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A Report From The Front
April 15, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

TechCrunch's Kim-Mai Cutler delivers a 12,000-word deep-dive on San Francisco's Housing Crisis. Touching on: rent control, the Ellis Act, Dianne Feinstein, the mission, the Fillmore, Angelo Sangiacomo, Howard Jarvis, the failure of the Greater San Francisco movement, the perfidy if the Mountain View city council, and the Byzantine machinations behind the Twitter tax. If some of those names are unfamiliar to you, strap in: the story of San Francisco's property law may have found its Gibbon.
posted by Diablevert (96 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this was a great, very even-handed piece. Great links sprinkled throughout, too. Cutler would make a good Mefite.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:46 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I read this earlier today when a friend linked it on Facebook, and it really is surprisingly decent. The writer does a good job describing the historical context of SF's current housing and inequality problems, although she seems to have a hard time imagining policy solutions to those problems that go beyond the usual tepid market-based intervention playbook—but it's not as bad as I'd have expected from Techcrunch.

The other day, as I watched one of the buses from a local university's private transit network (run by a for-profit contractor called, I kid you not, The Free Enterprise System, Inc.) sail by while I waited for the (slower, dingier) city bus, I thought of the Google Bus, and it occurred to me that there are a lot of parallels between the anger at the tech industry in SF and the town-gown tensions common in college towns. (I guess this is unsurprising given the extent to which Google and similar companies have explicitly modeled their workplaces on the university environment.)
posted by enn at 2:51 PM on April 15 [11 favorites]


Interesting that Seattle is mentioned. Once Amazon started developing the South Lake Union district with major focus, Seattle quickly became a pretty tough place to buy a house, and rents keep climbing.

Wall Street investment banks are coming in and bypassing real estate agencies, going directly to home owners to buy up properties with straight-up cash, tearing them down and speedily building up apartment complexes and two single-family homes where they are zoned for multi-family homes.

It's become a pretty dramatic shift from the market bottom that lasted from late 2008 to early 2010, and investors are taking advantage of a lot of foreclosures to turn formerly family-owned properties into rentals. We've gotten three offers on our place, already, which are surprisingly high for what we paid — except that if we accepted any of them, we'd almost certainly have no place in Seattle to buy, because we'd likely be outbid on any place we'd move to by the very same parties who are making offers to us.

Unless the city's government does something to get things under control, I wouldn't be surprised to see the situation in Seattle become as bad as in the Bay Area in 5-10 years, and that kind of intervention seems unlikely to happen since the increase in property values drives up tax revenue.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:56 PM on April 15 [8 favorites]


Article about similar topics (Ellis Act, loss of rent controlled space) in Los Angeles. The linked article from the LA Times (this article is sort of a distillation of that one) is good too.
posted by LionIndex at 3:06 PM on April 15


Laurie Penny also has an article about the San Francisco tech boom in the New Statesman, although more introspective of the people involved and less about the root causes. She also overly romanticizes Noisebridge as some sort of utopia, which is a bit much.
posted by zabuni at 3:07 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I wish it were possible to tie rent control to units rather than to tenants. At this point housing is so thoroughly undersupplied here that straightforward price controls may be necessary to prevent further gouging.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Early problem reading the article.

I've repeatedly seen the claim that homeowners don't want building because it will lower their home prices by lowering demand, but I've never seen it actually backed by any real data. Homeowners do tend to be NIMBYs, yes. After all, if you own a home you are going to care about something local destroying your property value, say a homeless shelter. But that's different from wanting supply to be tight in order to make all property in the city cost more. Honestly I've never seen that behavior among homeowners that I know.

Beyond that I skimmed the article this morning, and something about it doesn't really feel right. I will give you that it's a better article than most of the claptrap that's been written about the bus wars, but it still seemed like it was much more truthy than true.
posted by aspo at 3:24 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


I noticed a lengthy comment from Larry Bush on the article. (former aide to former SF mayor Art Agnos when they worked for HUD.) He blind-items Agnos in the part where he says "Mayor Newsom, that well-known leftist, refused two court orders to turn over the housing authority to a receiver to deal with the failure to pay its bills, and the receiver made it clear his first order of business would be to force HUD to pay. And since he was the former regional director of HUD, one has to assume he knew how to do that."
posted by larrybob at 3:24 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I wish it were possible to tie rent control to units rather than to tenants. At this point housing is so thoroughly undersupplied here that straightforward price controls may be necessary to prevent further gouging.

Why would anyone in their right mind invest in a rental unit if they knew it would be permanently rent-controlled? It would be throwing your money away.
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


It would be a great way to drive down property values, yes.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:31 PM on April 15


Until, umm, 1997 or so? rent controlled units was the case in SF and Berkeley. (There was some percentage you could raise the rents by when someone moved out, but it was small)
posted by aspo at 3:32 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


It would be a great way to drive down property values, yes.

Or to turn a bunch of property into poorly maintained slums, sure.
posted by Justinian at 3:33 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I suppose you are saying that it is impossible to make money under price controls?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:36 PM on April 15


That depends on an awful lot of factors and isn't a simple yes or no question. I'm saying that there are significant costs to enacting those price controls that have to be taken into account. It's not as simple as "let's just enact full price controls and everything will be great".
posted by Justinian at 3:41 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


The key concept I really wanted to introduce there was gouging — the idea that the profits made in real estate in the Bay Area right now are something very much like the profits made by exploiting an emergency situation to sell gasoline or water or whatever at exorbitant prices. It is, at the very least, not the type of business model that our regulatory regime should encourage.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:48 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I'm knee-deep in this issue here and thought this was a really good article.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:48 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Why would anyone in their right mind invest in a rental unit if they knew it would be permanently rent-controlled? It would be throwing your money away.

The city will make you a deal: You can build 8 market rate units if you also build 4 rent-controlled units.

(Of course later it is in the best interest of the owner to try and convert the 4 rent-controlled units to market rate any way they can. In many cases, the original developer is no longer even in the picture.)
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:49 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Really gingerbeer? Even graphs like this which seems like a classic lieing with data graph?
posted by aspo at 3:53 PM on April 15


The city will make you a deal: You can build 8 market rate units if you also build 4 rent-controlled units.

First you have to change the law that states that a rent-controlled unit can't be built after 1979. Also this does nothing to stop rents being exorbitantly high in the first place. So, you have 8 market rate units, and rent the others for 120% market rate, but they're rent controlled so they'll increase rent more slowly.

A similar thing happens with what I think is called inclusive zoning, where the city will give you perks for offering below market-rate units (or mandate that you do so), but when the market rate is still way out of a blue-collar worker's range, 80% of market rate doesn't really help.
posted by LionIndex at 4:01 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Even graphs like this which seems like a classic lieing with data graph?

