissioner President Wu’s closing comment highlighted the fact that the term “middle-income” when it comes to housing affordability now more closely reflects those who make about $100k/year if you follow the one-third rule,
From the information that was provided it really seems like this is going to be more of a middle -income housing strategy and that’s fine, but I just want to be clear about what we’re talking about. The rents for the existing similarly-sized units, it looks like the median is about $2800 (per month) so in the staff report that was provided you would have to make a little bit over $100k (per year) as a single person to afford something like that. And so it’s hitting a certain part of the market and whether or not you want to call it middle-income can be up for debate.