Affordable Housing

Housing-Starved San Francisco Fines Developer $1.2 Million For Building Too Many Units

The city approved developers' plans for a 10-unit complex. They built 29 homes instead. Now some of those illegal units could have to be dismantled.

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San Francisco, in the midst of a severe housing crunch, has fined a pair of developers for adding more housing units to an apartment complex than they were permitted to build. It might also require them to remove some of the existing illegal units.

On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that an ownership group including Yin Kwan Tam and Cindy Zhou Lee has agreed to pay the city $1.2 million to settle numerous code violations at a collection of apartment buildings they constructed on San Bruno Avenue in the city's Portola District.

Planning documents show that in 2013 the city granted permission for the construction of five buildings—containing 10 units of housing plus office space and ground-floor retail—on lots that were either vacant or featured a shuttered gas station.

The developers instead ended up building 29 total units without any of the offices or open space they had promised. In addition, the final project lacked some of the promised parking spots and had none of the fancy façade features depicted in the original plans. The new units also lack a second means of egress, which is required for fire safety purposes.

The project received its final certificate of occupancy in 2016. According to the Chronicle, problems with the neighbors began even before construction was finished, as it became clear that the façade going up in their neighborhood did not match the plans approved by the city.

"I saw it go up and I thought, 'This turd is not what we were promised,'" one neighbor told the Chronicle.

The Planning Department's website shows several complaints dating back to 2017 about the building's illegal units, lack of below-market-rate rental units, and absence of promised street trees.

The project is one of several approved by Bernard Curran, one of the building inspectors being investigated by City Attorney Dennis Herrera as part of a wide-ranging probe into corruption at the city's Department of Building Inspection.

The question is what will now happen at the currently occupied apartment complex.

The developers' attorneys have filed applications to legalize the additional, unapproved units and to add fire escapes on the rear of the building. That will require the city to grant variances for the properties, which are collectively zoned for only 14 units. That's not guaranteed to happen, so some of the current units may end up getting dismantled and their occupants forced to move elsewhere.

There is precedent for that. In 2016, the city sued Judy Wu and Trent Zhu for illegally converting 15 legal units they owed into 49 apartments, which they then rented mostly to formerly homeless veterans. In 2018, the couple agreed to pay $2 million to settle the lawsuit. Ten of those 49 apartments ended up being removed.

If the same thing happens for the illegal apartments on San Bruno Avenue, the city will be removing existing housing units and displacing existing tenants for the sole purpose of enforcing an overly restrictive zoning code that has turned San Francisco into one of the most expensive rental markets in the country.

One recent working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research found that restrictive zoning regulations drive up the costs of a quarter-acre lot in San Francisco by an average of $409,000. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition's annual Out of Reach report found that a San Franciscan would have to earn $68 an hour in order to afford (i.e., spend no more than a third of their income on) a median two-bedroom apartment. (That report's methodology arguably overstates the housing affordability challenges facing most renters, but it's still useful for showing what's available for what price.)

Just today, City Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted out a Chronicle write-up of that report, saying that we should "stop waiting for the market that created this problem to solve this problem. We need social housing and we need it now."

The case of the San Bruno Avenue homes shows that the market is more than willing to add additional housing in San Francisco. The city government Preston is a part of is meanwhile fining private developers for adding that housing, and it might even demand the demolition of some of what they've built.

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  1. It’s amazing the city can force builders to even create ‘below market rate’ housing at all. Then again, given their opinion on the supply of housing perhaps it’s not so shocking.

    1. I’m surprised any builders even try.

      1. Looks like these guys were trying to build cheaper units, but the City won’t let them.

        1. But building units that violate the common sense fire codes of a 2nd exit is dangerous and stupid.

    2. How have business people in places like SF not gotten sick of all the leftist crap?

      1. That’s like asking why fish haven’t gotten sick of water.

  2. You get what you vote for fools. Glad I live on the eastern side of the state. Sadly they keep coming this direction. We tell ’em to go farther east like TX and CO.

    1. So it’s all your fault. Thanks a lot, dick!

    2. Once upon a time San Francisco used to be a beautiful city. I remember as a kid traveling from the eastern side of the state to San Francisco for a weekend vacation. Sure there were a few ugly spots with homeless hanging out and gaggles of the dissipated, but overall it was a wonderful city. The era of Feinstein and Jim Jones. Weird and gay and eccentric as all hell, but still a great place to visit as long as you didn’t have to live there. Not smelly at all. Not crumbling around you. Not trying to tax the people out of existence.

