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Supervisor Wiener Does the Impossible

Scott Lucas | April 8, 2014 | Story Politics

There's much that is murky about San Francisco housing market. Should the city encourage building, even if it will result in high-priced luxury units? Do Ellis Act evictions drive the crisis, or are they just a symptom?

But there's one rule that's as clear as the Hetch Hetchy water in our taps: Apartments that were built before June 1979 are subject to rent control. Those that were built after are not. Never the twain shall meet.

Except they just did.

The Board of Supervisors today passed unanimously a law written by Supervisor Scott Wiener that allows property owners in the Castro to carve out new in-law units in existing properties. And even though those apartments will be entering the market long after the 1979 cut off, those that are created from existing rent-controlled units will remain rent controlled. It's a compromise plan that leaves both tenant rights advocates and property owners with something to cheer.

"I’m thrilled that we passed this legislation to expand our housing supply and to provide more affordable housing options," said Supervisor Wiener in a statement. "Addressing our housing affordability crisis requires a variety of approaches and adding to our supply of in-law units is a step forward. These units—which will generally be on the ground floor—will be good options for seniors and people with mobility challenges. We’ll also be creating new rent-controlled units for the first time in over 30 years."

What that means is pretty simple: The city's supply of rent-controlled units, which dwindles every year, will increase. The boost probably won't be much—the law only allows for the creation of in-law units within 1,750 feet of the Castro Business Improvement District, an area that spans from Hill Street to 14th Street and from Dolores Park to Market at Clayton. But buildings in that zone with ten or fewer units may add one in-law apartment and buildings with greater than ten may add two.

Presto chango: New rent-controlled apartments.

No word yet if Supervisor Wiener will convince the Board to repeal the law of gravity next week.

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