That graph does look suspicious. Has anyone done a reasonable investigation to see how cherry-picked this data is? Are there any tech hubs conspicuously missing, for instance?
posted by Slothrup at 4:05 PM on April 15


I didn't have a house long before it was cool. I remember not having a house way back in, oh, what, '99? Probably the first time I didn't have a house was '99, y'all are just jumping on the bandwagon. 2014 and you're just now not having a house. So lame.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:13 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I've heard horror stories about the current conditions people who don't have finance/tech type jobs in the bay are resorting to to be able to live near their work/friends/family. A friend of a friend is supposedly renting a (walk in) closet in a house, with bathroom access for $900 a month.
posted by cell divide at 4:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I'm a renter in the bay area and have a very vested in interest in this issue, so I've read a million articles on it, and this was pretty good. From Techcrunch of all places, kind of surprising.

The reasons for the giant housing mess in the bay area has a lot of causes, put people tend to simplify it to either "fuck the techies" or "fuck rent control" depending on their political slant.

I've repeatedly seen the claim that homeowners don't want building because it will lower their home prices by lowering demand, but I've never seen it actually backed by any real data.

Well the water front condo project mentioned in the article that was shot down by ballot initiative was I believe started and funded by the property owners who's view of the bay would have been blocked. So yes, those people were definitely worried about their property values. It's a shame that so many San Franciscans bought into their well funded advertising campaign on how somehow this particular development would have "changed the character" of the city.

In that spot currently is a fenced off parking lot that homeless people sleep in.
posted by bradbane at 4:29 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


Interesting that San Francisco and New York may both end up having Tenement Museums, just with the time they portray separated by a century.
posted by LionIndex at 4:29 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


which seems like a classic lieing with data graph?

What makes you believe that it's lying? These are values that are known to vary wildly by metro.
posted by dhartung at 4:44 PM on April 15


I was ranting about "apodments" just being gussied-up tenements earlier, but "campus" mentioned in the article really rubs me the wrong way.

Anyone who has lived in an area near a college campus, or in a college town knows of houses like that. Landlord buys the place, but instead of renting out the house rents it by the room for closer to studio apartment than room-in-a-house prices. You basically pay more than you should for a sharehouse to not have to deal with finding roommates, and don't even have any real guarantee of them not being psychopaths.

Meanwhile, the landlord banks way more deposits and rent for what was originally a single family home, and before this was at most a house with 3-4 roommates or whatever.

I can't help but see that sort of thing as an opportunistic symptom of a problem, and a form of the type of disaster-response gouging tip a buick was mentioning above.

They're dressing it up as all "web 2.0, bohemian, communal!". In reality, it's just slumlord flophouse 2.0 deluxe.

What makes you believe that it's lying? These are values that are known to vary wildly by metro.

I think their insinuation was that it was cherry picked prove-a-point manipulation. Like it showing just this year on one axis with specific hand picked cities, but 1990-now on the other.

You can push and pull and cherry pick data to prove any point you want to make, pretty much. So i think the objection was "does this graph actually show anything meaningful".
posted by emptythought at 4:46 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


That graph does look suspicious. Has anyone done a reasonable investigation to see how cherry-picked this data is? Are there any tech hubs conspicuously missing, for instance?

FWIW, that Middlesex County, MA contains Cambridge, MA and a lot of towns on the 128 corridor that have a LOT of tech jobs. I don't know what the days from that graph is saying though. It isn't SF or Manhattan, but rent/housing here is not considered cheap.
posted by maryr at 5:15 PM on April 15


Well the water front condo project mentioned in the article that was shot down by ballot initiative was I believe started and funded by the property owners who's view of the bay would have been blocked.

Of course it won BIG, not just by property owners. So maybe you need to relook at why it passed.

And as I said, NIMBY? Hell yes, homeowners tend to be NIMBYs. Directly devalue their property and they get cranky. (It's also worth mentioning that Telegraph hill has extremely strict zoning rules about maintaining views.) But that's very different than anti-development due to being afraid of increased supply. And I honestly don't think that many of the property owners of San Francisco are anti-growth because they are worried about property devaluation caused by more building.
posted by aspo at 5:29 PM on April 15


Once you start putting counties there you should be doing all of Alameda county as well. And probably San Mateo and Contra Costa.

And Austin and Raleigh are very different cities "tech focus" or not. Same with the DC tri-state area. which leaves you with a much less interesting graph. Plus San Francisco IS dense. It's the second densest city in the country and has a lot less room to grow than most cities. There's no place to sprawl because the city ends at the county line. (Thus, why not Alameda and San Mateo counties?)

It's just one of many parts of the article that I Just Don't Trust. Like the quote from Peter Thiel “I live in the Marina area in San Francisco. They built the Golden Gate Bridge in three and a half years in the 1930s, ‘33 to ‘36. They’re now building an access road to the bridge that’s taken eight years and possibly will end up costing more in inflation adjusted dollars than the whole bridge cost in the ‘30s. So it’s one of the reasons I personally don’t want to pay more taxes, because I feel the government spends the money so extraordinarily badly. I’d be fine with paying more if I felt the government was run as well as it was run in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘30s.” that's trying to show that "The tech leadership of this generation doesn’t have a reflexive anti-tax orientation" when frankly that sounds like every libertarian douchebag ever. Oh I wonder waht was different in the 1930s? Gee what could it have been? Maybe that it wasn't nearly as developed, that energy costs were SO much cheaper. That they were building a bridge, not building on a developed massively used piece of infrastructure, that exploitation was expected, that externalities were totally unpaid for etc etc etc.
posted by aspo at 5:46 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


It's not as neat as simple supply and demand, and increasing supply will lower prices. The concerns I hear down here on the Peninsula are that increasing housing necessarily increases density, will lead to heavier traffic, that more importantly (from their perspective) it will overburden the schools, which will lead to the schools being not as good, which will drag down property values. A house in a good school district commands a much higher housing dollar than one in nearby towns that are less well funded.

I was a little amused to see Menlo Park described as "collaborative", because it only got that way after litigation threatened to scuttle the deal to house Facebook. And note that the housing being built for Facebook also happens to be located in the poor school district, not one of the other two school districts that are considered to be very good (and not accidentally draw from more expensive real estate.)
posted by ambrosia at 5:48 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


aspo: "Once you start putting counties there you should be doing all of Alameda county as well. And probably San Mateo and Contra Costa.

And Austin and Raleigh are very different cities "tech focus" or not. Same with the DC tri-state area. which leaves you with a much less interesting graph. Plus San Francisco IS dense. It's the second densest city in the country and has a lot less room to grow than most cities. There's no place to sprawl because the city ends at the county line. (Thus, why not Alameda and San Mateo counties?)

