The New Fight in San Francisco Housing

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96 Responses

  1. Troublesome Frog says:

    The mandated affordable housing and rent control policies are really the place where I see the worst side of the left. If we pity the person who doesn’t have the extra $1500 a month to pay for housing and we want to do something about it, we have two options. We could say, “We feel for you, sir, so we’re all going to kick in a few bucks every month in taxes and give you a $1500 a month housing subsidy.” Wise policy or not, that would be us putting our money where our mouths are.

    The other option is to say, “We feel for you, sir, so we’re going to make the one person who owns the building you’re living in give up $1500 a month to bear the entire burden of taking care of you.” It’s a great way to feel better without digging into your own pockets, and it’s arguably one of the most glaring cases of the “other peoples’ money” problem in government. And that’s before you start thinking about whether it’s actually going to achieve your stated goals.Report

    • greginak in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      TF, I’m not sure about this. I agree on rent control but i think you are a bit off on the mandated low income housing. I can see the argument for just giving a housing subsidy which has the strong benefit of being direct and simple. However in the discussion of spiraling college costs one consistent argument is that the cause is cheap and easy college loans backstopped by the gov. If we just give people a whopping housing subsidy then why wouldn’t rents go up even faster and higher then currently. Creating low income housing, along with the current housing aid actually creates places for people to move into.

      I’ve seen mandated or gov back stopped low income housing work well in terms of providing nice places for people to move in that they love and do well in.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to greginak says:

        If we just give people a whopping housing subsidy then why wouldn’t rents go up even faster and higher then currently.

        I don’t think you can do an end run around the supply/demand problem by switching your fiddling from the demand curve side to the supply curve side. All you’re doing is moving units from the “market price” market to the “cheap” market, not really changing the overall supply/demand count.
        Whether you toss extra money in to buy up a unit and turn it into low income housing or you order somebody to make it low income housing and force them to recoup the loss on the rest of the project, the net result is that you’re short one unit of market-rate housing and you take the hit in the rest of the market.

        It seems like if we want to do something on the supply side, the better bet would be to offer subsidies for doing the building and make them contingent upon some lower priced housing in order to make up the difference. To take the college loan analogy, it’s the difference between building an extra university and giving people cash to fight over the same number of university seats. Splitting the difference by keeping the number of university seats the same but mandating that universities give some of them away cheaply isn’t really splitting the difference. It just changes who gets the fixed number of seats.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to greginak says:

        Or, to phrase it differently, there’s no solution to lower rents that doesn’t involve getting rid of people or building more buildings. A subsidy will drive up rents. Rent control will drive up rents. Mandatory low cost units will drive up rents. The question is who bears the brunt of it, and it seems like the politically popular answer is, “anybody but me.”Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


      I think greginak comes up with the good analogy here or at least one of my main concerns. I don’t want housing subsidy money to become like government-backed student loans. We need public housing and affordable housing and I am not willing to go full Republican, free-market, no government aid here either.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        We need public housing and affordable housing and I am not willing to go full Republican, free-market, no government aid here either.

        How many have you built, then?

        Or do you mean “I am not willing to let other people go full Republican, free-market, no government aid”?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This is politics so both. I doubt anyone would go full free-market Republican on the local or state level because this is San Francisco and California.

        Nationally, the same needs to be done to get federal funding for urban projects.

        I still consider myself a believer in the welfare state.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      I’m curious. There is already a program – section 8 housing – that provides housing subsidies for poorest folk. Are you thinking of more than that?

      ALsotoo, where I live there are subsidies for developers for projects targeting “low income” folk (tho where I live “low income is sorta inaccurate). Very few developers avail themselves of the subsidy. Is that one of the things you’d like to see?Report

    • North in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      As a relative neoliberal I think that if mandated affordable housing was the price to pay for the general (phased) elimination of rent control and rent stabilization (and all their other misbegotten ilk) then that would emphatically be a good exchange.

      Market purism is well and good but the real world runs on politics. I think it unlikely that one can eliminate zoning regulation in large urban regions and affordable housing mandates ain’t that terrible. For one thing, over time, most standard mandated affordable housing gradually turns into regular housing.Report

  2. Stillwater says:


    Congrats on the change of perspective. And I don’t mean that I endorse the new view or old. I jus think changing one’s mind is a hard hard thing to do in America…..

    I’d also say that poor folks have always had to struggle, and by that I don’t mean a particular poor person. Think of the term as a variable that finds a value in particular contexts and times. I’d also say that poor all too often the cool area or neighborhood derives it’s charm from poor folks. I mean, most of these places were only inhabited by the poor until they were “discovered”, yes?