      But something changed about twenty years ago. I think the progressives kicked out the liberals, then filled in the vacuum with social justice zealots. In the effort to micromanage every aspect of their citizen’s daily lives, it ended up a hellhole. The city stinks, people openly defecate on the sidewalks, poverty abounds, buildings and sidewalks are crumbling. I used to make a yearly visit trip to the city to a certain location. One building nearby was demolished. A big gaping hole in the landscape. Ten years later it’s still a big gaping hole in the landscape. Once showcase hotels now feel like cheap airport Sheratons.

      Jeepers Cripes, Oakland is a nicer place to visit. Literally.

      1. People like you decided to vote for ‘well mannered’ proggies, asshole.

    3. Fuck off with that shit; Colorado is already chock-a-block with erstwhile Californicators clogging the roads, trails, and runs, and voting for every lump-headed statist who can sign his or her name to a candidacy declaration.

      Take care of your own.

  3. Tell them you built it with illegal immigrant labor.

  4. Just today, City Supervisor Dean Preston tweeted out a Chronicle write-up of that report, saying that we should “stop waiting for the market that created this problem to solve this problem. We need social housing and we need it now.”

    You stupid commie fuck. The market didn’t create your housing problem. YOU DID.

    1. He knows that. “Market” encompasses government markets too, ya know.

      The key takeaway is “social housing”. No more individual housing, he wants barracks.

      1. Progressive logic is “markets bad, government good”. I bet they think concentration camps are also the fault of the free market.

  5. It’s a joy to watch far left government go down in flames, fortunately that bullshit won’t take hold except in democrat run cities. I am happy to see them fail.

    1. I guess you were in an equal uproar when good old conservative Kansas couldn’t afford to open their school for 5 days a week after they slashed taxes to nothing.

      1. Do ya think possibly those Democrat federal mandates had anything to do with expenses?

        Just a thought. You wouldn’t understand.

      2. You think a lot of libertarians are weeping about the closing of a public school?

      3. much like at the federal level:

        Fuck you, cut spending.

      4. Why uproar? That sounds like a bonus!

      5. Still better than the blight, violence, illiteracy, corruption, taxes, and cost of living associated with all progressive run cities.

  6. NIA: NIMBYs In Action.
    This is what you voted for. This is what the west coast liberal elites serve up to the plebes. Make housing more expensive by restricting building of new units with excessive rules, regulations, fees and costs just to get a shovel in the ground.
    Is not to worry comrade, San Fran will be supplying new housing in the form of tents for the homeless at $60,000 per.
    Now ain’t that just so sweet?

  7. “stop waiting for the market that created this problem to solve this problem. We need social housing and we need it now.”

    What the fuck is “social housing?” Other than yet another meaningless fucking buzzword.

    1. It’s a way of saying “the projects”, but more genteel.

    2. “What the fuck is “social housing?””

      Housing six feet apart?

    3. It’s their more friendly way of referring to subsidized housing for ‘the poor’ and they only ‘need’ more of it because they’ve strangled new construction to the point where market forces are making it impossible for the people who make their coffee to live in the same zip code as their upper caste masters.

      Nevermind that the people demanding government subsidized housing for ‘the poor’ are directly causing the problem to defend the sky high prices on their own properties. That logical disconnect need not be addressed by their politicians, one might think.

      One assumes that the populace thinks these ‘social housing’ units would be far, far away for their own backyard but still close enough to get their coffee.

      1. That’s why they need high speed rail, so the people that make coffee in San Francisco can be housed at a safe distance in LA

          1. Is there a chance the track can bend?
            Not on you life my hindu fri….ohhh apu get the hell out of springfield

      2. “…One assumes that the populace thinks these ‘social housing’ units would be far, far away for their own backyard but still close enough to get their coffee…”

        ‘If you made this up, no one would believe it’
        The SF “Transit Center”, to be the SF terminus of trans-bay buses, SF local buses, and moonbeam’s choo-choo, was sold to the public as a private/public – funded structure. At first it might have worked, as the developer got all the residences and commercial spaces to sell/lease, with some going to the Transit Agency. The obligatory ‘affordable housing’ was to be built a ways off, and all was fine, until we got a new proggy supe with all the econ-knowledge which is typical of the species.
        She managed to get the contract changed, requiring the ‘a-h’ units in the same structure.
        The developer ran the new numbers just about once through the calculator, closed up shop and left. And no new developer was ever found to take it over; the taxpayer is on the hook for SF’s $2.4Bn bus-stop! And then, weeks after opening, a structural issue required it be closed for repairs for several months.
        But, like the TV pitchmen, there’s more!
        The thing was built quite close to the existing Millennium Tower (Chumby, below), which as built on ‘friction pilings’ and did just fine, until the Transit Agency dug their 300′ hole in the ground right over there (absent any studies regarding the effects on other buildings) and materially affected the density of the soil, whereby the M.T. started tilting, with predictable results regarding taxpayer money.
        SF! The city which REALLY knows how (to fuck things up)!

