Compromise on "Granny Flats" in San Francisco

Compromise on "Granny Flats" in San Francisco

I believe we need to do everything possible at the Board of Supervisors to build more housing at every income level
— Supervisor Mark Farrell

During an otherwise bitter and divisive Board of Supervisors meeting, San Francisco legislators approved a compromise legalizing the construction of "backyard cottages," known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)—colloquially “in-law units” or “granny flats.” Often referred to as a “third-rail issue” in San Francisco politics, the legislation would also legalize existing units built without city approval.

Over the previous weeks, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Mark Farrell had sparred over the specific guidelines regulating the size of the units and their separation from the primary structure.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

Supervisor Aaron Peskin


Supervisors Farrell and Wiener initially had a proposal competing with one from Peskin, which they claimed in a press release would produce 1000 more units than competing legislation. They initially objected to Peskin’s proposed caps on number of units, restricting buildings with 10 residential units or less to one ADU, and two for buildings of higher density. 

Peskin and Farrell both made provisions in their bills to extend rent control to newly-built accessory units, which would be the first new construction allowed to be rent-controlled since 1978. Regardless, the disagreement on allowed density would have resulted in a ballot measures for this year’s November election competing with Peskin's bill.

Farrell’s office informed us us that the Supervisor’s top policy priority was to preserve the existing program to provide financing for seismic retrofitting and extend it to ADUs, while Peskin was focused on providing adequate neighborhood notice and preserving existing stock from resale or condo conversion. Farrell’s staff researched existing ADUs and found that the majority had been constructed in higher-density neighborhoods rather than behind single-family homes, so Farrell and Wiener also pushed to keep the unit cap from their original proposal.

By incorporating Peskin’s policies intended to prevent real estate speculation, the two Supervisors were able to craft legislation that achieved all stated policy goals.

The compromise allows for one unit to be added for buildings containing less than 5 units, but an unlimited number can be built for buildings with 5 or more. Accessory Dwelling Units would also be limited to a size of 350 square feet.

In a subsequent press release, Farrell remarked: “I’m grateful that Supervisor Peskin and I were able to come to a compromise on a meaningful citywide housing policy that our entire City can be proud of during our City’s housing shortage and crisis.” Peskin added: “The creation and preservation of affordable housing continues to be one of my top policy priorities, and I’m delighted to have found legislative partners willing to take the time to thoughtfully craft this compromise legislation.”

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