    Lastly, I’d say that poor folk can still find groovy places to live. But they gotta stay ahead of the richies who’ll appropriate the poor-created coolness for financial and status based reasons! It’s a challenge for the poors. To always read market signalling and be the first to act. Before the richies come in and ruin it.Report

  3. Francis says:

    Some disconnected thoughts:

    The City and County of San Francisco is largely built out. Substantial increases in density will cause very significant and likely unmitigable reductions in the quality of life over things like traffic and general over-crowding. And developers also need to find water.

    People have collectively been setting rules on how to live in urban environments for a very long time, both for good and ill. The idea that price should be the sole determinant of urban planning is new and, if adequately explained, repellant to most people.

    California law gives substantial power to the residents of counties and cities to decide how they are going to live, through its Planning and Zoning laws. These laws require each county and city to develop a General Plan. While General Plans must contain certain mandatory elements, state law devolves to each community the content of those elements. Issues of density, affordable housing, public transit are largely locally determined. Development approvals that violate General Plans can get struck down in court.

    Having represented them, I have little sympathy for developers who buy up cheap land (developed or raw) with grand plans for high-end housing that are predicated on amending the General Plan, then don’t get the votes. Land use planning is political; it is the basis on how we experience our lived environment.

    So if the City/County commissioners are refusing to green-light developments in their community because their voters are requesting a moratorium, GOOD FOR THEM. That’s their job. (The legality of true moratoria is beyond the scope of this comment. But a functional moratorium of refusing to approve a particular development due to its impact on the existing community is perfectly legal, if the General Plan so allows.)

    This bit, by the way — “But we are going to have to build and build as quickly as possible” — is complete bullshit. “We” don’t have to do anything at all. “We” can tell developers to go into the job-heavy counties south of San Francisco and tell those elected officials to massively up-zone. And when those officials refuse to be badgered, “we” can try a little more humility and treat the people living in these areas with a little more respect.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Francis says:

      1. Yes and no. There are still plenty of places in SOMA that can be turned into residential neighborhoods and on the other borders of the city but you are right that we can’t expand and I have plenty of dislike of the Bay Area communities that won’t build in Silicon Valley.

      The water thing is an issue but I am not aware of any way to stop people from moving to certain areas and the Bay Area will be hot land for the foreseeable future. What is your proposal for getting people to stop moving to the Bay Area? I’d rather sacrifice the Almond Industry and have more water for cities and people. California uses about ten percent of its water on Almonds. That’s nuts!

      2. Nowhere did I say price should be the sole determining factor and I expressed my support for rent control and stability and my opposition for just going full neo-liberal.

      3. I think this might be too much local control.

      4. I admit that Campos and Wiener probably see themselves as representing two very different forms of San Franciscan and Campos is probably proposing stuff that will make his district and voters happy. So is Wiener. The argument you did hear goes both ways.

      The anti-development and anti-growth people argue on a lot of feels arguments. They are just as bad as Mike Huckabee with wanting to turn back the clock to something that probably never existed. Again the techies aren’t going to stop moving to SF because the “radical vegan anarchist knitting grannies socialist brigade” doesn’t want them to. If they don’t have shiny yuppie buildings to move into, they will just as gladly take existing and older housing stock that would be for the working and middle class. I don’t know any way around this inconvenient fact.

      How are you going to prevent people from moving to SF? How are you going to prevent displacement?Report

      • Francis in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        1. It is unlikely that San Francisco can build its way to the point that prices drop anytime soon. Both space and water are too short. A dramatic increase in population also increases demands for schools, parks, police, public transportation, and sewage management (a big deal in the Bay), among other services. Finding the room for the public aspects of increased population is not a trivial problem.

        Your neo-liberal desire to trample on the California constitution and a couple hundred years of water rights is duly noted. There are reasons why ag. areas are conservative and this is one of them. Why, precisely, should your personal desires be given any weight at all? Because you’re willing to outbid farmers? The whole point of a water rights system is that the owner of the rights — the farmers — get to decide how they want to use their rights.

        And California actually has a viable legal system for trading water rights. Head on over to the State Water Resources Control Board website. And just because you buy rights doesn’t mean you can get the water to you. Can the existing regional infrastructure meet the new demand? That’s literally a billion-dollar question.

        2. There are a number of complicated issues getting interwoven here. They include: (a) the price of new and existing housing on the open market; (b) the preservation of the character of existing neighborhoods; (c) the existence of price supports for both new and existing housing; (d) allocation of the burden of ‘sub-market’ pricing. Supervisors can do virtually nothing to affect directly the price of existing housing on the open market.

