The New Fight in San Francisco Housing
San Francisco Supervisor, David Campos, suggested that there should be a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission. The Mission started off as a working class Italian and Irish neighborhood and transitioned into being a working-class Latino neighborhood. Now it is one of the youngest and most hipster sections of San Francisco and most expensive.
San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (whose district also borders on the Mission district) and who largely represents the newer and techier San Francisco, correctly fired back and wrote that the Law of Supply and Demand applies in San Francisco as much as it does anywhere.
Anywhere else in the country, Scott Wiener would be considered on the Left-wing of the Democratic Party. In San Francisco, he can be called the ghost of Ronald Reagan for understanding Economics 101.
I am largely coming around to Wiener’s in the housing debate. If you want housing prices to go down, you have to increase stock and increase stock dramatically. The only hedge I would make is that cities like New York, London, and San Francisco might be desirable enough that extra-incentives are necessary to get people to build affordable housing as well. I don’t mind plans like Mayor De Blasio’s which would allow developers to make market-rate housing if they also build affordable or below market units of people of moderate incomes.
I can imagine something like a 3:1 plan where developers get a streamlined process in building luxury condos if they also build 1 affordable unit for every 4 units of market-rate housing. The affordable units do not need to be as luxurious but they should be clean and decent.
I am also not ready to give up on rent control or rent stabilization but am willing to have the programs be phased out instead of finished through a band-aid rip. Theoretically I would be open to the government providing housing vouchers to get lower-income people up to market rates but would want it done in a way that can’t be abused by landlords.
One thing I’ve noticed about the various housing wars in San Francisco (and to a lesser extent New York) is that they focus on reasons why people move to the city. San Francisco has a long history of being welcoming to eccentrics, outsiders, and misfits. This relationship can get complicated though but it persists. The Housing War is also a social war about the soul of San Francisco and the reasons that people came here. If you came here because you were isolated and picked on in your small mid-Western town and just wanted to be you then you are one of the pure and good. If you came to San Francisco because of tech, you are just an evil Marina-douchebag brogrammer.
This sort of social war over reasons for moving exists in New York but is somewhat mitigated because New York was always known as a place of business and plenty of young people went to New York for Wall Street as others went to New York for Greenwich Village.
The problem is that 1967 came and went a long time ago. The other problem is that San Francisco is a wonderful city but it is still a city of nearly 850,000 individuals and we all came here for very different reasons. Yes this is still a liberal city that is extremely tolerant of outsiders and misfits but it is also a city of immigrants from all over the world, people who can trace their families back generations, and just ordinary people who like temperate weather. Not everyone in San Francisco came for the Folsom Street Fair. Not everyone came for Tech but neither element is going away. As much as people want it, tech is not going away and will always be part of the Bay Area and young people no longer want the suburbs. They want cities. “White Flight” is largely a thing of the past.
I am not sure what to do about the social/culture war aspect of the housing war except to tell people what to deal. I alternate between being fairly sympathetic and hostile to the social/cultural aspect. Anecdotally, my experience shows that the people who go against development the most tend to have a somewhat to highly bohemian aesthetic. They are smart but not necessarily MBA smart. They have graduate degrees but these degrees are MAs, MPAs, MPHs, MFAs, etc. The one person from the anti-development crowd I know who works in finance does so as an admin assistant and she did this after graduate school in the arts. In short, they are not people who want yuppie condos and I am not one either really. I fully admit my attraction to Brownstone Brooklyn over a glass box building. I wonder how much of the anti-development crowd is fueled by feelings of never being able to compete and never ever feeling the benefits of all the building. They can’t afford to buy and the rents are not going down yet. I’m sympathetic to the feeling of being word down because you need to move every year and think that something should be done as a stop-gap to help building is happening. One way the development crowd might help their position is by coming up with temporary relief measures instead of holding fast to build, build, build being the only solution. Build, build, build but meanwhile do this is a better sell.
But we are going to have to build and build as quickly as possible. There is no other way around it.