Silicon Valley is facing a major housing crisis and San Francisco’s state representative, Scott Weiner, has proposed a (very) ambitious bill to allow much more construction. Now, his proposal, SB 827, has the backing of dozens of technology leaders, from Linkedin’s Reid Hoffman to Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.
“The lack of homebuilding in California imperils our ability to hire employees and grow our companies. We recognize that the housing shortage leads to displacement, crushing rent burdens, long commutes, and environmental harm, and we want to be part of the solution,” notes the letter, sent in collaboration with the pro-housing group, California YIMBY. “The housing shortage places a huge burden on workers, many of whom face punishingly long commutes and pay over half of their income on rent.”
Regular readers know that I’ve been very skeptical of past attempts to fix housing, because prior solutions didn’t go nearly far enough. San Francisco alone needs hundreds of thousands of units to make a significant dent in the cost of housing, yet many proposals only add tens of thousands over too long a timeline. Cities need to fundamentally overhaul their landscapes to have any chance at affordability for all income levels.
Weiner’s bill takes this fact seriously and removes zoning restrictions on almost the entire city of San Francisco, Oakland and many smaller suburbs dotting the bay area. Currently, for instance, height and density restrictions make it more or less illegal to build medium-rise apartment buildings in much of San Francisco (hence why there are so few apartment buildings in the western half of the city).
SB 827 removes many of these density and height restrictions for any areas around “major” transit routes, allowing for buildings up to 45 feet around the suburban areas of San Francisco and 85 near large streets with frequent bus routes.
Tech leadership alone won’t get the bill through California’s legislature. California Governor Brown had similar support on a housing proposal to accelerate building through local approval boards, but was ultimately defeated due in no small part to labor unions who were not happy with how Brown’s bill guaranteed wages for construction workers
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