        3. Then get the law changed. You’ll have the support of a few Silicon Valley libertarians and no one else.

        4. Certain urban housing markets are seeing extraordinary spikes in housing prices. That’s creating comparative winners out of existing landowners and comparative losers out of renters. But renters vote too and they’re going to pressure their elected officials to do whatever they can to preserve their ability to live in their chosen communities. There may be nothing that the Sups can do to substantially reduce demand, but they can do a lot to mitigate the harms that one big class of their constituents are feeling. Why would anyone expect anything else?Report

      • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        What’s more, the law of supply and demand isn’t as simple as “build more, prices go down.”Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        One of the big “ooooooh” realizations that I had was that housing height limitations are in place due to the whole “earthquake gonna kill everybody on the third floor and higher” issue so even the whole “build apartment buildings” answer to the problem that would work in, say, Colorado will not particularly work in San Fran.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Your neo-liberal desire to trample on the California constitution and a couple hundred years of water rights is duly noted.

        I’ll throw my hat in the ring as another evil neo-liberal who has very little reverence for the unholy mess that is the California constitution.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m not entirely sure that it’s the case that height restrictions bear a rational relationship with earthquake safety. Some, to be sure, but if Korean Airlines is ready to build an eighty-story high mixed-use tower literally directly on top of a faultline on the corner of Wilshire and Figueroa in DTLA, I think it’s fair to say that it’s possible to construct a building of any economically feasible height in San Francisco that would stand up to the sort of strong earthquake that hits there every two centuries or so. Now, to be sure, the engineering that goes in to a multiuse commercial tower is parsecs more advanced than what goes in to a two-story condo, but we can be a lot more sure now that most buildings aren’t going to collapse when the ground inevitably shakes because, as you might imagine, out here in California we take structural building codes pretty damn seriously.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        One can say the same to you and your trampling on the Federal Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, and the Privileges and Immunities Clause. You went to law school, you should know that the Supreme Court reads the Privileges and Immunities clause prohibits states from treating residents from other states in a discriminatory manner and this includes the right to travel and move. See generally:

        How are you going to get around the Federal Constitution, The Privileges and Immunities Clause, and the Supremacy Clause?

        The Central Valley is naturally a desert. It is not naturally green and lush farm land. Most of their water is diverted from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest and there is evidence that shows 20th century California had more rain than normal. Central California became farm land because of human engineering and irrigation projects. Not because of anything natural about the area except having lots of space.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        The Earthquake thing is a concern but not as much as it was in the past. We have better engineering and structural integrity now. There are some big apartment buildings downtown that are New York tall. These buildings are not my taste aesthetically but they are possible here. At least in certain areas.Report

      • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Earthquakes or no you can most assuredly build midrise in place of single family homes till the cows come home with little to no loss in earthquake safety (probably a gain, a modern midrise will whup the pants off a fifty year old single family home for earthquake safety). The idea that San Francisco is physically built out is lunacy. Now whether it is politically built out is more debatable. If it is, however, I can assure you that the poor will be the victims of that fact in the mid to long run. Anyone who takes the anti-development line on that is unambiguously against the poor and low income residents of the area- whatever rationalizations they may spin*.

        Water’s likewise; California has oceans of water available for residential use; whether the water is politically available is a more open question. That said appeals to the California constitution are laughable; the CA constitution is a simple majority vote away from any amendment that one desires and it’s rather well known that a lot more people live in cities than the agricultural hinterlands. If water shortages ever truly begin to bite deep** one can predict with enormous confidence that agriculture will get firmly shoved back until enough water is available to meet the needs of the residential areas.

        *Note that this is nothing hideously horrible. A lot of people, maybe even most people, prefer not to live in close proximity to the poor. I just find it unpleasant when anti-development liberals try and claim compassion for the poor at the same time. The hypocrisy there is staggering.
        **I am no expert on California water use but clearly while water shortages have been causing inconvenience and annoyance water scarcity hasn’t truly begin to bite deep enough to draw blood- yet.Report

      • Francis in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Saul: Please cite a single case in which the P&I clause and/or the Supremacy Clause could possibly form the basis for invalidating California’s water rights system.

        The reason that the legal system has remained relatively undisturbed, even through the massive growth in cities, the decline of ag in economic importance, the tax revolts and all the other changes to California governance is that the system provides reliability. Both urban and ag water managers treasure reliability above all else. Water infrastructure is staggeringly expensive to build and operate, and can last for 100 years. So long before you actually start adding people to a community, you better have figured out where their water is coming from, how you’re going to carry it, and where you’re going to store it.

        I also find it incredibly bizarre that a mostly libertarian blog would be anything other than respectful of water rights, some of which even pre-date statehood. Isn’t the sanctity of property rights a core belief of libertarianism?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I never said I was a libertarian and I don’t really mind if most CA Agriculture moves elsewhere because, as you noted, it is only a small fraction of the CA economy right now. It takes one gallon of water to grow an almond and this water can be better used for people.

        FWIW, I also think that we need to regulate ground water better and stop giving it away to bottled water companies. This is also a waste.


        Desalination is interesting because a lot of environmentalists hate it because of the brine byproducts it produces.