It's just one of many parts of the article that I Just Don't Trust.
"

You could have clicked the obvious link immediately above the graph, which goes to the Trulia report which clearly states that the study is at the metro level* and thus -- by definition -- includes entire counties and groups of multiple counties. You probably could have picked this up by noting that Washington DC proper is in, well, DC, and not actually in four states as labelled, which implies very strongly the metro definition. If you Just Didn't Trust it, why not spend the 30 seconds and check it out, rather than straight leaping to calling it "a classic lieing with data graph"?

* actually at the metropolitan division level in the small handful of metropolitan statistical areas that contain metropolitan divisions; the nomenclature is not the clearest, thanks Census Bureau.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:59 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


I've been looking for my gibbon everywhere.
posted by w0mbat at 6:04 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, the landlord banks way more deposits and rent for what was originally a single family home, and before this was at most a house with 3-4 roommates or whatever.

The cherry on top for this scenario in Allston (Boston's student ghetto) is that the landlord then paves over whatever small yard remains for more parking. I do love the benevolent hand of the free market...
posted by jalexei at 6:08 PM on April 15


Only about 6% of San Franciscans are employed in the tech sector.

San Francisco isn't expensive because tech workers want to live here. It's expensive because EVERYBODY wants to live here.
posted by evil otto at 6:10 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I found the article extremely disingenuous on the supply and demand part. Because the city of San Francisco Controller's Office chief economist, Ted Egan, has said that it would take building 100,000 housing units to meaningfully move the price of housing.
Here's a presentation, by Egan. Egan says that a 75k housing downpayment subsidy would be an equivalent to building 100k units...and 100k units is the amount of housing built since the 1920s. All of it.
posted by wuwei at 6:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Considering that high-density urban living is much more environmentally friendly than urban sprawl, the next generation of young people has a greater preference for urban living, and that SF is one of the very few places in the US where people want to live in higher density, wouldn't building 100,000 units over the next 20 years be a really good idea?
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:36 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


It wouldn't just be a really good idea it may be necessary if we're going to survive on this planet as a species. But some people prefer a nice view of the Bay to a habitable planet.
posted by Justinian at 6:40 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Homeowners have a strong economic incentive to restrict supply because it supports price appreciation of their own homes. It’s understandable. Many of them have put the bulk of their net worth into their homes and they don’t want to lose that.

That was in the first couple paragraphs. What else is there to say?
posted by bukvich at 6:41 PM on April 15


You could have clicked the obvious link immediately above the graph, which goes to the Trulia report which clearly states that the study is at the metro level*

Except the San Francisco "metro area" generally includes... well Oakland, and a bunch of other, cheaper, cities. And that's a much more reasonable comparison to, say, the DC metro area. And San Jose has it's own, similar area. Which is exactly my point. It's lying with statistics. Not that the statistics are false, but they are chosen to tell a story.

So take away Austin and Raleigh, which are completely different cities, sorry, add say, New York City, and you get a much less interesting graph. And I bet if you track price changes over time instead of absolute prices you get an even less interesting graph.
posted by aspo at 6:46 PM on April 15


bukvich: I believe what else there is to say is [citation needed].
posted by aspo at 6:47 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


The water supply is already in deep trouble. The Bay Area may be hitting the limits of what's possible from a natural resources perspective in terms of population.
posted by humanfont at 7:06 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


and 100k units is the amount of housing built since the 1920s. All of it.

For context, the chart under #6 of the article says that nearly 14,000 units were built in 2007-2013. Extrapolating out (dangerous, I know), the city would seem to be on track to build 40,000 units over the next 20 years. So this would be a major 150% increase. And this isn't going to alleviate the problem. It's just going to make it so somebody at 80% of the adjusted median income can afford 25% of the market, rather than the 18% they previously could. Plus the presentation is from 2012 and the market's only gone up since. Once you factor in enough housing to accomodate the growth of the next 20 years it gets worse. So building 100k units would be an improvement, but it really seems like just a dent. The amount of housing needed to truly deal with the problem is probably more than can realistically happen.

My dad's been saying that in another 10, 15 years, the only "normal" people who'll be able to own a house in the bay area will be the ones who inherited one. I'm beginning to think he's right.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:09 PM on April 15


Egan says that a 75k housing downpayment subsidy would be an equivalent to building 100k units...and 100k units is the amount of housing built since the 1920s. All of it.
The other thing that Egan says is that the 75k housing subsidy ends up not helping those looking for housing, but helping those that are selling houses. So it ends up being a subsidy for the landed class rather than the poor. How much is the subsidy to those rich enough to own an expensive SF home? It's $4.2 billion just to subsidize the poorest 25%, so that's a lower bound on the amount that current owners actually benefit from restricted housing stock in SF. That $4.2B could be spent on building another muni line, or perhaps subsidizing BART to run past midnight so that people could live outside the city and still visit, effectively increasing the amount of SF housing supply. Who wants to live in the Dublin condoplexes and visit the city if it means turning into a pumpkin at 11:30?

It seems that nearly everything about the Bay Area, from tax laws to building codes to public transit schedules has been tweaked to limit mobility and limit housing supply. It has the effect of concentrating wealth into the hands of the few that were able to buy property. Perhaps it was just an accident. Just like the accident that in our gilded age wealth is falling into the hands of those that have the most of it.

aspo, I can't quite follow your argument about the financial interests of SF land owners. I think your point is that just because most SF homeowners don't know that they're voting in their best financial interest, but do it for other reasons, that it should never be brought up as a potential reason? Is there any other situation where there's an obvious cui situation bono where it's inappropriate to bring up the subject? Is it the tone of the argument that's the problem?

It doesn't matter whether homeowners are unconsciously restricting housing supply and benefiting it anymore than it would if the uber-wealthy were unconsciously rigging the system to retain a higher and higher percentage of total wealth. Who cares whether it's conscious or not? There's no magic morality points that one gets for that.
posted by Llama-Lime at 7:13 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Except the San Francisco "metro area" generally includes... well Oakland, and a bunch of other, cheaper, cities. And that's a much more reasonable comparison to, say, the DC metro area. And San Jose has it's own, similar area. Which is exactly my point. It's lying with statistics. Not that the statistics are false, but they are chosen to tell a story.

So take away Austin and Raleigh, which are completely different cities, sorry, add say, New York City, and you get a much less interesting graph. And I bet if you track price changes over time instead of absolute prices you get an even less interesting graph.


In what respect? You think San Francisco somehow wouldn't be an outlier, then? I think you're nuts.

Exactly how one defines a "tech hub" is a mug's game, true. In the sense that companies and universities don't neatly cram themselves inside one county or within x miles of the nearest major city center. Analysis by metropolitan statistical area is about the best you're going to do. Why take Austin and Raleigh out? They're not tech-y enough for your taste? Because Raleigh's definitely more tech focused, at least when it comes to biotech, than New York, which has a number of other hugely powerful industries almost uniquely concentrated there.

