The term “SRO” freaks people out. They associate it with rundown hotels in the Tenderloin and the tawdry housing found along the Sixth Street corridor. A few years ago, when developers were trying to build projects that at the time were called “market-rate SRO housing,” they were fighting an uphill battle against public perceptions. They’ve found a new champion in Supervisor Scott Wiener and he has come up with new terminology that makes these tiny studio apartments seem less threatening.
Often citing the city’s ponderous regulations as being detrimental to growth and affordability, Supervisor Wiener has been systematically altering many of the protections encased in the Building and Planning Codes in order to “streamline” the approval process for this kind of housing. Before the Board of Supervisors left town for their August break, they approved a package of rules meant to encourage the development of “student housing.” Related legislation on “micro-units” was put on hold by Supervisor Jane Kim (after her efforts to allow the conversion of SRO hotels to student housing failed to win support at the Planning Commission). Wiener’s legislation would reduce the amount of the living space requirement in new housing from 220 to 150 square feet.
Ostensibly, small efficiencies would seem to be just the ticket to solve the affordable housing crisis in the city, but when you begin to fool around with Building and Planning Code regulations, you often find that some of the things you’re streamlining away were put there for a good reason. The recently passed Student Housing legislation reduces open space for all units of less than 350 square feet (not just the student housing it was meant to address) to 1/3 that required for larger units. Seniors and persons with disabilities could find that their only access to fresh air is less space than what we usually set aside for a toilet stall in a public restroom.
Should the reduction in living area require some storage space elsewhere in the building? Bicycle storage and room for overflow and memorabilia are important considerations for youths and seniors. Do these Code revisions require any common space other than hallways, staircases, etc. (rooms where people can socialize)? What about the availability of neighborhood amenities (restaurants, cafes, parks, laundromats, libraries, etc.) when evaluating the suitability of very small units for seniors, mobility impaired or single parent households?
The Planning Department’s analysis also does not discuss the implications of restricting all efficiencies to no more than two occupants, regardless of size. This is a significant change from the current code, which permits increased occupancy with increased size. There has not been any discussion or exploration of how this might impact low-income families, especially single parent households with two or more children, or multi-generational low income extended families.
Access to amenities – either in the building or externally – is critical to quality of life for occupants in small units. The South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) has issued a call to defend “our right to live in this city with the dignity and the respect that we all deserve.” Angelica Cabande recently sent out the accompanying letter.
Jim Meko, chair
SoMa Leadership Council
Dear Friends and Allies,
Our community is being threatened by Supervisor Scott Wiener’s efforts to change San Francisco’s building and planning code for profit at the expense of genuine affordable housing. He is attempting to push legislation that will allow developers to build dramatically reduced living units. These code changes will benefit developers who are trying to squeeze in more high cost units into our neighborhoods and calling it “affordable housing” because the units will cost them less to make, but they can charge whatever the market can bear. It is a scenario that is all too familiar in which the greed of developers trumps the affordable housing needs of SF and our city officials attempt to sell us out without caring about the impact to our communities.
Supervisor Wiener’s efforts to change the city’s building code 1208.4 to reduce the minimum living area from 220 square feet to 150 square feet impacts our community greatly because this type of micro-unit development will be competing with the minimal land that the City has which can be use for REAL affordable housing. This type of development could possibly be catastrophic to our neighborhood, displacing low-income families and community based organizations. SF has yet to meet its SF Housing Element plan of prioritizing affordable family housing units and yet creating housing for the new techies in the neighborhood seems to be first on the agenda. With less families in San Francisco means less family-friendly city and less funds for our public schools.
These tiny dwelling units are being presented as an “affordable housing” option for the general public and even potential housing for the homeless. However, the proposed shoebox developments starts rent at $1300 dollars per month (based on current market rates), can only house two persons maximum, and are clearly not large enough for assistance vehicles like wheelchairs. These so called efficiency units are only efficient for developers to reap more money from San Franciscans while renters get to live in an over-priced shoe-box all alone. That is not a community benefit we agree upon.
We cannot afford to allow city officials and developers to change city code at will just for political and economic gain. It is now up to us to defend our right to live in this city with the dignity and the respect that we all deserve. We are calling upon you to join us in opposing Supervisor Wiener’s shoebox unit legislation (aka “efficiency” dwelling units)!
If you would like more information, SOMCAN members and staff would love to explain more. Please contact Raymond at firstname.lastname@example.org .