        There is a certain kind of environmentalist that seems to treat humanity as an invasive species.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        You are right that the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Supremacy Clause have not overridden water rights yet.

        I am right that you aren’t even going to be able to legally stop people moving to the Bay Area.Report

      • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Saul, the problem is (and any tech like person is welcome to jump in and correct me) that desalination is simply too expensive to be of any value for providing water.Report

      • Francis in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Yes, no one can stop a person from selling her SF victorian for whatever the market will bear. That’s really not the point at all.

        Here are some relevant points:

        1. The City and County of San Francisco is tiny. It’s 232 square miles with an estimated population of 837,000 per wikipedia.

        2. There’s very little buildable unbuilt land, so significant increases in population will come only through significant increases in density. Elected officials have significant power to limit density increases, through the General Plan. It appears that the elected officials, in response to their constituents, have decided not to increase density very much. Other reasons not to increase density, besides the demands of locals, include finding reliable water supply, managing increased sewer flows, mitigating traffic impacts, finding new parking, adding schools, cops and firefighters, managing increased recreational demands, etc.

        Increasing density in an already-built environment is usually very expensive. (Retail water supply, sewer discharge, parking and traffic management are among the major problems.) And sophisticated developers tend to try to shove the indirect costs back onto existing residents, which tends to increase opposition to new development.

        3. In light of the fact that demand exceeds supply and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, prices are surging. So long-time renters are feeling squeezed, and going to their elected representatives to seek relief. It appears that this constituency is having some success in getting their elected representatives to hear their concerns, and the electeds are trying to develop responses. Many of these responses will likely interfere with the housing ‘market’ (rent controls, affordable housing requirements with deed restrictions, etc.), but since the ‘market’ exists only within and pursuant to the existing political environment, I’m not particularly bothered. The housing ‘market’ is only slightly less regulated than the ‘market’ for water, i.e., there is no market without the government.

        4. Under California law this is a classic local issue. There has been some discussion over the years in vesting greater land use powers in multi-county coalitions of governments, to create better long-term planning in dense environments. Those ideas have gone largely nowhere in the Legislature. Local politicians are extremely protective of their planning power and they are some of the most effectively lobbyists at the statehouse. There is no natural constituency for spreading that power around.

        Additional notes:

        Desal tends to run around $2,000 per acre foot at the point of the desal facility. Pumping and storage comes extra. While usages around the state vary dramatically, the general number most people use for urban areas is 1/4 acre foot per family per year. $500 per year just for the water is generally considered very very expensive water.

        The Central Valley was naturally a swamp, not a desert. The San Joaquin River (flowing north to the Delta) likely carried in excess of 6 million acre feet annually historically and the Sacramento River (flowing south to the Delta) carried in excess of 22 MAF annually. I urge people who write about California water to do basic research first. If you send me an e-mail and ask nicely, I’ll try to respond by the following weekend.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “the problem is (and any tech like person is welcome to jump in and correct me) that desalination is simply too expensive to be of any value for providing water.”

        North American shale gas was simply too expensive to be of any value until someone invented hydraulic fracturing and then suddenly it wasn’t.Report

      • North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Well sure Jim and if you can invent cheap desal could you please fund the League for eternity and maybe send us a shot of your Nobel prize because you’re going to be famous, rich and lauded for centuries (and rightly so). Desal is a big fishing deal.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @north @jim-heffman

        Quick summary on the state of the art

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I think that @jim-heffman ‘s point isn’t that it’s going to get cheaper. It’s that $500 a year for a family’s water supply is actually a pretty damn good deal when you compare it to not having water anymore. “Desalination is too expensive” is only really true because we have other cheaper options right now.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Hmm. Maybe not. In an case, expensive desal still seems like a great deal compared to no water if @francis has the right numbers. It doesn’t seem like it’s a good option for farming or industrial purposes, but that’s a totally different question.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Francis says:

      “The City and County of San Francisco is largely built out.”
      “Development approvals that violate General Plans can get struck down in court.”

      So the reason that it’s built out is that we’ve decided it ought to be.Report

  4. aaron david says:

    One of the biggest problems that SF has to deal with is that as it tries to be a world class city, rich people will flock there. And if there is no housing for them, they will bid up neighborhoods that non rich people live in. This causes genitrification, which is not very respectful to the old residents of those neighborhoods.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to aaron david says:

      Pretty much. The no-build policy did not matter for years because SF had a declining population, just like almost every other American city. This has not been true for a while now but housing policy has not caught up with current demographic trends.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        FWIW I don’t think SF ever tried to be a world-class city but got caught off-guard because techies decided that they would rather live in SF than the Valley.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        You can also argue that San Francisco was always a world class city since the Gold Rush. From the Gold Rush to sometime in the 20th century, San Francisco was the premier business city and port on the West Coast. It was America’s entrepôt and manufacturing center on the Pacific Ocean. After this role faded, San Francisco was a world class city because of its Bohemian reputation. Than the Tech industry turned it into another world class city.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Yes and no. SF always had Pacific Heights and other well-to-do sections but it was largely working class and middle-class besides these few well-to-do pockets. What it didn’t have for most of its histories was a lot of 20 and 30-somethings making six-figures.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Bohemianism doesn’t drive up rents like a techie making 200,000 a year in income does.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw, what I meant was that a world city is defined by many things. San Francisco was always well known even when its economy was less than stellar. It was a world city by the virtue of its international fame.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “I don’t think SF ever tried to be a world-class city but got caught off-guard because techies decided that they would rather live in SF than the Valley.”

        Seriously. Google didn’t want to start running Google Buses, but all the kids they hired were utterly stoked on the idea that they could live, like, right next to Haight-Ashbury and the Palace Of Fine Arts and all those really cool places they’d heard about (and also, y’know, cute hippie chicks with dye jobs and nose rings and generous ideas when it came to oral interaction.)Report

    • Kolohe in reply to aaron david says:

      “This causes genitrification, which is not very respectful to the old residents of those neighborhoods.”

      Absolutely. Heavens, we certainly don’t want those sort of families to move into the neighborhood. I swear, some people should just know their place.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        This is as silly as the opposite position.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Kolohe says:

        Good catch, Kolohe. I was mostly riffing of of Francis above.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

        Gentrification is wealthy people moving into interesting neighborhood and pricing out all of the local color that made them interesting. What’s not to like?Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kolohe says:

        Gentrification is wealthy people moving into interesting neighborhood and pricing out all of the local color that made them interesting.

        I wonder how the poorer people who occupied the neighborhood before the people who made it so interesting and desirable arrived felt about all the changes.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

        I don’t know the history of the Mission in detail, but my impression is that it became Latino as the previous white working-class inhabitants moved up and out.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:


        Gentrification is much more complicated than that. In my experience, the people who usually complain about gentrification the most are educated types who are very smart but don’t want to necessarily get MBAs. In short, they like the nice neighborhoods but at affordable rates. The other way to describe this is wanting your cake and eating it too.

        Now there are differences and sometimes this voices are very loud and passionate but it is generally much more complicated than saying “gentrification is just white people pushing out poorer residents.” The biggest complainers of gentrifcation in Williamsburg are the artists and other bohemians who originally moved to the neighborhood in the late 1990s. They are the ones who dislike the yuppies, not the Latino(a) and Eastern Europeans whose businesses like dry cleaners get patronized by yuppies.


        The Fillmore/Western Addition used to be a Jewish neighborhood and then became an African-American neighborhood. The same is roughly true of the Mission, it became Latino(a) after the White working-class (largely Italian and Irish) moved out. This all happened before cities became cool again.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:


        Wiener’s Medium essay does link to an article proving that housing and rent prices in D.C. went down after they went on a building spree.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        Saul, you should read Wiener’s DC link. I think you’ll see what I mean when you do. Wiener’s description of it is misleading to the point of being a lie.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    “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.”

    NYC has been doing this, albeit imperfectly and with mixed results, for several decades now:

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      3:1 means 4 for every 1?Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

      New Jersey tried it almost 30 years ago when I was living there. In some cases the developer lost money because the land value was more than “affordable” housing. In some cases the buyers eventually got past the waiting period and took a windfall profit by selling the property at market price. As I recall, very little affordable housing was produced in the long term.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I don’t know the exact details, but I think NY originally allowed developers to build the units separately, meaning luxury apartments in one part of a town and affordable apartments in another, leading to increased stratification. The change to putting them in the same building or complex led to the situation described in the article, which seems like an improvement but not without its share of drawbacks as well.Report

      • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Affordable housing is fundamentally only mid term. You can not (and as this is my work I am intimately aware of it) land a loan on any affordable housing if it doesn’t A) eventually expire and B) extinguish in the event of forclosure. Between those two factors over the course of about thirty or so years your affordable housing eventually turns into normal housing. But if you keep building you keep getting more affordable housing.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:


        I’ve seen programs that are designed to help people with moderate incomes purchase homes but they tend to be lotteries and you have to take what you get. I also what happens if your income exceeds the original level.

        Say there is a program that is designed to help people who make 80K or less buy a home in San Francisco and you win. A few years later, you get a job offer for 125K. Do you have to sell your home now?Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

        “affordable housing” … otherwise known as slums.Report

      • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

        @Saul it varies. Some programs require your income to not exceed a certain threshold otherwise you’re expected to begin the process of selling the property to a buyer tho meets the low income housing criteria. Others require only validation of income level at purchase and then again each time it’s transferred. They vary considerably.