But even if you did want to compare San Francisco to the New York MSA, I'm not at all sure that it's come out looking any better; y'all shot past NYC when it comes to housing expenses long ago. San Jose might be a rival. But otherwise it is simply the case that it is much cheaper to buy a house in Texas or North Carolina than anywhere in Cali, in large part because it's much easier to build there.
posted by Diablevert at 7:16 PM on April 15


I have to speak in favor of aPodments here.

Caveat: I don't know anyone who lives in one personally, but I'm probably going to move into one in a few months. Why? Because I need to live close to my school (Seattle Central Community College), they're newly built buildings, and when I'm going to be barely home, I need little more than a bed, a shelf, dresser, and little kitchenette - in a secure, mold free environment - for the 6 months of school I have left. They are not for everybody - but I have few possessions, no pets, no spouse or kids, and no vehicle. It's perfect for me. They have shared full kitchens down the hall.

Hell, I currently live in a *house*, and I use the stove maybe once a month, if that - because, until a couple of weeks ago, I spent all of my time at school studying. They are tiny, and expensive, and missing amenities, sure - but my other options are to move into a tiny studio with a long commute, a mold/insect infested rathole, roommates that I may or may not get along with, or shelling out $$$$ for a 'luxury apartment'.

I'll take the aPodment, thanks.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:26 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]


No room?

I've been to SF once in my life, so maybe I'm missing some important local knowledge.

But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

As was noted upthread, the only way to house more people is to build more housing. That means turning things that aren't housing into things that are housing.
posted by Hatashran at 8:03 PM on April 15


They are tiny, and expensive, and missing amenities, sure - but my other options are to move into a tiny studio with a long commute, a mold/insect infested rathole, roommates that I may or may not get along with, or shelling out $$$$ for a 'luxury apartment'.

I guess my Big Gripe with them is that they're being sold as "the solution for affordable housing!", when they're really a suckers prize. And that a lot of people seem to have accepted that message, and the people against them were painted as NIMBYs who should be ignored very successfully.

I get that they're the right thing for some people like you, but a lot of people said "where the hell is affordable housing" and "here's your tenement!" was the response. How is that OK?

SF as well used to have plenty of SROs, and very similar places. Those are on their way out or gone, but as with Campus if you dress up what was formerly a slumlords game in a 21st century suit it's something completely fine.

I mean, in college i myself briefly lived in a place very similar to the apodment you describe for similar reasons... except that it was a 100 year old SRO.

The big difference i see here is that apodments are essentially 2-3x the price. Other than that it's new construction.

But you get free high speed internet, and it's in a hip new building! so all the poors being pushed out should just shut up and move in to their space age hovels and like it. Why do they feel so entitled to have more space anyways? if they really wanted it, they'd bootstraps themselves into having the money to pay for it.
posted by emptythought at 8:13 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


let's push for a single-payer model for housing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:19 PM on April 15


But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

I really suspect that you wouldn't want to put people there specifically, but yeah, there are a lot of areas where San Francisco proper could increase density. Or other cities in the Bay Area, but a huge part of doing it is getting the necessary public transportation and stuff to those locations.

That area you highlight is either landfill, brownfield, or both, and right next to a tank farm to boot.
posted by LionIndex at 8:20 PM on April 15


But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

If you zoom out it says it's San Bruno State Mountain Park. It also abuts a bunch of cemetaries on the western side. I'm also not sure that it's SF proper as opposed to San Bruno or Daly City or Colma; that's right where the transition happens (just north of it is Candlestick Park, for example).
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 8:24 PM on April 15


Eventually building artificial islands will probably be a solution for the overcrowding issues in the bay assuming you could somehow get it through the zoning board. I mean a huge percentage of the land is already fill anyway so presumably you could just generate some new islands and then throw down a metric boatload of condos. Yeah it would probably nuke some views and alter the character of the city but eventually San Francisco proper will turn into Manhattan effectively and I'm not sure it will ever have the economic factors that allow Manhattan to operate as a bizarre microcosm somewhat effectively.

If anything I'd say the tech companies are probably the only thing somewhat sustaining stuff as is because the number of 20 somethings that are willing to pay through the nose for shitty substandard housing can't be sustainable forever. You can only abuse students and bohemian artists for so much money before they finally throw in the towel and move to Oakland
posted by vuron at 8:31 PM on April 15


Of course it won BIG, not just by property owners. So maybe you need to relook at why it passed.

Right, I remember a big reason it passed was because turn out was ultra-low - there weren't any major elections going on, just a bunch of random city business. I also remember being astonished that a lot of San Franciscan renters I worked with voted for it because of some variation of city character/oh noez the waterfront. These same people also bitch incessantly about the cost of housing, then turn up their nose at the thought of living in (blacker) Oakland.

Why do you think it passed? To me this is one of those only-in-San-Francisco examples of the byzantine permitting process. The ballot initiative was funded by NIMBY property owners and a lot of people bought their bullshit for whatever reason. I know no one wants SF to turn into Manhattan, but we gotta build something. I don't know what the solution is, but having an empty lot there certainly isn't helping. Let the rich yuppies buy their waterfront condos, it will free up existing housing in the Mission and elsewhere.

there are a lot of areas where San Francisco proper could increase density. Or other cities in the Bay Area, but a huge part of doing it is getting the necessary public transportation and stuff to those locations.

Oakland Mayor Quan unveils 10,000 resident plan. Which doesn't change the fact that BART stops at midnight. I have a friend who's a baker who's really feeling it pretty hard. Can't get to work at 4am if the trains stop, can't afford SF apartments anymore.

Of course everything Quan touches turns to shit, but she did secure funding for the Brooklyn Basin project so who knows. In other news Oakland has lost a quarter of it's black population.

A major part of the problem, mentioned in this article, is that none of the cities in the valley will allow development or higher density. They welcome the 10s of thousands of jobs the tech companies bring, but god forbid those people actually live there - gotta protect those green lawns and driveways!
posted by bradbane at 8:32 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


San Francisco isn't expensive because tech workers want to live here. It's expensive because EVERYBODY wants to live here

But the tech people are ugly and uncool, basically.

This whole thing has just been a straight up spasm of nerd-bashing. Not surprising at all.
posted by rr at 8:36 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

That sliver of land is split between San Francisco and Brisbane, and is hideously polluted. There are plans, though, to clean up / develop it — see the rest of the site from that last link.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:12 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Hatashran, you're looking at a combination of active landfill and wetland/brownfield/rail lines, as LionIndex said. However, they are planning to demolish Candlestick and put in housing, I believe. When the wind is from the west the smell is not terribly pleasing, unfortunately. To the west is a state park and the small community of Brisbane, which I understand is undergoing its own little real estate boom.

