Should we build lots more housing in San Francisco? Three reasons people disagree

by Julia Galef – excerpt

Some people, such as YIMBYs, advocate building lots more housing in San Francisco. Their basic argument is:

Housing in SF is the priciest in the country, with the average one bedroom apartment renting for over $3,000 per month (compared to the nationwide average of $1,200.)

The main reason rents are so high is because the supply of housing has been artificially restricted — new developments are constantly getting blocked by land use regulations and neighborhood associations. Meanwhile, demand to live in SF continues to rise. And since supply is not keeping pace, rents go up, as a growing number of would-be tenants outbid each other for the limited housing available.

Therefore, it’s important that we find a way to increase the rate at which we’re building new housing in SF, or it will be a city in which only the rich can afford to live.

I’ve been trying to understand why others are critical of this argument. I think there are three main areas of disagreement between what I’ll call the advocates and the critics, and I’ll briefly explain each in turn. (Note that I’m trying to present the strongest version of each argument, which may be different from the most common version.)… (more)

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Whatever became of Berkeley’s neighborhood-serving retail?

Editorial by Becky o’Malley : berkeleyplanet – excerpt

Having lived in university towns for all of my adult life, I am very conscious of the difference in atmosphere when most of the students go home for summer vacation. One obvious benefit is that parking becomes infinitely easier. Yes, yes, I know that we’re not supposed to be driving, even those of us who are over 75 and a bit arthritic. Yes, I know that students never drive any more—well,hardly ever. It must be just a coincidence that many, many cars disappear from Berkeley streets in the summer—surely it’s not because the students are gone…

It will take more than inspiration to overcome what’s going wrong with small businesses in downtown Berkeley. They are getting evicted to make room for developments aimed at BART commuters to San Francisco, who will most likely do most of their purchasing in The City, and by UC offices for employees who drive in from distant suburbs with big box stores.

University Hardware, a stalwart for many years, was pushed or jumped from its wonderful location on University, complete with parking lot, to a dark and dreary car-free location on a side street. Now to add insult to injury the new store has lost access even for customers’ curbside pick-ups of large purchases to the city’s poorly conceptualized new bicycle routing.

There’s a host of similar examples of local businesses done wrong which give the lie to the perpetual myth of a Downtown Berkeley renaissance. Among other things, it’s past time to re-think Berkeley’s downtown area plan, which was jammed through by the previous city administration for the exclusive benefit of developers of mega apartment blocks for well-off consumers who’ll make their purchases elsewhere. A new and better plan would give much more respect to neighborhood-serving businesses and much less latitude to the smash-and-grab crowd who covet our downtown as potential building sites for commuter condos.

And don’t get me started on the way the University of California is sucking up downtown Berkeley as lebensraum for offices which don’t even pay property taxes. That’s a rant all its own, for another day… (more)

This story is repeating itself in communities all over California. The Berkeley story of disappearing local businesses is being exported to Napa County where the housing industry is getting ready to push the wineries out. What will tourists come for once the beautiful views, local wines and food are replaced by housing enclaves? What will people do with their time when the jobs are replaced by robots?

The big lie about California’s housing crisis

By Deepa Varma : sfexaminer – excerpt

SF-skyline

New SF skyline shot from the bay by zrants

It’s official: The rent in California, not just San Francisco, is too damn high.

California now has the highest poverty rate in the nation when the cost of housing is taken into account. Since 2005, more than 2.5 million Californians have been forced to leave the state in search of an affordable home.

Unfortunately, the prevailing supply and demand — “just build” — mantra put forward by opinion leaders is diverting state government from the hard truth that the market has not responded to the demand of California families for affordable homes — not luxury and market-rate homes.