        Where they don’t vary is that if you default and the authority isn’t able to buy the property from you in time the bank takes it, the restrictions turn into pumpkins and it gets resold as a regular unregulated home. Same happens if it hits a certain age, 20-30 years. So your affordable/low income housing units are constantly turning into normal housing units as time proceeds.

        And yes, with all affordable housing schemes of any form at all there’s a line. If Apples are worth $1000 and I start selling five a day for $100 bucks you can bet your bottom dollar my desk will form a queue.

        Kim: generally not. Low income housing is usually sprinkled through normal market rate developments like raisin in a pudding (often specifically by design). You don’t get slums from that.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    How does San Francisco’s large population of Asian-Americans fit into San Francisco’s housing wars? A cursory glance at Wikipedia reveals that about one-third of San Francisco residents are Asian-American. Many of them probably aren’t eligible to vote but they have enough electoral clout to get a Chinese-American mayor elected. If the San Francisco Asian-American community are anything like the Asian-American community in New York, I can’t imagine them having much patience with the argument that San Francisco should be a city for wacky bohemians for the most part.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    I really hesitate to ask a question like this because I find the discussion “Liberals are THIS” and “Conservatives are THAT” and “Libertarians are EVIL” to be insipid, tedious, and unilluminating. But…

    Why is it that Supervisor Campos’ position, or @saul-degraw ‘s position, is called “neo-liberal”? And indeed, what is this position in the first place? Allowing market forces some level of influence in governing rents? For shame, Comrade! When did you join the counterrevolution?

    I’m largely in agreement with Brother @francis above — San Francisco is as built out now as it reasonably can be under existing technological conditions: its infrastructure is stretched to its limit, every flat square inch of land has been densely developed already and quite a few square inches of land more vertical than flat have had the same fate. Why should it be so awful that the City grow more expensive, and people in search of affordable housing — and indeed, affordable places to site their jobs — be pushed by the Invisible Hand to the suburbs?

    …Oh, right. Because that’s how they did it in sprawling Los Angeles, so by definition that must make it bad.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Well, beyond the fact, that yes, the massive sprawl that happened in LA was probably not the best idea, no one has a right to live anywhere, and money does not confer that right any more than previous tenancy does.

      So, yeah, it’s not up to the residents of an area, who have been paying taxes to a city for years, to simply lay back and take the gentrification. It’s actually should be the city’s responsibility to those residents (even if they’re not making 80k at a startup) to figure out a way to spread out the impact of building, since it’s become obvious that just throwing up market rate housing is going to do much to help at the current rate, especially when all the incentives are too build luxury housing that’ll never become affordable.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


        There is sort of a right to move anywhere. The U.S. Constitution contains a section called the Privileges and Immunities Clause. This clause prohibits states from treating the residents of other states in a discriminatory manner. The Supreme Court reads this clause as preventing states from imposing travel bans or onerous moving requirements. See generally:

        Anyway saying there is no right to move/live anywhere can cut too many ways and in ways that you probably don’t want. We can use that glib sentence to say ban immigration for asylum seekers who need to flee political oppression, violence, and/or discrimination in their native countries for example and I am pretty sure you would be against that.

        Saying there is no right to live anywhere does not seem very liberal. It treats everything as an accident of birth and I am not sure that the people complaining about gentrification the most loudly are San Francisco natives. Just like I am not sure that the people complaining about gentrification in New York are New York natives. In my experience the people who complain about gentrification most loudly in SF is that person who came sometime in the 1990s because he or she could be totally themselves here and were fleeing their oppressive small-town environments.

        I am not sure why this pure at heart and alt-bohemia reason gives some one more rights to move here than a techie just because you like the alt-bohemia reasoning more.

        Silicon Valley has been here since the 1970s and possibly earlier if you include the founding of HP in the 1930s. There does not seem to be any indication that Silicon Valley and the various venture capital firms are moving away from the SF-Bay Area anytime soon. Just like there is no indication of Wall Street moving from New York. You can either deal with this fact, build housing, so more people can live here, or you can complain and be righteous and holy.

        Only one thing has the chance of lowering housing and rent prices.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        You might be right that there is no legal right to live in a particular area.

        I can’t say “I want to live in Brooklyn” and then have a legal right to a apartment and a job.

        But there is also no legal way to stop someone from moving either and people are being offered jobs and jobs at a good salary. Should they not take these jobs because it offends the 1990s alt-rocker punk?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        So, yeah, it’s not up to the residents of an area, who have been paying taxes to a city for years, to simply lay back and take the gentrification.

        “Pay Taxes” is an interesting phrase. Obviously it’s not a binary thing, but so often it’s treated as one for rhetorical purposes. Pay a couple hundred dollars a year in taxes, and it doesn’t matter that you’ve been consuming five times that much in government services—you’re a Taxpayer, and the city is forever in your debt, just as much so, if not more so, than someone paying ten times as much in taxes as you.

