The battle over Academy of Art University’s unpermitted student housing sprawl has been on City Hall’s radar since 2006, and now the issue could be coming to a head.
A supervisor is seeking to define The City’s laws with regard to student housing in response to the school’s past conversion of rent-controlled apartments into student housing.
Supervisor Scott Wiener is sponsoring the legislation, which would require neighborhood notice when new student housing is proposed, and prohibit conversion of residential units to student housing, except when the units are adjacent to post-secondary educational institutions in place for 10 years or more.
The legislation also seeks to clarify a policy aimed at sparking more student housing by giving developers access to grants if 30 percent of a building’s students qualify for federal education loans.
But at a Board of Supervisors hearing on the matter Monday, opponents of the legislation — including representatives of the smaller San Francisco Art Institute — said a new student housing definition could make creating new dorms for students laborious and detract from their school’s draw.
“We should not be punished,” said Megann Sept, assistant dean of students for the institute. “We never sought to lease a building that would threaten existing residents.”
The Academy of Art is often cited as San Francisco’s single-biggest landowner. As of last summer, it owned 39 buildings in The City and most recently acquired the Cannery building near Fisherman’s Wharf. Many of the buildings were previously single-room-occupancy hotels, The City’s cheapest form of housing.
By converting apartments to academic use, the academy was able to oust the prior tenants to make way for students. But housing advocates and supervisors cried foul and said the hasty conversions were illegal. It is unclear why opponents of the practice did not seek redress under The City’s rent control laws.
In 2009, the board called out the academy for a laundry list of code violations and threatened fines of $250 per day over its illegally posted signs on 24 buildings.
“We’ve seen abuse over the years,” Wiener said Monday, adding that there’s time to address concerns over the legislation, which is “on the slow boat” as it now heads back to the Planning Commission for approval of amendments.
The academy’s neighbors shared a laundry list of complaints on Monday.
Lower Nob Hill residents complained that students party too loudly and tag buildings with graffiti. One man took exception to an Academy of Art admissions brochure that reads, “If it disturbs you, it’s art.”
Others argued that, depending on the age of buildings where the institution has its housing, some students are actually protected by rent control and can’t be simply told to leave when they graduate or de-enroll in classes.
Brad Paul, a housing advocate in favor of Wiener’s effort, said it’s only a matter of time until more students “figure it out” and stay in their dorms and apartments at rents below the market prices.
Academy of Art University officials did not return requests for comment.