Date of Graduation

Spring 5-21-2022

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Urban and Public Affairs


College of Arts and Sciences


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First Advisor

Tim Redmond

Second Advisor

Ed Harrington


Over the last two decades San Francisco has been suffering from a worsening housing shortage and affordability crisis, as housing production has lagged far behind job growth in the city and the region. As San Francisco’s housing market is especially supply constrained due to its unique geography, long-standing zoning laws, and convoluted permitting process, it is especially difficult to add the needed housing at an acceptable rate. Overall, this housing crisis has affected middle and lower income households the most as many have been forced to relocate due to rapidly increasing rents.

In an attempt to stimulate housing production state lawmakers have chosen to use the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process as a way to require cities like San Francisco to plan for and build more housing, especially at affordable levels. This process, which runs on eight year cycles, sees the state allocate mandated housing goals for each city via regional government entities. Due to a series of housing legislation packages passed in recent years at the state level the RHNA process was given more ‘teeth’ via increased allocations, enforcement, and accountability. As such, for the next RHNA cycle, running from 2023 to 2030, San Francisco is required to show the state that it can facilitate the construction of over 82,000 units in eight years with 57% of these units affordable to ‘very low’ to ‘moderate’ income groups. This will require San Francisco to make significant policy changes, including rezoning much of the city to accommodate for increased density. If the city fails to do this it will lose substantial funding for affordable housing production as well as certain controls over its local planning process.

While this new RHNA process will force up-zoning and land use deregulation in San Francisco there is no guarantee that the required housing will ever get built. To build the over 46,500 units of affordable housing allocated over the next eight years, 5,800 units of affordable housing will need to be built each year. For reference, in San Francisco 5,000 units of total housing (both market-rate and affordable) have only been built in one of the last twenty years (2016), and over the last ten years the average number of affordable units built per year was 874 units. In addition, San Francisco is currently lacking the necessary funding to meet its targets since the City is projected to need $19 billion to build the required affordable housing over the next RHNA cycle. While the new RHNA process may help address the overall housing supply shortage in the long run, without significant additional state funding and new revenue streams San Francisco will fall well short of its affordable housing goals, meaning the revamped RHNA process will do little to solve the ongoing affordability crisis.