San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Thursday called on city departments to cut by nearly half the time it takes to issue building permits to developers constructing housing projects.
Lee said speeding up the production of housing would help add more stock to the market and help ease rising housing prices. He said people who work in the city are commuting too far because of the housing crisis.
“We’ll lose the talent if we don’t build more housing,” Lee said. “And part of that is to build it faster because the price of housing is also contributing to the slowdown.”
In a directive issued Thursday, the mayor asked city department heads to reduce entitlement times and ensure that building permits, subdivision maps and other permits are approved quickly to get construction started as soon as possible. The mayor predicted that the new policy would lead to 5,000 new units built each year.
It’s aimed at housing projects with as few as two units that have ground-floor parking or a bit of office space, but the main goal is to target large developments with at least 250 units, said Ken Rich, director of development for San Francisco, who helped write the new policy.
“The big projects are where we are getting the majority of our units, and even more importantly, the highest percentage of affordable units,” he said.
But Rich said those big projects typically require an environmental impact review, and can take three to four years, or longer, to get done.
“We cannot be waiting four years to get these things approved,” he said.
Under the new timelines, a housing project that doesn’t need a state environmental quality review — which are typically small projects — should be approved or denied within six months. A decision for projects that require an environmental impact report (EIR) should be given no more than 18 months, and complicated EIR projects should be decided within 22 months.
The directive also tries to speed up the process for developers with entitlement projects that have additional permits to obtain. Entitlement projects are building plans that the city has given initial approval to but still need permission from various departments, such as building, transportation, utilities and others for construction.
“We’re finding that those are taking a really long time and those are just as big a problem in terms of timing as an entitlement, so this directive speeds up both,” Rich said.
City department heads are expected to submit plans by Dec. 1 on how they plan to meet the new timelines.
The mayor announced the aggressive policy to speed up homebuilding three years after he promised in 2014 to add 30,000 new and rehabilitated housing units by 2020. His office reports that more than 17,000 units have come online, of which 35 percent are permanently affordable, meaning they can’t be converted into market-rate units.