I thought the article did a nice job of highlighting the ridiculous web of me-first interests that are hamstringing the entire area. I would have highlighted the horror that is Prop 13 a little brighter. Not only does it keep property taxes ludicrously low for people who had the privilege of purchasing property in the 1970s, it horribly fucks over our school systems in the most regressive manner. Public schools in communities with low property values are hamstrung further by the depressed property tax revenues, while communities with high property values (and by extension higher incomes and all the advantages that affords) have wonderful facilities and opportunities. It's quite depressing, and I despair of it ever being repealed until there are sufficient demographic shifts away from its beneficiaries (largely the boomers).
posted by Existential Dread at 9:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


As a follow up, I'd be interested to see some discussion about foreign real estate investment in SF and on the peninsula and how that affects property values as well.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:29 PM on April 15


Which doesn't change the fact that BART stops at midnight.

*blinks* What is this, a case where they say they shouldn't run the trains at night because nobody rides the trains at night?

(Seriously, we had a bridge built here with no sidewalk because the traffic study showed there was no pedestrian traffic because without the bridge it was a two-mile walk. Well, it was a two-mile drive for the cars you just built the bridge for! Years later, they cheated in a narrow sidewalk on one side.)

Where is the business community on this?

Even more mind-bogglingly, Mountain View is discussing new office development that would bring as many as 42,550 office workers to the city. But the city’s zoning plan only allows for a maximum of 7,000 new homes by 2030.

That's just insane. Or naked, aggressive castle-wall-building.
posted by dhartung at 9:51 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


We were staying in a flat in the Marina a couple of years and I was thinking about the high price of housing in SF, and tried to find out what I could about the flat through public records.

It turned out, among other things, that it was within 300 feet of an "urban bird refuge", which meant "Open spaces 2 acres and larger dominated by vegetation, vegetated landscaping, forest, meadows, grassland, wetlands or open water. These areas are subject to Section 139 of the San Francisco Planning Code (Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings)."

Here is the map of all areas subject to this ordinance. I think the "refuge" in this case was the ocean (open water).

So if the owners wanted to remodel this 1910's- era flat, they could only use certain windows, and there would probably be additional permit fees to review their building permit to make sure that it complied with section 139, etc.

Saving birds costs money. Building a Bird-Safe Building costs more, and may not actually save ay birds. It is likely to have to charge higher rents than a building across the street, 301 feet from an urban bird refuge.

All of these regulations involve trade-offs, and wind up contributing to the high cost of real estate in SF.

Just as mandating a certain number of parking spaces per apartment adds costs, and probably detracts from the overall quality of life in SF.
posted by etherist at 9:54 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Point 8) of the article includes a clip from a 1978 documentary with the line: "The Mission District, one of the few low-rent areas left in the city, is currently a target for speculators." This could be said today as well, though it would probably use a different scapegoat.

That the same complaint could be levied 35 years apart gives me hope that perhaps in 2050 some new round of people will be able to say the same thing. And then get a delicious burrito in the same neighborhood. Or burrito pill, or whatever it is that is planned to replace the vibrant culture of the Mission once it's been fully assimilated and every job replaced with a droid. Blue Bot Coffee will have entered phase 2 by 2050 as well. So they'll probably be saying, "The Mission District, one of the few low-rent areas left in the city, is currently a target for T-2000 Investment++ AIs."
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:03 PM on April 15


But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

Despite this article there are large parts of SF proper that are not being developed in the same way or are as desirable as those in the downtown areas.

Hunter's Point and the Excelsior districts aren't seeing the same gentrification as elsewhere. All the construction around Candlestick may have an SF address (as the billboards note) but most folks would still consider it the burbs. Most folks would prefer to live in Oakland if their priced to the extreme outskirts of SF. Commuting via public transit from the less expensive outer SF districts to pretty much anywhere "cool" is pretty horrible.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:13 PM on April 15


But I see a big chunk of undeveloped land right on the freeway, halfway between downtown and Silicon Valley, and with a major commuter rail running right through it. At roughly half of a square mile, you could put 10,000+ people there.

OK, I had to look things up. There's a proposal called Brisbane Baylands that is under current debate for that site, formerly industrial with a big chunk devoted to a Southern Pacific railyard. The proposal as such would be for 4400+ housing units across variety of densities, ranging from high-density flats to medium-density townhomes, along with retail and office in the mix, including some allowance for recreationg and greenspace (this is a site considered at high risk by the development-unfriendly Greenbelt Alliance). So it's certainly not something that's been ignored. But I think the assessment above is correct that it would take tens of thousands of new residential units to alleviate the crush that has spiked prices in any significant measure.

I'm thinking that maybe part of what needs to happen is a more cohesive regional planning process that makes clear that communities like Mountain View can't just grow what they want to have (high-property-tax commercial development) and force the externalities (housing) on everyone else. But then I've become a bit disenchanted with how "metro" governance often seems to give suburban-type communities in the metro a say in the housing, transit, and service needs-meeting of more urban-type communities. Toronto, Cook County, etc. all exhibit this sort of dynamic.

The other perhaps unresolvable tension here is the gentrification issue. As an historic preservationist I want to see older buildings, like the miles upon miles of SF's painted ladies, survive in some form, but as a social democrat I can see how this drives up housing prices and forces lower-income residents into tougher choices, either longer commutes, lousier school districts, or substandard housing. I was devastated when living in New York to see so many vast -- to the horizon -- neighborhoods seemingly given over to neglect until they could be torn down and replaced, and have always wished for an urban economic model that preserved those neighborhoods for residents and investors to achieve win-win outcomes instead of seemingly being at odds. I don't know how to make any of that happen except in drips and drabs, though.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Adding 100k housing units just isn't happening with the current order-- builders want to build for the top end because that's where the money is. That's not just SF, that's NYC, Paris-- this is happening in many places where real estate appreciation has become a primary driver of wealth. I'm all for density-- like it a lot, actually.

My primary objection to the TechCrunch article is that the author fails to see the bigger picture (at the national level) that is driving real estate appreciation. I also object to her basic acceptance of the "public-private partnership" model which, frankly, hasn't worked in the US.

The only place I've lived that had livable massive vertical apartments was S. Korea-- for an idea of the scope check out Jamsil, where according to the WaPo, 71,000 people live. And that's STILL 30k units short, give or take, from what Egan said is necessary to get to some kind of minimum affordability. S. Korean apartments I stayed in were awesome-- units went all the way through the building, with sun decks on both sides, with storage and tile drained floors, double paned windows, soaking tubs, etc. The apartments are super convenient and I've never seen anything that came close in the US-- I'm sure there are some awesome multi-million dollar condos in SF or NYC or Chicago, but the apartments I stayed in were middle class homes. This was over a decade ago, and it looks like people have some new ideas about city living in S. Korea.

