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SPUR-ring Ideas On Cheaper Housing

It costs nearly half a million dollars to construct a one-bedroom multifamily unit in S.F., according to Mark Hogan Architect owner Mark Hogan, who moderated Tuesday's SPUR panel to figure out ways to bring less expensive housing to S.F. The housing boom-and-bust cycle goes through sharp spikes, he points out (that makes it more of a snow tire than a cycle), so if we are going to see any return to affordability, the industry needs to figure out ways to cut costs to produce housing over the long term. That would also help fund affordable housing programs and bring down the cost of market rate units.

Panelists: David Baker Architects' Amanda Loper, S.F. Office of Economic and Workforce Development's Sarah Dennis-Phillips, Nibbi Brothers' Joe Olla, and Zeta Design + Build's Taeko Takagi. Amanda says density doesn't have to scare the pants off everyone. (Uncover your eyes right now.) Small spaces come in different packages and can be livable. She mentioned a 345-SF studio at her firm's Richardson Apartments in Hayes Valley, which thinks thoughtfully about daylight and has built-in shelving. Another 400 SF garden apartment in the Mission sits adjacent to an exterior courtyard and feels a lot bigger. Neighboring studios and one-bedrooms can fit together like puzzles and add density, she says.

Sarah, the self-described policy wonk on the panel, says reducing costs won't necessarily translate immediately to lower prices for residents. Passing on lower costs to the end user means having to restrict pricing, taking land out of the equation and reducing demand. However, long-term sustained production of units will help ease our housing shortage, similar to what's happened in other cities. Seattle enjoys three times the rate of growth S.F. has but costs are a third PSF, she says, referring to a recent tech hub study by Trulia. Locally, the average cost for a two-bedroom downtown is a whopping $7,500, while in SoMa or Castro it's $5k. Outer neighborhoods like Visitacion Valley and the Excelsior are as low as $2,800, she told a packed house. We were assured we were well under the fire marshal's capacity. (Joe would know; it's his project.)