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Why Cities Must Tackle Single-Family Zoning

As cities wake up to their housing crises, the problems with single-family-home residential zoning will become too egregious to ignore.
This small house in San Francisco's Noe Valley sold for $1.8 million in 2014.
This small house in San Francisco's Noe Valley sold for $1.8 million in 2014.Jeff Chiu/AP

In my neighborhood in San Francisco (or, more accurately, my parents’ neighborhood) there’s a plan afoot to build 42 units of new housing in two parking lots, just steps from a light rail line. Thanks to the city’s inclusionary zoning laws, 18 to 20 percent of those units must be offered at below market rates, on streets lined with single-family homes worth around $1.5 million, and renting for around $5,000 per month, according to Zillow.

Construction could still be years away, due to the city’s byzantine approval process. But the neighbors are already buzzing about the plan, expressing fears that the development won’t fit the neighborhood and preparing demands to scale the project down. It’s Bay Area NIMBYism-as-usual—except that my neighbors are progressive enough to blanch at that now-loaded term. They’re still YIMBYs, as one writer on our local listserv insisted—just the kind whose “yes” to new housing is a bit more qualified.