  8. I will wait for the story behind the story.
    I love when “reporters” blithely print that a project was 3 times the permitted number of units, and yet got occupancy permits.
    Does no one follow the money anymore?

    1. I doubt it’s corruption. SF City employees would never be on the take. When the form said “10 units”, someone just added a top and bottom bar on the “1” to turn it into a “2”, and added a stem on the “0” to turn it into a “9”. Voila — “29 units”!

    2. The story behind the story is already in the story:

      “The project is one of several approved by Bernard Curran, one of the building inspectors being investigated by City Attorney Dennis Herrera as part of a wide-ranging probe into corruption at the city’s Department of Building Inspection.”

      1. No way, man. I thought proggs were squeaky clean, like corruption free and virtuous.

  9. I mean, if there are fire escape issues with the number of units, that is a good enough reason to at least see about variances, etc. and fining them.

    But yes, they’ll never get out of their housing problem. Too many people don’t want to lose their property value (which was absurdly grown just due to terrible zoning laws and not at all in line with what a proper market would dictate.) They’ll just continue on like such because too many people would lose money if they ever properly zoned it and allowed for real growth.

    1. Yeah, egress is a big freakin deal. But a less than pleasing façade and more units should have been welcomed. San Fran is a pit

  10. > In 2016, the city sued Judy Wu and Trent Zhu for illegally converting 15 legal units they owed into 49 apartments, which they then rented mostly to formerly homeless veterans.

    Yet more evidence that the homeless problem in San Fransisco was deliberately created by the city government itself. Can’t be building affordable housing for the homeless. And without permission nonetheless. Without permission means anarchy!

  11. Call them permanent homeless shelter tents. Problem solved.

    1. Not until you pay me, will the “problem” be “solved”.

      – San Fran Housing Authority

      1. They did approve that luxury high rise to go up without adequate geotechnical surveys. The pilings were inadequate allowing it to sink considerably, which has resulted in structural damage. The fix apparently involves tens of millions of San Fran tax money (along with more from the developer).
        @Sevo can probably provide more details.

        1. See above; the Millennium Tower wasn’t a problem until…

  12. Fuck SanFransicko and their illogical rules and fines.

  13. “the city will be removing existing housing units and displacing existing tenants for the sole purpose of enforcing an overly restrictive zoning code”

    Won’t they have to wait until the CDC lifts their covid eviction moratorium? It seems unpossible that San Fran would expose so many innocents to death.

  14. If say vote differently. But it’s San Francisco.

    1. But people like the TDS-addled assholes like Brandy, sarc, jeff, ML then might have to vote for those who really aren’t a good, cuddly, daddy for them! How can they possibly justify that when the only costs are lost freedoms and huge financial disaster?
      Can’t have that! They might have to grow up!

  15. No having fire exits does seem like a bit of a problem.

  16. While I have no love for the San Francisco codes, this is clearly fraud. The builder explicitly applied for a permit, saying whatever was needed to get approval, and then were so far from their application that they clearly never intended to comply.

    You don’t get to falsify documentation just because the rules are excessive.

  17. My take on this is that the builder failed to cross the right palms with the correct amount of lucre.
    But that would never be allowed in San Fran, the most progressive city in Merica.

  18. It’s amazing the city can force builders to even create ‘below market rate’ housing at all. Then again, given their opinion on the supply of housing perhaps it’s not so shocking.

  19. Why would anyone wish to build anything in that city is beyond me.
    San Fran is circling the drain. It has become what liberal progressives have always dreamed of: a lawless dump filled with human detritus, stumbling drug addicts, and out of control crime, where it’s legal to steal anything up to $949.00 without legal consequences.
    Very soon, those businesses that have not already left or plan to leave will be doing so as crime continues to escalate along with the larceny the progressives legalized.
    Of course when it comes to larceny,Democrats and liberals have the market cornered. So why build anything in that city. The population of middle class working people will continue to shrink throughout the state, taking with them billions in taxes and other revenue.
    California is now running on fumes, like a car with the fuel gauge registering empty yet continues to chug along at an ever decreasing rate of speed until it grinds to a halt.
    Oh and kudos to California secretary of State whose attempts at keeping Larry Elder off the ballot for Governor exposes the liberal hypocrisy which will not end well for that person or the state.
    Once again liberals expose themselves as the hypocrites they are.

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