SF may close loopholes in “group housing” developments

Supervisor Aaron Peskin says a 2005 zoning change has allowed developers to create corporate housing instead of family apartments

Rendering of group housing development 450 O’Farrell with Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Forge Development Partners, Wikipedia)
Rendering of group housing development 450 O’Farrell with Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Forge Development Partners, Wikipedia)

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants to close a legal loophole that gave Planning Commission approval to a controversial microhome project at 450 O’Farrell Street that lacked enough cooking facilities and food storage for families living in its planned 350-to-500-square-foot apartments.

Peskin wants to change the definition of “group housing” to developments without individual kitchens and more dedicated common space, according to the San Francisco Business Times. His proposal would also ban new group housing projects in parts of Chinatown, North Beach, Nob Hill and the Tenderloin; most of those neighborhoods are in Peskin’s district.

The legislation provides a “long overdue tweak” that is important for providing “permanent housing for people who need it,” Peskin told the Business Times.

The two ordinances were written in collaboration with the city’s Planning Department and neighborhood groups, who had been clamoring for changes to a 2005 zoning move that allowed small in-unit kitchens in group housing. Ever since, the legislation says, these units often became under-the-table corporate rentals or second and third homes, preventing them from serving as affordable primary homes for San Francisco residents, especially families.

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“We were seeing issues of overcrowding, issues of affordability, and these small micro group housing units not being able to meet a need in the neighborhood, especially at the scale and size of 450 O’Farrell,” Gabriella Ruiz, a senior planner with the non-profit Chinatown Community Development Corporation, told the Business Times.

The proposed changes wouldn’t have an impact on group housing as far down the permitting pipeline as 450 O’Farrell, which was one of two recent high-profile development deals rejected by the city’s Board of Supervisors that sparked a state investigation into whether the denials were lawful. The church that owns the O’Farrell property and will remain on the ground floor in the proposed development has also said it’s considering a lawsuit if the apartment building isn’t allowed to proceed.

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[SFBT] – Emily Landes