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San Rafael Housing



Alexis Captanian
Housing Program Analyst

(415) 458- 2392
1400 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael, CA 94901

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About the City's Housing Efforts

Click here to learn more about the Housing Element Update, now underway


The Bay Area is struggling to add new inventory to make up for housing shortages. Strict zoning regulations, in combination with building restrictions, have made it difficult to construct housing. The rapid economic growth, due in part to the booming tech industry, has create thousands of new jobs in the Bay Area. However, the resultant high demand for housing, in conjunction with the lack of supply of adequate housing, has created exponential increases in rents and house prices.

Unlike larger communities, which often have dedicated Housing Departments, the City of San Rafael has instead formed an interdepartmental team from Community Development, Economic Development, and the City Manager’s Office to address housing issues in our community. On August 20, 2018, City staff presented City Council with a comprehensive report on housing. The report provided a summary of key topics and issues, such as: State-mandated housing laws, current City housing policies and regulations, housing stock (including affordable housing inventory), accessory dwelling units, current housing development activity, short-term residential rentals, and the current rental housing market. The purpose of the report was to get direction from City Council on how to proceed with the relative topics and issues. City Council directed City staff to outline four, housing- specific issues. The topics chosen were 1) renter protection; 2) short-term rentals; 3) housing for an aging population; and 4) challenges to the approval and development of housing. San Rafael is currently experiencing shortage of reasonably-priced homes – with a median house price having surpassed $1 million as of November 2019, a growing homeless population with a dire need of adequate housing, a marginalized community of lower-income residents paying high rents, and an increasing population of senior citizens on fixed income.

On September 3, 2019, City staff returned to City Council to present an informational report on one of the selected four topics: challenges to the approval and development of new housing. City staff had conducted stakeholder interviews, researched and gathered the best practices and obtained data pertaining to this issue. This research revealed 11 key challenges pertaining to the approval and development of new housing in San Rafael, including:

  1. Lengthy City planning and entitlement review process;
  2. Lengthy Design Review Board (DRB) process;
  3. Complex CEQA/environmental review process and practices;
  4. Taxing City affordable/inclusionary housing requirements;
  5. Burdensome downtown property constraints and zoning limits;
  6. Onerous parking requirements;
  7. Loss of other governmental sources for housing subsidies;
  8. Layers of regulatory requirements;
  9. Large development and impact fees;
  10. Increased land and construction costs; and
  11. Public controversy and opposition to new housing development

In response to these 11 aforementioned challenges, City staff recommended 13 measures to accelerate the approval of construction of new housing:

  1. Streamline and shorten the planning/entitlement review & DRB process;
  2. Support a form-based code for the Downtown Precise Plan (DPP) to streamline the planning and CEQA/environmental review process;
  3. Simplify the CEQA/environmental review process and practices;
  4. Reduce the requirements for certain technical studies;
  5. Consider changes to the City’s inclusionary housing requirements;
  6. Contemplate changes to the use & administration of the affordable housing in-lieu of fee fund;
  7. Consider reducing or temporarily waiving development & impact fees for new housing projects;
  8. Amend the Density Bonus Ordinance;
  9. Adopt a new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance;
  10. Support a city/developer partnership to facilitate new housing construction;
  11. Pursue state funding opportunities;
  12. Implement “by-right” zoning for affordable housing projects;
  13. Consider raising the appeal fee and changes in the appeal scheduling process to deter frivolous appeals and objections.

Community Housing Workshops

To gain a better understanding of the public’s view on the housing crisis, as well as, to get feedback on the prioritization of the recommended policy changes, the City hosted two housing workshops (Workshop #1 and Workshop #2) which were attended by the Mayor, City Council, and the public. These workshops exposed the public to issues surrounding the housing crisis and obtained feedback from both the public and City Council. City staff conducted public polling on this issue to obtain community feedback and comments.

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