If we want to make housing affordable in SF, or anywhere in the US, then it's going to come down to planning of some sort-- because the "market" as a thing with agency, doesn't exist. What exist are people, and a set of legal/economic arrangements within which those people live. I get that people like Thiel are saying fuck it, let's just get rid of the rules (for the big boys) and let them do what they want. We did that already-- tenements in Manchester during the industrial revolution, and NYC/Chicago at the turn of the century in the US. It was pretty ugly, but hey fuck it, that's the beauty of the market right? Creative destruction of lives makes it better eventually. Right? Art demands sacrifice, and would Stanford White been able to build such beautiful buildings if his patrons hadn't been able to extract the maximum labor from their employees? I think not.
posted by wuwei at 11:11 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Previously: forget S.F., let's build a new city.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:58 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I've repeatedly seen the claim that homeowners don't want building because it will lower their home prices by lowering demand, but I've never seen it actually backed by any real data. Homeowners do tend to be NIMBYs, yes. After all, if you own a home you are going to care about something local destroying your property value, say a homeless shelter. But that's different from wanting supply to be tight in order to make all property in the city cost more. Honestly I've never seen that behavior among homeowners that I know.

I think the piece that is really missing in a lot of this (and I'm definitely still working through the article, but this jumped out) is that most homeowners are NIMBYs not because they are hoping to keep their value intact for resale, but because they want to keep their enjoyment intact for their own living. They don't want to see low income housing going up because it changes the character of the neighborhood and the character of the neighborhood is what they enjoy. They don't want high rises because it increases the crowding, which may be what they bought the houses to get away from. It's personal, not financial, for a lot of people.
posted by corb at 6:34 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


San Francisco Cracks Down On AirBnB
That’s why the legislation lays down ground rules: Locals can only rent out their primary residences, or the property they live in at least three-quarters of the year (275 days). Anyone who lives in a building with two or more units and wants to list their place on Craigslist or Airbnb will have to apply to be in the city’s registry of approved hosts; to remain in that database, the person will have to keep records showing that their property has insurance coverage of at least $150,000 and that they’ve been collecting taxes from their guests, which go into city coffers just like hotel taxes do. And they’ll have to reapply, paying a $50 application fee, every two years.
I really liked this piece, Diablevert, thanks for posting it. I would have liked it if the author talked more about how Mountain View's and the rest of the peninsula's policies on housing growth tied into the boom in SF prices, as well as how the transportation system got so fractured.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:12 AM on April 16


the man of twists and turns: the Peninsula blocked BART at the end of the '60s. Didn't want all those black and brown people coming into their communities.
posted by wuwei at 7:29 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I think the piece that is really missing in a lot of this (and I'm definitely still working through the article, but this jumped out) is that most homeowners are NIMBYs not because they are hoping to keep their value intact for resale, but because they want to keep their enjoyment intact for their own living. They don't want to see low income housing going up because it changes the character of the neighborhood and the character of the neighborhood is what they enjoy. They don't want high rises because it increases the crowding, which may be what they bought the houses to get away from. It's personal, not financial, for a lot of people.

I think this is true, but the flip side of that is that the people buying those properties were somewhat mistaken to begin with about what they were actually buying. In the case of SF, they bought a house in one of the more desirable cities in the country where there's a very high demand for housing, and to some degree the desirability of living in that city is the culture of the place, which I'd think is pretty heavily influenced by the people that are able to live there. If housing becomes so expensive that the people creating SF's culture or that perform the banal tasks of keeping a large city running aren't able to live there any more, what they bought into necessarily changes. So, you're either changing the buildings or changing the people that live in them.
posted by LionIndex at 7:40 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


A friend of a friend is supposedly renting a (walk in) closet in a house, with bathroom access for $900 a month.

I think the fact that we have to indicate explicitly that there's "bathroom access" - which should be implied, because it's 2014 - says quite a bit.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:49 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Via BoingBoing, this scathing piece: As a Google Attorney, I Need the Homes of 7 Teachers, and Here's Why.
posted by emjaybee at 8:50 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


San Francisco isn't expensive because tech workers want to live here. It's expensive because EVERYBODY wants to live here

The quality of my life is significantly increased by not living there.
posted by k5.user at 9:31 AM on April 16


seemed like it was much more truthy than true.

Saying something like that on the basis of a feeling or a vague disagreement, and not reading the article, is the essence of "truthy".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:45 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


> The big difference i see here is that apodments are essentially 2-3x the price. Other than that it's new construction

That it's new construction shouldn't be dismissed. Up-to-code wiring and ventilation, and private bathrooms rather than down the hall, make a big difference for quality-of-life for the people in them.

I agree re them not being a substitute for affordable housing. I would have loved to live in one when I was a student in my twenties, but pretty much no other stage of my life.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:51 AM on April 16


They couldn't bring tech jobs to the spacious midwest? I mean there are some decent schools here abouts and unlike my memories of the East Bay, an expectation and receiving of services from the municipality.

To be honest one of the cities I was surprised never got the population boom and tech jobs was Portland. It has decent enough weather, unlike Minneapolis/St. Paul, and it is between two major tech areas, Seattle and the Bay Area.

At some point, population will move based on available employment. The question then is where.
posted by jadepearl at 9:56 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Weather and jobs are not necessarily enough. Many young workers want to live and work in real cities, cities that weren't completely hollowed out for parking lots and freeways, and don't have that suburban character of cities built largely post-WW2.

I can't find it right now, but there was an article about the Research Triangle not being able to retain talent. It has a low cost of living, good wages, good schools, good climate, easy commutes (if you have a car!)... and yet people will leave for San Francisco in a heartbeat.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:25 AM on April 16


Many of these problems would be solved if we were able or willing to build new cities—or new parts of cities—that retained the best characteristics of our older cities.

But so many factors conspire against this—parking minimums being probably the major one by a long shot, but also an economy where (urban) new construction is apparently unprofitable unless it is aimed at the very upper end of the market (here in Chicago, I can't think of a single new-build all-rental building that I've noticed since I moved here—it's all condos, all the time), chronic underinvestment in the transit infrastructure that made old-style cities livable (when was the last time an American city built a new intracity heavy rail line from scratch?), etc., etc., etc.

So we keep building vast exurbs where fewer and fewer people want to live, and housing costs in the few real cities left keep skyrocketing as the population increases, and the proportion of the population which finds those cities desirable increases, while the supply of urban housing remains mostly constant.
posted by enn at 11:40 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


A few things, from this San Francisco homeowner.

1. Only about 6% of San Franciscans are employed in the tech sector. And yet, as pointed out in the same article, that percentage represents a significant part of new employment growth in the city going back a decade or two, and the average annual wage associated with those positions is pretty high.

