Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar Announce Legislation to Expand Housing Opportunities Along Commercial Corridors

Eliminating arbitrary density restrictions along commercial corridors will help City meet ambitious housing goals
May 22, 2023

San Francisco, CA — Today, Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Myrna Melgar announced proposed legislation that will make it easier to build new housing along commercial corridors in San Francisco. By eliminating arbitrary residential density limits that currently apply in certain mixed-use commercial districts, this proposal will create new housing opportunities in walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods across the City.   

This legislation is part of the Mayor’s Housing for All Plan, which consists of governmental organization actions, administrative actions, and legislative actions the City is taking to meet the bold goal to allow 82,000 new homes to be built over the next 8 years.   

"Creating the opportunities for more housing in all of our neighborhoods means more homes for workers, families, and seniors,” said Mayor Breed. “These arbitrary restrictions are hurting our ability to meet the housing needs of our City. Housing for All requires us to get to the heart of everything that is slowing and stopping housing in the City, and this is a key step in that effort.”   

“We need to incentivize development of housing where it makes the most sense, such as along commercial corridors near transit on the Westside. While preserving heights and existing neighborhood character, this legislation will make space for seniors to downsize into new housing and offer opportunities for new residents, including families and workers, to revitalize our neighborhood business areas,” said Supervisor Myrna Melgar who represents District 7.   

Currently, many areas of San Francisco have restrictions on the number of units that can be included in a proposed housing project regardless of the existing height limits. This was a hallmark of conventional, exclusionary 20th century city planning. For example, some neighborhoods in the Sunset limit a typical 2,500 square foot San Francisco lot to three units, despite building code requirements that would easily allow for more. In fact, when these arbitrary zoning controls were imposed, many existing buildings at the time were already out of compliance with the newly imposed restrictions.   

The proposed legislation will change the law so that certain areas of San Francisco with mixed residential and commercial uses – especially along our transit corridors - will no longer have these arbitrary unit restrictions. Instead, they will rely on form-based zoning – which is the existing height, bulk, and setback requirements.  This will allow for more homes to be built without raising height limits.    

Starting in 2006, San Francisco began to apply form-based zoning far more widely, focusing first in areas like the Dogpatch, SoMA, and the Mission neighborhoods. The legislation will expand the practice to focus on neighborhoods across the entire City, including areas that have traditionally seen less housing built as identified in the Housing Element, that will most benefit from the creation of new housing opportunities.    

Specifically, this legislation will apply in two types of areas:   

  • Residential-Commercial districts, which combine higher-density residential uses with neighborhood-serving commercial uses. Examples include the Van Ness Corridor.  
  • Neighborhood Commercial Districts which are mixed-use neighborhoods established around historical neighborhood commercial centers. Examples include: Polk Street, Irving Street and Taraval in the Sunset, Clement Street and Geary Boulevard, 24th Street in Noe Valley, and others.   

This proposal aligns with the Housing Element’s focus on creating new homes on the west side of the City. The Housing Element was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor in January.   

"It’s past time to undo the exclusionary zoning limits of the 1970s,” said Rich Hillis, the City’s Director of Planning. “Increasing housing capacity along mixed-use transit corridors without changing the architectural character of our neighborhoods is consistent with the Housing Element and a critical step toward housing the San Franciscans of today and of the future.”  

“San Francisco’s incredible, walkable neighborhood corridors are dispersed throughout the city — Polk, Irving, Geary, Haight, Union, and more — yet for so long, city policy has put arbitrary limits on how many people can call these places home,” said Annie Fryman, Director of Special Projects for SPUR. “By removing density limits and allowing more San Franciscans to live on our neighborhood corridors, we will make our neighborhoods even more livable while helping small business and transit thrive.”   

“We applaud Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar for advancing this important legislation,” said Jane Natoli, San Francisco Organizing Director for YIMBY Action. “Adopting form-based zoning in commercial districts allows us to move past the arbitrary restrictions of the past to bring more homes in walkable, transit-rich locations throughout the entirety of San Francisco.”   

“HAC has long advocated for this key zoning reform measure that will make it faster and easier to build more critically-needed housing for San Francisco residents of all income levels,” said Corey Smith, Executive Director of the Housing Action Coalition. “This means more, and more affordable, housing options for individuals and families of every age and phase of life - students, young workers and families, empty nesters, seniors, and more. We applaud Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar for driving this legislation forward, and look forward to fighting with them to ensure it becomes law.”  

This legislation will be introduced in June. In addition to this proposed legislation, Mayor Breed’s Housing for All Plan has consisted of the following initial actions:     

  • Issued Housing for All Executive Directive which set the immediate and near-term actions the City will take to begin to make real change to how San Francisco approves and builds housing.    
  • Passed legislation to unlock the housing pipeline by initiating a targeted form of public financing that will allow the critical infrastructure at large projects to be built and get housing construction started faster.    
  • Convened an Affordable Housing Leadership Council, which will help the City chart a path forward for meeting affordable housing goals.     
  • Initiated a proposal to streamline city permitting by improving San Francisco’s Site Permit approval process that is expected to dramatically reduce development timelines.   
  • Introduced legislation to simplify office-to-residential conversions, which will amend the City’s Planning and Building Codes to ease requirements for converting existing office buildings into housing.  
  • Introduced legislation to remove barriers for new housing by cutting unnecessary processes and expanding incentives for housing.