Senator Wiener’s Statement on Release of Unprecedented State Housing Audit

October 25, 2023

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) released the findings of its historic top-to-bottom audit of San Francisco’s housing approvals process. The report found that at least 18 City policies and practices are out of compliance with state law. HCD imposes a series of deadlines, the first of which is in 30 days, for the City to take action to come into compliance. If the City fails to meet any of the deadlines, it risks HCD decertifying its housing element, which would cause the City to become subject to the builder’s remedy, to lose tens of millions of dollars in state housing funds, and potentially be taken into state receivership, turning all of its housing decisions over to the state.

The report found that the majority of all new developments in San Francisco in recent years were approved under SB 35 (2017), Senator Wiener’s signature housing streamlining law that was just renewed by the Legislature as SB 423 (2023). Under SB 35, the median approval time was just 3.42 months, compared to 24.2 months for the most efficient non-streamlined approval pathway. SB 423 significantly expands SB 35, and will eliminate many of the barriers noted in the report when it goes into effect on January 2, 2024.

In response, Senator Wiener issued the following statement:

“This audit puts cities across California on notice: there will be no more leniency for illegally obstructing housing construction,” said Senator Wiener. “San Francisco has added layer upon layer of unnecessary discretion and bureaucracy for decades, and certain members of the Board of Supervisors have refused to enact the Mayor’s reforms, even those they agreed to in certifying the City’s Housing Element earlier this year. We need to move faster to meet our state housing goals and alleviate the affordability crisis that is ripping families from communities and sending prices skyrocketing. I applaud the California Department of Housing and Community Development for this bold enforcement.”

The report highlights the City’s abuse of discretionary and subjective approval standards, which Senator Wiener has targeted for reform with numerous streamlining laws, including SB 35 and SB 423. Later today, Senator Wiener will gather with housing and faith leaders at a new affordable housing site to celebrate the passage of SB 4, a major new streamlining law that expedites approvals of affordable housing on lands owned by faith groups and nonprofit colleges.

HCD began its audit of San Francisco’s housing approvals process last August after sending numerous enforcement letters warning of potential violations. They cited the “longest timelines in the state for advancing housing projects to construction,” “among the highest housing and construction costs,” and the greatest number of Housing Accountability Unit complaints (20, when the next worst offender received 11).