Legislation will allow construction of new in-law units in buildings undergoing either mandatory or voluntary soft-story seismic retrofits, which will incentivize creation of new housing as well as seismic upgrades

San Francisco, CA - Today, Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce legislation at the Board of Supervisors allowing the construction of new in-law units in buildings that are undergoing either mandatory or voluntary soft-story seismic retrofits.  Adding new in-law units to a building while it is being retrofitted will be efficient and cost-effective for property owners by combining two projects into one, will add new, more affordable housing stock, will provide a financial benefit for owners who are being mandated to perform often expensive retrofits, and will incentivize owners to perform voluntary retrofits.

The mandatory and voluntary retrofit programs are both city programs that focus on shoring up the seismic safety of soft-story, wood-frame buildings.  Last year, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring that soft-story buildings at least 3 stories tall and containing at least 5 housing units be retrofitted. Soft-story buildings have weak ground floor conditions, like garage door space or open window retail space.

In-law units, according to various studies, are the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing.  They tend to be added into garages, basements, or large storage areas.  Many apartment buildings in San Francisco have ground floors with no housing units; these areas could easily be converted into housing but cannot be converted under zoning restrictions. Supervisor Wiener's legislation will relax zoning to allow for these units to be added. This legislaiton will not apply in areas zoned for single family homes.

As was the case with Supervisor Wiener's legislation allowing for new in-law units in the Castro, these new units will be rent-controlled if the building at issue is subject to rent control.  The units would have to be constructed within the existing building envelope, meaning that a building could not be increased in height or bulk to add the unit.

"This legislation addresses two pressing needs in San Francisco - creating new housing and seismically strengthening our vulnerable buildings," said Supervisor Wiener. "The recent Napa earthquake is a reminder that we need to do everything we can do to shore up our buildings now. By offering building owners the opportunity to create new in-law units, we can expand housing access - including adding rent-controlled units - while incentivizing the retrofit of soft story buildings. This is a win-win for our city."

The Mandatory Seismic Retrofit program, unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2013, requires the retrofitting of soft-story, wood frame buildings built prior to 1978 with 3 or more stories and 5 or more units. On September 15, the screening forms for all soft-story buildings are due, and retrofitting of the buildings will begin soon thereafter. Supervisor Wiener's current legislation will add an incentive for property owners to make these improvements sooner and also to do more substantive retrofitting.

The Voluntary Retrofit Program applies to wood frame, soft-story buildings built before 1973 with fewer than 5 residential units. One of the goals of Supervisor Wiener's legislation is to add an incentive to increase participation in the voluntary retrofit program.

This legislation follows on the passage of Supervisor Wiener's legislation to allow for the construction of new in-law units in the Castro District, which was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors in April 2014.

"Adding new in-law units is a low impact and more sustainable way to create new housing in our city," said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable Cities. "This legislation will also preserve housing by helping ensure that more rent-controlled buildings survive our next big earthquake."

This legislation will be heard later this fall at the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the Board of Supervisors.


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