Add in considerations for tech-related employment (venture capital, finance, media, and so on) and the tech flavor of the city's changes since Nirvana released their last album are hard to dismiss. Not everyone in that pool has the same high wages, and work associated with them is sometimes intermittent or based on short contracts. So people in tech, as it were, run the gamut of the affluence spectrum like everyone else. It's not blaming tech to observe that tech is the strong engine of local change.

2. Cutler's article very correctly mentions Prop 13 as a player in all this, but incompletely. Prop 13 in many ways fucked the shit out of California, but let's not forget what precipitated it: assessments on single-family homes rose by 120 percent between '74 and '78. That's what fostered the tax revolts mentioned in the article: the discussion that's happening now about rentals was more or less happening then about homeowners. It's well documented that the funding crises brought on by Prop 13 have seriously eroded trust in public institutions and their ability to solve problems (I immediately think of essays like Lenny Goldberg's in Remaking California). Some of the reticence that seems to be written off as NIMBY-ism may be more correctly called a reminder for any new policies (not specific building projects) to be really, seriously scrutinized for their capacity to cause the neverending stream of unintended consequences that a political housing freakout can set in motion.

3. That said, yes, the planning and approvals process is crazy. We're trying to fix our foundation and in the construction process turn our little attic into an open space for a bed. We've had inspectors, architects, contractors, electricians, structural engineers, and drafters come through, and we still haven't even gotten all the necessary paperwork together to submit to the city. This process started in November, and we probably won't have the first hammer hitting crumbly old cement until mid-May. We're paid way more money than I expected to pay in the process. And this is for just one 600 square foot, 100 year old house in a two unit tenancy in common. Scaling this up to a hundred units or more is a feat of complexity that is mind boggling and could probably use some trimming out and streamlining.

4. Homeowners, height restrictions, special zoning regions, and preserving development in context/open spaces/etc. aren't the bad guy. Right up front, developers can seek variances from zoning restrictions. They do, often, and sometimes they succeed. It's a pretty cool thing that our city allows neighbors to weigh in on development that goes outside the bounds that a neighborhood's residents have sought. Most homeowners don't feel that zoning is arbitrary. Rather, it's a part of the consideration you go through before sinking your life's savings into buying a home. Don't want to live where someone can open a bar next door? Want to live near a mixed-use commercial/residential strip? Want to live in a high rise? In all cases, there are zones set up that accommodate that flavor. The special use district code for my neighborhood is why we were able to spend the better part of a decade saving our money to buy a tiny house in it: "For lots which have a depth of 70 feet or less, the minimum rear yard depth shall be equal to 35 percent of the total depth of the lot on which the building is located." Thank you, zoning--this means that even though I can only afford 600 square feet of house on a small partitioned lot, no one has been able to build over all the open space and we have a vegetable plot and a tree growing in our miniyard. This was my criteria for buying in this difficult city: I need dirt, else we're going to Oakland to buy. Zoning wasn't the enemy, it was the principle factor in ensuring the housing market was diverse enough to have more to offer than many copies of the same thing.

Good developers work with zoning. Seek variations for good projects. Make them fit the neighborhood. Neighbors will respond. Homeowners aren't the devil and we very much understand the rental/housing crisis that we all were struggling with before we bought a home. It's been like this for a long time. We remember. it's probably why we bought a house--as a last ditch option to figure out a way to stay in the city we love without dealing with fucking rentals anymore.

5. I sold my soul to buy a home, and that will always feel weird. I'm a nonprofit worker, and my partner refurbishes old malls. We make enough to live here, but I won't be able to work without climbing the ladder forever like I've enjoyed doing for the last decade--there's this mortgage to feed. I came to terms with that as a buy-in part of becoming a homeowner. So, honestly, enough with the homeowner NIMBY assumption. We've all got diverse situations and incomes, and owning a home is as problematic as renting. We're in this together, y'all. I want things to get better. I can't think of other homeowners who don't.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:05 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I think the piece that is really missing in a lot of this (and I'm definitely still working through the article, but this jumped out) is that most homeowners are NIMBYs not because they are hoping to keep their value intact for resale, but because they want to keep their enjoyment intact for their own living. They don't want to see low income housing going up because it changes the character of the neighborhood and the character of the neighborhood is what they enjoy. They don't want high rises because it increases the crowding, which may be what they bought the houses to get away from. It's personal, not financial, for a lot of people.

Well the fact of the matter is basically, tough shit. That's how it works if you don't want the neighborhood(or city) ruined.

Both the area i've grown up in, and the area i live now are going through this. But the thing is, if you stop the affordable housing you WILL still get the towers and condos. I watched it happen in both places.

And the people moving into the affordable housing aren't some disgusting welfare queen poors who are going to gross up the neighborhood, they're people who already lived there for the most part who lived in "normal" apartments/rental houses who are now priced out. I would argue that having rent controlled/below market rate/low income housing is the only way to save the character you're talking about that people paid for or whatever.

And in a lot of places it isn't high rises, it's "mid rises" that are 5 floors tall or so.

It's just incredibly myopic to be against this, or think it's some kind if relatable or justifiable argument. It's myopic, fingers in your ears lalalala stuff. If you don't hold out a carrot for the wealthier people and give the people who can't afford the skyrocketing rents somewhere to go then pretty soon the only people who made up the "character" of the place who will be able to still live there will be the people who already bought in when they could afford it. Everyone renting will be fucked(or at least, incredibly afraid of and vulnerable to/huge targets for eviction).

So there's definitely an element of "Fuck you, got mine" to this as well.

And look, i'm not a huge fan of this type of thing either. But i think that it is nimbyism either through abject reagan-esque hatred of poor people or just a general misunderstanding of how this shit works that causes people to try and cockblock low income housing, without realize that they won't be able to cockblock rich developers for long and that will kill their neighborhood.

But hey, don't listen to me. I've just watched that play out in my neighborhood for the past 5+ years.
posted by emptythought at 12:20 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


general misunderstanding of how this shit works that causes people to try and cockblock low income housing, without realize that they won't be able to cockblock rich developers for long and that will kill their neighborhood.

So is the argument that people should welcome low income housing developments because they will keep rich developments out?
posted by corb at 12:26 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Public housing doesn't have to be awful. In fact it can be pretty nice as in Singapore or Sweden. The Swedish program seems to be having some problems, admittedly. The newer Singaporean units are pretty nice looking.

In Singapore (and previously, Sweden) public housing was for people of all economic classes. It is probably this which made sure the program worked. Means-tested (income restricted) public programs become easy targets, especially when the group with the lesser means is an ethnic minority.

Think about it as the public option for housing.
posted by wuwei at 12:49 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]


So is the argument that people should welcome low income housing developments because they will keep rich developments out?

...No? And i'm not really sure how you derived that from my post.

The argument is that rich(or at least, higher income than you, hypothetical current resident) people are coming no matter what. They either

1. buy up all the existing housing and push everyone out if you don't allow for any new development

2. Buy some of the existing housing, and also move in to new expensive places if you allow those.

But that, if you want to keep the people who are already there around who give the place the character you're used to and want to keep, you have to build low income/below market rate housing.

