San Francisco’s HOME-SF Density Bonus Program: Three Key Changes Important to Developers

8/2/2018 Articles

On July 31, 2018, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved changes to the City’s local density bonus program, known as HOME-SF. Introduced by Supervisors Katy Tang and Ahsha Safai, the new ordinance seeks to induce more sponsors to participate in HOME-SF (rather than the state density bonus program) by making the program more flexible. 

Three key aspects of the new amendments likely to be of most interest to developers are tiered bonuses tied to a range of affordability requirements, expedited processing and approval of HOME-SF projects, and new appeal procedures that avoid the Board of Supervisors.

HOME-SF’s New Tiered System

Under the new changes, HOME-SF will now operate as a three-tiered system that ties height increases to the percentage of affordable housing provided by a project. Specifically, those projects that have submitted an Environmental Evaluation Application on or before December 31, 2019, and elect to use the HOME-SF program to increase density are provided with the following three options:

Tier One: A project providing 23% affordable units is relieved from all density controls – i.e. the project is limited only by other physical controls in the Planning Code, such as height, bulk, and setbacks.

Tier Two: A project providing 25% affordable units is eligible for the advantages of Tier One, plus a 10-foot (or one story) height bonus.

Tier Three: A project providing 30% affordable units is eligible for the advantages of Tier One, plus a 20-foot (or two story) height bonus.

The benefits provided by HOME-SF from a design standpoint also include exceptions to other physical controls, such as setbacks, rear yard, and dwelling unit exposure, but only if such exceptions do not increase the overall building envelope. 

New Rules on Expedited Processing

The new HOME-SF amendments also include enhanced priority processing. Prior to these amendments, HOME-SF projects were given priority status, but there were no deadlines imposed by the ordinance. Now, the HOME-SF program includes an expedited processing period with a specific deadline – the Planning Commission must hold a hearing on any HOME-SF project within 180-days from submission of a complete project application. The question remains what the remedy for project sponsors will be if the 180-day period is not met; the amendments are silent on that issue.

Changes to Appeals

An important aspect of the new HOME-SF amendments is a change to the appeals process. Prior to enacting these amendments, challenges to HOME-SF project approvals went to the Board of Supervisors for hearing; now, such challenges will go directly to the Board of Appeals. This provision also applies to any HOME-SF project that would otherwise require Conditional Use Authorization. Such projects will now be processed under a new Planning Code Section 328, which allows the Planning Commission to impose conditions but will not be subject to appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

Additional changes to the HOME-SF program are included in the new ordinance, and project sponsors are encouraged to carefully review the new procedures when considering whether to utilize HOME-SF for their project.