Housing for workforce and middle-income families has been stymied by five challenging factors: typology, neighborhood opposition, land, affordability and delivery.
Challenge #1- Typology
The historic typology of the San Francisco townhouse on its own plot is not longer feasible. There is insufficient vacant land to meet the demand. Moreover, its two- and three- story wood construction with stairs and drought-ravaged back yards are problematic in a city susceptible to catastrophic fire, in an era demanding a sustainable approach to building and in a situation requiring a more efficient use of land.
Meanwhile, the current typology of high rise buildings is unacceptable to families for the small sized units, the mixture of occupants with differing values and needs, the lack of safe play spaces, and the location along traffic corridors and industrial zones.
The issue is complicated by the fact that neighborhoods are in opposition to new housing and more families.
To meet this challenge a new typology, a new product that can satisfy the needs of families, the concerns of neighborhoods and the efficient use of land is called for.
Challenge #2- Neighborhood opposition
For decades San Francisco’s local residents have organized to oppose new housing in their neighborhoods. This opposition is based on the deeply held belief arising from past exploitative housing projects that development only brings problems, never any benefits.
A strategy that changes the dynamic of neighborhood opposition and turns adversaries into advocates is necessary.
Challenge #3- Land
San Francisco is landlocked, unable to expand to meet its needs. Within its boundary there is little vacant land. San Francisco has land, but it is underutilized. An obsolete planning idea has left a legacy of 175,000 standard sized lots with only a single dwelling on each.
The challenge is how to convert this underutilized land into sites for new, high quality, efficient housing with the voluntary participation of homeowners.
Challenge #4- Affordability
Despite the variety of fixed rate, adjustable rate, no down payment, interest only, etc. mortgages, the conventional approach to financing a home in San Francisco based on income does not work. In a situation of rapidly rising home prices but stagnant middle-class incomes, the affordability gap cannot be closed.
Within the series of constraints that define the San Francisco housing market, developers concede that are unable to reduce the cost side of housing to where it is affordable for middle-income families.
Another finance approach that does not rely on wages is required.
Challenge #5- Delivery
In the seven year period, 2007-2014, the traditional delivery process was able to produce only 175 units of middle-income housing per year while the population grew by nearly 60,000.
The traditional delivery process reliant on the efforts of individual developers is no longer capable of meeting the demand, or able to withstand an approval process hindered by neighborhood opposition. Various proposals to streamline the process are under discussion and approval including by-right development. These will help but will not redress the enormous imbalance in demand and production.
If the challenge of producing 10,000 new homes is to be met, a new delivery process is clearly needed.