        It’s also interesting how it gets turned around when we’re talking about rich people. No matter how much they pay in taxes, they’re still indebted to us. Because we’re Taxpayers, and taxes made it possible for them to get rich.

        It’s almost as though the privileges one is entitled to as a Taxpayer are inversely proportional to the amount of taxes one has actually paid.Report

      • Kim in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        I choose to believe that America can afford running water and electricity to all citizens, even if it does cost a pretty penny. I’d like to think that you believe similarly.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Supervisor Campos position is not “move to burbs until you can afford to live”. Nor is it “stop development, we’re all filled up”

      Supervisor Campos position is (a trial balloon) that regular ol’ new housing construction starts should be halted in a certain neighborhood, and for city to fast track development labeled as ‘affordable’ in that same neighborhood.Report

    • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

      You mean that’s how they did it in Detroit, and that makes it bad. Trying to lower your taxes and running out to the farthest suburbs is a bad longterm plan. (I can elaborate if you’d like).Report

  8. Dand says:

    What do the actual working class residents of the city think about housing policy. I bet most of people complaining about housing look down their noses at the cultural tastes of blue collar workers. Why should anyone care what they think.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Dand says:


      I have seen mixed reports. On the one hand, I have seen original residents be happy about finally getting a good grocery store like a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s. I have also seen fierce battles where people complain about gentrifiers changing the nature of the schools and/or pricing out their families. So the answer as the answer for most things is “it’s complicated.”

      I used to live in a very gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn called Boreum Hill. There was an cheap but not very good supermarket on the main drag. A few years ago they decided to turn it into retail. The only people I saw complain about this (I admit that the net might create sample bias) were the middle-class gentrified people in my former hood. They also complained when a local greengrocer became a J.Crew despite being across the street from a Trader Joe’s. So there is just a certain type of upper-middle class type person that is NIMBY and doesn’t like the wrong kind of retail in their neighborhood.Report

  9. Kim says:

    Sad to hear you speaking out in favor of increasing slums.
    I’d have thought you’d have a deeper analysis of the situation, as you do live there.
    Maybe this is what we get when we don’t expect writers to actually look at the mathematics of the situation?Report

  10. Lyle says:

    It is hard to see the privilege and immunities clause apply here because say a resident of Weed, Ca Susanville or Baker want to move to San Francisco they have to pay the same price as someone from outside the state So the price to live in San Francisco does not depend on if you are moving there from elsewhere in the state or outside the state.Report

  11. Doctor Jay says:

    The organic, natural-order-of-things way to produce low-income housing is to build market-rate housing and wait 30 years. That’s too much latency to deal with a big surge of immigration, though. And a big surge is what we’re dealing with.

    SF has a history of making it really, really hard to build new housing for a long time, and I see this as the chickens coming home to roost. I don’t think there’s going to be a good solution, never mind an ideal one.

    I think that solving this problem is going to require tearing down quite a few of those quaint, pastel-colored row houses that are so unique to what makes SF look like SF, and building high-density apartments where they once were. This is, of course, so painful to everyone that it might be impossible politically. However, those buildings are, by and large, a wreck. They are old and falling apart, until some yuppie tech brogrammer and his family buys one and “remodels” it by gutting the interior entirely. But they look nice.Report

  12. Jim Heffman says:

    They’re assuming that the developers are building tremendous super-luxe apartments and could totally build triple the amount of housing for a sixth of the price.

    The reality is that every unit a developer gets built gets occupied, at whatever price they care to name. Developers are already building the units we’d call “poor peopleaffordable housing” in other cities; they’re just charging market rate for them, and they’re getting it because ev’buddy wanna live in SF.Report

  13. DavidTC says:

    Here’s the little secret that most people are ignoring: The problem isn’t ‘affordable housing’. Not really.

    The problem is that a large segment of the population cannot actually afford housing. Not because it mysteriously became too expensive for no reason. (That really doesn’t make any sense, market-wise.)

    It’s because large segments of the population have slowly become poorer and poorer. And the people (and banks) who *do* have the houses are not willing to sell with them. (Why should they, they have plenty of money already, and housing prices always go up, right? So better to hold on to the investment.)

    Producing more houses will only ‘reduce’ housing prices relative to poor people if the houses are produced faster than the people who own massive amounts of them are buying them, and if the purchasing power of the poor didn’t get less and less each year.

    Otherwise they will only slow the relative increase in prices. The poor, hell, the ‘middle class’, will never be able to buy houses at this rate.

    It’s housing inflation. There is too much money chasing *expensive* houses (For no damn reason at all), which results in people *building* expensive houses. Meanwhile, while there is as much demand for cheaper houses, much less profit happens down there, so why would anyone do that? (Despite the fact it’s those houses that are *actually needed*.)

