San Francisco postpones vote on permitting tiny apartments

SF Public Press
 — Sep 26 2012 - 11:06am

Apartment hunters in San Francisco will have to wait a little longer before they can get their very own “shoebox” abodes.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to wait until Nov. 20 to consider an ordinance that would make the city’s smallest legal apartment size even smaller, by around 30 percent. It was the fourth time the board punted the legislation since its last amendment in July.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sponsored the ordinance, said Tuesday that things were looking good for the proposal.

“We are having ongoing discussions about this legislation,” Wiener said. “I”m cautiously optimistic.”

The amendment to the building code would reduce the minimum living space in efficiency dwelling units from 220 square feet to 150, not including the floor space of the kitchen, bathroom and closet.

The proposal comes in the context of a regional initiative encouraging “smart growth,” in which San Francisco is far from reaching its goals. The Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional planning agency, says San Francisco should build 31,193 new housing units by 2014 to keep up with projected population growth. According to developers, the smaller apartments would help the city hit that number by increasing tenant density in new developments.

Proponents also say building tiny apartments could reduce market housing prices. Patrick Kennedy, owner of development firm Panoramic Interests, has designed model apartments that contain just 160 square feet of living space. He calls this style of apartment “affordable by design.” Wiener has said apartments such as these could lower rents by drawing young tech workers who would otherwise bid up prices on more spacious properties.

But opponents worry that the revised efficiency dwelling units will raise the value of undeveloped land. With prices up, affordable housing projects may have a harder time gaining traction. That might leave low-income families few options but to squeeze into the tiny apartments, which some liken to shoeboxes.

Though Wiener’s proposed ordinance caps efficiencies at two residents each, Planning Commissioner Gwyneth Borden has said the limit would be virtually impossible to enforce.

In the meantime, demand for housing in San Francisco remains high, with vacancy rates close to zero.