Fourplex ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors

The Fourplex ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors on October 18. The mayor has signaled she will sign it.

The ordinance will permit new or renovated buildings of up to four units, and up to six units on corner lots, in all San Francisco’s Residential, House (RH) districts, which cover well over half the City’s private land.

Currently RH districts generally permit only one, and sometimes 2 or 3, units per lot. The fourplex ordinance will create more sorely-needed housing in the least-dense areas of the City. New fourplex buildings must conform to existing height and rear yard requirements, and will be compatible in character and scale with neighboring buildings. The ordinance includes provisions to prevent the loss of existing affordable and rent-controlled housing, and will add new rent-stabilized housing.

For decades San Francisco grew and diversified its housing stock by adding small apartment buildings in neighborhoods. Fourplexes and sixplexes increase and diversify housing choices in neighborhoods. This incremental development created San Francisco’s most diverse, and most loved, neighborhoods.

Exclusionary zoning imposed after 1960 prohibited building new multi-unit housing, or adding units to existing buildings, in many San Francisco neighborhoods.

The fourplex ordinance will allow incremental housing development to resume in neighorhoods where it has been frozen for decades. It includes provisions which protect existing residents and foster affordability over time. We support rent stabilized housing, and are pleased that there are strong protections for rent-stabilized and affordable units in existing buildings, including replacement in kind of any protected units, and rent stabilization of any new units which exceed the number permitted by current zoning.

A prior version of the ordinance would have rezoned RH-1 districts to RH-2 districts. It also included a lookback provision that required owners to have owned the building for at least five years before proposing a fourplex or six-plex. The Mayor objected to these provisions and vetoed that version of the ordinance. The current version does rezone RH-1 districts, and shortens the lookback provision from five years to one year.

Livable City proposed permitting fourplexes in RH districts several years ago, and we have showed up to support the fourplex ordinance through the City’s legislative process. We’re glad to see it becoming law. Fourplex is one of many needed reforms necessary to make San Francisco more affordable, livable, and sustainable.

Fourplexes will also help us meet our climate, sustainable transportation, and biodiversity goals. Fourplex buildings make more efficient use of urban land, with the same footprint as a single-family house. Infill housing in established neighborhoods makes use of existing infrastructure, like roads, sewers, and schools, parks, and libraries. Legalizing fourplexes and other “missing middle” housing types can help grow walkable 15-minute neighborhoods. Increasing residential density, even modestly, supports more frequent transit service as well as neighborhood-serving shops and services.