    It used to be that if a large part of the market wanted housing for $X, the market would come up with that, somehow. Now, granted, it might not be *exactly* where you want it, and that’s some of the issue here…people want affordable housing *in San Francisco*, which is a bit silly. That’s understandable, and I wish the left wouldn’t get drawn into this nonsense. The poor do not have more right to live at a specific address than the rich, and if the rich outbid on a specific location, that’s how the system should work.

    But people should, in general, be able to get affordable *housing close enough* to San Francisco, close enough to any random location…and they can’t. Both because what is ‘affordable’ to them is literally not enough to build a house with (Which means they are very underpaid) and because there is the *other* market for houses, the speculator market, with massive profits to be made, so why the hell would anyone build a house for anyone else?Report

    • DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

      tl;dr: Inequality often causes *very weird and almost inexplicable* problems, where markets behave in what are actually rational manners, but sure as hell do not *look* rational.

      This is because the markets cannot distinguish the *life or death requirements* of the poor to have a damn $100,000 house from the idle whims of the rich to own their fifth $1.5 million dollar estate or an empty penthouse taking up a half of the floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. So when you get way too many idle rich, with epic amounts of money, markets get a little…cockeyed.

      It’s hard to tell in the housing market exactly what’s going on, though. But think of it as the rich constantly…I dunno, purchasing the *entire contents* of the local grocery store once a week for $10 million dollars, so they don’t have to do shopping, and then throwing out 95% of it. And the grocery store just eventually stop dealing with anyone not willing to buy $10,000 of food at once, because why the hell *would* they? So now people can’t buy food.

      And, despite me being pretty far on the left, the solution isn’t to try to legislate the market to act ‘better’…the solution is to stop the damn inequality.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to DavidTC says:


      I think people are noticing the stuff you mention but it gets mentioned in more oblique ways than poorer and poorer except in the liberal press usually. Stories about the rise and return of multi-generational living or people living with roommates long into their 40s or 50s or even several families sharing a dwelling are all ways of noticing that people are getting poorer and poorer. No one is saying what the so-called “gig economy” is going to the ability of people to pay rent or a mortgage on a regular basis.

      An interesting issue in housing is how what is being built or talked about goes between extremes. Development seems to be about huge houses and luxury condos or about microapartments and houses but nothing inbetween. All this housing tends to also have some sort of cultural signifying going on.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Stories about the rise and return of multi-generational living or people living with roommates long into their 40s or 50s or even several families sharing a dwelling are all ways of noticing that people are getting poorer and poorer.

        Except the media will not come out and *say* it.

        I hear so many people talking about how millennial are often still living with their parents or roommates, and all of them seem confused as to why they’d be doing that. Often I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shout in their face ‘It’s because they don’t have any money, you idiot! And they grew up in the 2000s, and thus they saw what happened to people who bought houses they couldn’t afford! It’s not goddamn rocket science!’

        Sometimes I find myself suspecting that every single person in the mainstream media are completely stupid, but then I remind myself they’re only mouthpieces for the monied interests that don’t actually want people realizing that huge sections of money have just…disappeared from the middle class and somehow (I’m sure without *any cheating at all*) ended up in the hands of the rich the last few decades.

        Development seems to be about huge houses and luxury condos or about microapartments and houses but nothing inbetween. All this housing tends to also have some sort of cultural signifying going on.

        Microapartments definitely have some signifying going on. They’re solving a problem that is completely idiotic (And, yet, like I said, entirely rational, market-wise), namely, that normal builders will not build cheap houses anymore.

        They’re stunts.

        Hell, if we want to solve the problem faster than we can fix inequality, an actual solution would be to start taxing the *hell* out of secondary houses. Of course, we have to start carving out exceptions for rental properties….rental properties is the reason we *don’t* currently tax the hell out of them, but I don’t see any reason we can’t ‘ration’ houses and let rental property owners use their renters ‘house ration’. (Or, to put it another way, we can check if it’s *someone’s* primary residence, but it doesn’t have to be the owner of the property.)

        And while we’re at it, start taxing the hell out of *bank-owned* houses, too. There’s too many of those also. Perhaps the best way to phrase this: A tax on *unoccupied* houses. At least one adult must claim to live there at least 200 days a year. (Checking this isn’t important…the important thing is they can only do it for one property.)

        As I have mentioned before, we have more houses than households in this country. *Way* more. We have enough houses to house every single group that wants a house could have one, and have plenty left over.

        In a *working* market, this would mean a) We don’t really build any more houses, or only at replacement levels as they wear out and a few more due to shifting population, and b) housing prices slowly went *down*.

        That is what happens when you literally have more of a product than people can hypothetically use, and a working market. But we don’t have a working market. What is happening now is exactly what happens when wealthy people start *hoarding*.Report