California has an ambitious agenda to tackle its cost-of-living crisis by planning to build 2.5 million new homes, including one million affordable ones, within the next eight years. However, San Francisco is proving to be a significant roadblock. A recent report by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) criticized San Francisco for its complex housing approval processes and high construction costs. The city’s mayor, London Breed, concurred with the report’s findings, stating that San Francisco needs to expedite its housing projects.
The HCD report highlighted that San Francisco’s housing project approval process is the slowest in the state, taking an average of 523 days just for initial approval. After that, it takes nearly two more years to issue other building permits. The report also pointed out that local control and a discretionary process can halt any development, even those that comply with existing zoning rules.
California Governor Gavin Newsom commented that San Francisco’s housing issues are a reflection of the state’s broader affordability crisis. He emphasized that the city’s complex approval processes and high costs are self-inflicted obstacles to housing development.
The report also criticized “affluent NIMBYs” (Not In My Back Yard) for exploiting the city’s complex housing approval processes to block new developments. This has led to a situation where only experienced developers can navigate the system, and as a result, most of the housing that does get built is expensive. The report cited examples where local concerns about issues like shade have led to the halting of projects, such as a plan to replace a single-family home with 10 townhomes.
San Francisco is falling short of meeting the state’s ambitious housing goals. To keep up, the city would need to build over 10,000 new housing units every year for the next eight years, half of which should be affordable. Currently, the city is managing only about 40% of that target.
The HCD warned that if San Francisco fails to improve its housing policies, it could face various penalties, including losing state funds and even its authority to determine local land use. Mayor London Breed stated that such an outcome would be “disastrous” and emphasized the ongoing consequences of not building enough housing, such as displacement and the inability of workers to live in the city.