Affordable housing is scarce in the city of San Francisco. Low-income residents and students a-like struggle to get by in a city that is so full of opportunity, yet so economically biased. One viable option towards solving this crisis is utilizing secondary dwelling units, aka “in-law units,” as a way to provide living opportunities that are cheap, sustainable, and convenient.
These units are located on the same lot as the primary unit and they may be connected to the main house or a completely separate structure. Although they are legal in San Francisco, strict zoning requirements and neighborhood concerns make it hard to get them built, legally. As a result, illegal units are dispersed throughout the city.
There are too many logical reasons and too few legitimate concerns to not support these units. They don’t require extra land, new homeowners can benefit from the extra income from the tenants, and they can provide family stability. Concerns over the need for extra parking and the added density do not fit in with the times. Frankly, we can’t rely on cars like we used to and urban cores must become more dense if they are to support growing populations.
Little research has been done on using secondary units as a way to provide more affordable housing and past pursuits to make this idea become a reality have been stifled by lack of support. A 2001 report from SPUR proposes four solutions for the development of these units:
- Allow units without parking near transit;
- Build more for the elderly and disabled;
- Reclassify single-family areas to RH-1-S (single family units with one minor secondary unit);
- Allow buildings of historical and architectural significance and put the revenue towards preservation.
San Francisco’s urban planners should advocate this unique home design through rezoning in the city’s western districts, where single-family homes are prominent, and by developing specific criteria for buildings codes and licenses.
What solutions do you propose for solving San Francisco’s affordable housing crisis?
Credits: Images copyright of Robert Poole. Data linked to sources.