Real Estate Reporter

The speed of housing


On Oct. 11, Mayor London Breed created a new position, the director of housing delivery, to speed up the permitting time for new housing. The director will manage a housing delivery team to meet Breed’s goal of cutting in half the permitting time after Planning Commission approval.

“We are in desperate need of new housing, but our current permitting process is too slow as projects are bounced back and forth between city departments instead of moving forward,” said Mayor Breed. “Once the Planning Commission approves these projects, the city must move more quickly to get these housing units permitted so we can create more homes for people.” She said the new director’s “sole job” will be to work with other departments to streamline the permitting process and get housing built quickly. Some of that streamlining could come in the form of digitizing certain processes so multiple city departments can review an application at the same time rather than serially.

Doug Shoemaker, president of affordable housing developer Mercy Housing California, said “Too often, projects can get entangled in conflicts that delay housing that we need right now, and these changes will help projects like ours avoid problems and get directly into the hands of working families.”

Shoemaker’s comment echoes the sentiments of housing developers surveyed in “Perspectives: Practitioners Weigh in on Drivers of Rising Housing Construction Costs in San Francisco,” a report released by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center in January 2018. That report concluded that the city’s lengthy and complex planning process wasn’t the only thing driving up the cost of housing development, but it was a major one. “The most significant and pointless factor driving up construction costs was the length of time it takes for a project to get through the city permitting and development processes,” the report said. It noted that those surveyed “acknowledged that city agencies — such as the planning department — have been chronically understaffed (leading to capacity constraints), they also highlighted significant process hurdles that contribute little to public welfare, but that nevertheless drive up the costs of development.”

The lack of coordination between agencies was highlighted in the report, and Breed’s new director will be in the hot seat to change that.

The Terner report said that unlike cost factors “that promote public benefits (such as energy conservation), permitting and processing delays, or even small design changes, rarely improve the overall project or its benefits to residents.” It quoted one participant as saying, “We may not be able to do anything about the cost of concrete, but when every person in the city feels empowered to make small changes in the middle of development, it creates time delays that impose not only construction costs . . . but also the cost of money, the cost of people’s time, the architects that need to redesign the plans.”

Will Breed’s new position change things, or will the new person just be one more layer of bureaucracy? We’ll all find out.


In San Francisco, $1,349,400 was the median price of a home in August, according to a Zillow market report on the city. That was up .1 percent from the previous month, and up 7 percent from the previous year. Compare that to Oakland’s $746,100 median price (with similar monthly and annual increases) or San Jose’s $1,104,100 median price, which was a 15.2 percent increase from a year earlier.

Zillow expects home values in San Francisco to rise faster than the national rate over the next 12 months, increasing 7.3 percent versus a national 6.4 percent boost.


Few will be surprised that many Marina Times readers live in the city’s most expensive housing area. The area including Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, Cow Hollow, and the Marina is home to the most expensive homes, according to a new market report from Compass.


“If you want to understand San Francisco’s self-inflicted housing crisis, look no further than the city’s very first zoning law, commonly known as the Cubic Air Ordinance, which set a disturbing standard for the city’s eventual missteps. Proposed in 1870, during a time of rampant real-estate speculation in a boomtown renowned for its lawlessness, the new law required boarding houses to offer a minimum amount of space per tenant. Officials claimed this would promote safer housing and improve residents’ quality of life, a noble cause for government intervention. But the law’s true purpose — to criminalize Chinese renters and landlords so their jobs and living space could be reclaimed for San Francisco’s white residents — set an ominous precedent. [The law] laid the groundwork for 150 years of exclusionary zoning or land-use policy designed to protect the status quo, rather than responsibly manage growth. Often fueled by racism and greed, the dark history of San Francisco urban planning is a story that’s still being told, its latest chapter being the city’s current housing crisis.”

—Hunter Oatman-Stanford, Collectors Weekly



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