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S.F. housing crisis: New fourplex law passes — with support from Breed and YIMBYs

For the second time this year, San Francisco supervisors have passed legislation allowing fourplexes to be built in every neighborhood, with up to six units permitted on all corner lots.

And this time, the ordinance is likely to become law. Mayor London Breed vetoed the last fourplex legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors, but she has signaled that she is on board with the version supervisors approved overwhelmingly Tuesday.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has been trying since last year to get a local law passed that would allow four-to-six unit apartment buildings throughout the city. Currently, about 40% of the city is zoned for single-family homes. But Breed rejected the legislation the board passed over the summer because she said it would actually set back housing production.

Now, supervisors amended the ordinance in ways that have assuaged some of the mayor’s top concerns. A spokesperson for her office told The Chronicle on Monday that the mayor supports the legislation “in its current form.” And three out of four supervisors who voted against the last ordinance voted for the amended one, making it veto-proof.

“It’s a very small piece — but I think an important piece — of getting us to where we need to be in terms of housing in the city,” Mandelman said in an interview.

Supervisors have removed language in the legislation that would have eliminated single-family zoning in the city — a provision that would have made a new state law intended to boost housing density no longer apply in San Francisco.

Last year’s SB9 helps homeowners who want to add units get fast-tracked approval in way that circumvents city officials’ ability to use their discretion to reject developments. But the state law only applies to areas zoned for single-family homes.

Because the fourplex legislation being considered by supervisors Tuesday would not get rid of single-family zoning, SB9 will remain in effect in San Francisco. Homeowners who want to expand their properties could use either the SB9 process to create a duplex or split their lot, or they could take advantage of the local ordinance’s new process that would allow four to six units.

Another major change to the supervisors’ fourplex ordinance reduces the number of years that a person must have owned their property before being able to benefit from the local law.

Under the version of the ordinance that Breed rejected, a property owner was required to own their lot for at least five years to take advantage of the provision allowing for four-to-six unit buildings. Supervisor Dean Preston sought that provision with the goal of preventing real estate speculation.

Now the ownership requirement is just one year.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who voted against the last fourplex ordinance, said he wished the ownership requirement was removed entirely.

“It is still gonna slow the process of creating four- and six-plexes down significantly,” Safaí said. But he called it “a step in the right direction.”

Safaí said he decided to back the current legislation largely because it won’t eliminate SB9’s applicability to San Francisco. Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Catherine Stefani, both of whom voted against the ordinance last time, supported the latest version too. The final vote in favor of the new fourplex ordinance was 10-1, with only Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton dissenting. Walton voted against the last fourplex legislation too.

After the vote, Breed ’s office said in a statement that the legislation was a positive advancement “for more housing options and still, we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Preserving SB9 also helped some housing advocates with the “yes in my backyard,” or YIMBY, movement drop their opposition to the board’s fourplex ordinance.

Representatives of SF YIMBY told supervisors in an Oct. 7 letter that they were “relieved and grateful that SB 9 will continue to apply to San Francisco” and they could now support the ordinance.

“While we do not expect this proposal will add much new housing, we are glad to see members of the Board being open to reforming our zoning laws,” wrote volunteer lead Robert Fruchtman and legal advocacy director Rafa Sonnenfeld. “We also agree with the Board that it is important to create multiple pathways to increase density and create additional housing stock in San Francisco.”

SB9 has had limited impact in San Francisco since it went into effect at the start of the year. Fewer than 30 projects have applied using the new law, and just three have been approved by the planning department.

J.D. Morris (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @thejdmorris

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