Low income developments will balance, to an extent, the high income developments.
posted by emptythought at 1:52 PM on April 16


Think about it as the public option for housing.

Which is a reasonably middle ground until we can muster the political will to move to a single-payer system.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:11 PM on April 16


I can't find it right now, but there was an article about the Research Triangle not being able to retain talent. It has a low cost of living, good wages, good schools, good climate, easy commutes (if you have a car!)... and yet people will leave for San Francisco in a heartbeat.

You lost me on the "good climate" part. The South is like living in a sauna during the summer. I hated having to spend my summers in VA with my dad's family when I was a kid. But it is much more affordable than any of the few other cities biotech/pharma companies have concentrated in. The one-percenters who run these companies don't factor in that their wage slaves have to commute for hours a day or live in ratholes when they decide where they want to set up shop.

I lived in San Mateo from middle school to high school, then moved to San Diego for eighteen years in 1994 before moving back to the Bay Area to help take care of a terminally ill parent. In 1990's San Mateo we lived in a two bedroom, spacious apartment that rented for $900 a month. The same apartment now would cost more than three times that amount, so I'm living in Fremont and commuting to visit my mom far away in Noe Valley. In San Diego I lived within a mile from the beach in Del Mar and then La Jolla, and paid >$500 less per month in rent than I do now in an ugly city with nothing but strip malls.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:12 PM on April 16


There really needs to be better, more transparent ways for us to organize around rapid expansion of public/subsidized housing. At the current moment, these are the options we have available to us:
  1. Support free-market solutions that involve building as many luxury apartments as possible, in the hopes that once we've sated the demand for luxury housing for the rich, our rents for standard apartments will go down. This logic makes sense — even if new luxury places may displace the humans that lived on that lot, if there is enough new housing for the gods we humans won't have to compete so much with them when we go looking for human-priced housing.
  2. Or, we can use the power of the state to block luxury developments. The idea in this case is that we should focus on the few people displaced by those specific developments, without regard to the wider (positive) effects of sating luxury demand.
There is no clear path for an average citizen to support increased development specifically for us, rather than allowing the market to overallocate luxury development in the hopes of increasing supply of apartments that we can afford as a knock-on effect. Our options, as they are presented to us, position democracy as a wholly conservative force (a thing that can stop development, but not drive it) and the market as the only dynamic force.

I'm weirdly proud of being completely unreasonable on this issue, largely because I think it's flatly disturbing that at the present moment the only options seen as reasonable are either building pyramids for the ultra-rich or not building anything at all. The current situation, where the market is the only active agent, has sort of broken the brains of a number of otherwise smart, progressive people I know, who have gone absolutely whole-hog in on market ideology in this sector without any time whatsoever for the idea that the most efficient way to get more units that we can afford might involve actually building more units that we can afford, even though that's not what the market wants most.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:42 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


Wow, so maybe I am going to live long enough to see an actual Arcology. Although San Francisco seems like an unusually poor place to build one.
posted by Sphinx at 2:50 PM on April 16


Nonsense - one of the most famous arcologies in sci-fi, the Renraku Arcology in Shadowrun, was situated in SF.

Just...watch out for the megalomaniacal AI in the basement.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:05 PM on April 16


Hmm, I was wrong - Renraku was in Seattle (not surprising, since Seattle is the "default" campaign setting.) Not sure why I thought it was in SF.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:09 PM on April 16


broken the brains of a number of otherwise smart, progressive people I know,
But that's the thing-- they aren't actually that smart. Otherwise they would see that the orthogonal solution to the current narrative is to organize for collective change. Maybe that doesn't happen today, maybe it takes generations. But that's how life works.
posted by wuwei at 4:43 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Prop 13 was written to be a tax freeze for owners of residences — and in the last moments of opportunity, it was amended to include owners of commercial property. This produced complicated transactions — e.g. "reverse triangular mergers" — in which the original legal entity continues to own the property in perpetuity, while the bones and guts inside the zombie get exchanged for new ones. Commercial property taxes got frozen for anyone with enough lawyers.


"… Corporations are able to fudge around the edges with structuring deals in order to avoid reassesments, while homeowners are always stuck with the latest sale price. That means there has been a huge shift from commercial property bearing a strong majority of the property tax burden to residential properties now far outweighing commercial taxes."
posted by hank at 9:59 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I agree that's particularly terrible but Prop 13 would still be bad even if it excluded commercial property. Just not as bad.
posted by Justinian at 1:27 AM on April 17


Suburbs Try to Prevent an Exodus as Young Adults Move to Cities and Stay
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:33 AM on April 17


This anarchist collective is demanding $3 billion from Google: The Counterforce, Kevin Rose, and the fire beneath San Francisco's growing class gap
posted by homunculus at 5:15 PM on April 17


Wow, that's a terribly misguided protest. What a perfect example of rr's assessment::
But the tech people are ugly and uncool, basically.

This whole thing has just been a straight up spasm of nerd-bashing. Not surprising at all.
The protest is not even in the general direction of improving the conditions of those who are hurt by a housing crunch. Such a pathetic ignorance driving the hate in that protest, I feel sorry for them.
posted by Llama-Lime at 7:21 PM on April 17


That graph does look suspicious. Has anyone done a reasonable investigation to see how cherry-picked this data is? Are there any tech hubs conspicuously missing, for instance?

FWIW, that Middlesex County, MA contains Cambridge and a lot of towns on the 128 corridor that have a LOT of tech jobs. I don't know what the days from that graph is saying though. It isn't SF or Manhattan, but rent/housing here is not considered cheap.


Actually there's more than that going on here, though - Middlesex county contains Cambridge (where I live), where prices are upwards of $450/sqft, but it also contains the New Hampshire border just south of New Ipswich, where they are not. The equivalent would be like including everything between San Francisco and Sacramento. So they've certainly chosen their data points to say "look at this other tech hub, it's not so expensive!" when it is. And the two that look cheap and have lots of new construction permits on the graph are self-similar, and very different from everything else on that chart - Raleigh (where I'm from) and Austin are both growing in *diameter*. That's something neither Cambridge or San Francisco or any of the South-or-East Bay tech ghettos on that graph can do.
posted by atbash at 3:15 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


It's hard to find the right border to draw for the Boston area - the right answer is probably 128 (magic weather circle!) so you include the western suburbs as well, but I'd imagine it's tricky to find those numbers on a handy census chart.
posted by maryr at 8:03 AM on April 22


S.F. city attorney sues 2 landlords over short-term rentals
posted by homunculus at 5:15 PM on April 24


Judgmental Map of San Francisco
posted by homunculus at 10:44 AM on April 25


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