State scrutinizes SF’s slow housing approvals

Unprecedented investigation to look at “political decision-making” process

State Department of Housing and Community Development director Gustavo Velasquez (, Getty)
State Department of Housing and Community Development director Gustavo Velasquez (, Getty)

It takes San Francisco about 15 months to approve a new housing project. Now state housing officials have launched an unprecedented probe to find out why.

The Department of Housing and Community Development has launched a housing policy and practice review of the city to find out why it takes so long to approve new residential projects, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The first-of-its-kind departmental investigation comes as the notoriously housing-deprived city takes 450 days, on average, to greenlight housing projects — the longest approval timeline in the state. 

“We are deeply concerned about processes and political decision-making in San Francisco that delay and impede the creation of housing, and want to understand why this is the case,” HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez said in a statement.

The department said it wants to identify whether the city has violated state housing law. It will work with the state Attorney General’s office to pursue any potential violations, meaning it might seek legal action to force the city to comply with state housing policy.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who has pushed for more housing as mayor, said in a tweet Tuesday that she looks forward to cooperating with the state.

“For years, San Francisco has made it too hard to approve and build new homes,” she tweeted. “That must change.”

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The housing department has described a pattern of problematic behavior in San Francisco with regards to housing approvals.

Last year, the agency opened a formal investigation into whether the city’s Board of Supervisors had violated housing law in declining to approve a pair of zoning-compliant projects — 469 Stevenson Street and 450 O’Farrell Street — that would have built more than 800 apartments.

It also criticized the city’s housing element, or state-mandated plan to meet housing targets, including 82,000 homes by the end of the decade. Reaction to the state probe was swift.

“Today our state housing department announced a top-to-bottom deep review of SF’s broken, illegal housing policy, state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, tweeted. “The Department has also concluded SF’s draft housing element is deficient. “The days of SF & other cities flouting state housing laws are over. Accountability is here.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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