We are told a big lie, that the solution to our housing crisis is to get government out of the way and leave it to the free market to let affordable housing magically “trickle down” to lower-income households. The truth, though, is developers build to make a profit, not to provide a social need. Luxury housing doesn’t trickle down, at least not at a scale to bring down rents in a meaningful way…(more)

Other countries take a different approach to values…

In World’s Best-Run Economy, House Prices Keep Falling — Because That’s What House Prices Are Supposed To Do

Eamonn Fingleton : forbes – excerpt

When Americans travel abroad, the culture shocks tend to be unpleasant. Robert Locke’s experience was different. In buying a charming if rundown house in the picturesque German town of Goerlitz, he was surprised – very pleasantly – to find city officials second-guessing the deal. The price he had agreed was too high, they said, and in short order they forced the seller to reduce it by nearly one-third. The officials had the seller’s number because he had previously promised to renovate the property and had failed to follow through…(more)

Supes rebuke Planning Commission

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

Hotel rejected; pot clubs limited; Kim wants more sunshine on dark money … the last board meeting before summer break was packed with action

The Board of Supes rejected a hotel project on Hyde Street today, sending a clear message that a residential building where tenants have been displaced by fire can’t be turned into another use.

It was also a sharp rebuke to the four Planning Commission members who were appointed by Mayor Ed Lee….

“This would be a policy statement that we don’t believe in the rights of tenants to return,” Peskin said. “This would be a statement that it’s okay to have a fire and tell people you can change the use and not allow return.”

He noted that “this is a teachable moment” for planning staff and the commission.

It’s rare for the supes to do this. I hope the Planning Commission (and the mayor) was listening… (more)

 

Scott Wiener’s housing straw man

By Calvin Welch : 48hills – excerpt

The senator misses the point — and the facts — when he attacks people who don’t think the private market will solve our woes

State Senator Scott Wiener, in a recent blog posting, attacked nameless critics of his efforts to produce more market-rate housing by removing local governments from the approval process if those local areas failed to meet regionally determined “housing needs.” Since all localities in the state currently fail to meet these needs, his legislation would, in effect, deregulate housing development all over California, since most housing regulations exist at the local level…

What Does Work? The voters of San Francisco and the Bay Area have an answer: market controls to keep existing housing within reach and public subsidies to build new housing they and their neighbors can afford. As argued earlier on these pages, the passage of more than $1 billion in bonds and sales taxes to build homes affordable to moderate income earners and people at risk of homelessness or homeless is sound public policy. Moreover, the passage of rent control measures is a rational response to a red hot real estate market. Continued effort to regulate Airbnb and other short term rentals is critical — the 10,000 STR’s in San Francisco just about equals the current vacancy rate for apartments. Imagine what would happen to rents if the vacancy rate were doubled because un-registered Airbnb listings were placed back on the rental market…. (more)

Might it be cheaper and easier to give landlords a reason to stay in the game? What would it take to make being a landlord easier and less stressful? Money is not the only thing that motivates people. Onerous laws and regulations and jumping through hoops gets old real fast, convincing many people to get out of the rental business and just sit on the property. As long as the values are going up, why sell?

The only two ways out of the eviction crisis

By Tim Redmond : discoveryink – excerpt

EvictionFree

Either we treat housing as a tightly regulated utility, or we take it out of the speculative private sector altogether. If there’s another option that works, I don’t know what it is.

We are all talking this week about the eviction of seniors, about how San Francisco has become such a hostile place for long-time residents. We are talking about how so many of the young people who have in the past brought new life to the city (the ones who aren’t rich, anyway) are now talking about leaving – and I think it’s safe to say than much of the current generation of young people looking to make a start in the dynamic US city are going somewhere else. You just can’t afford to come to SF and start life – not without a trust fund or a high-paying job…

The public-utility model

If the state Legislature were willing to go along, we could block a lot of evictions and create effective rent control…

The Costa-Hawkins Act outlaws effective rent control and encourages evictions of long-term tenants. It mandates that cities allow rents to rise to market rate whenever a unit becomes vacant, forbids rent controls on some types of housing, and bans all rent control on buildings constructed after 1995.

Now Tenants Together, a statewide organizing group, is getting a lot of traction on efforts to change the pro-landlord climate in the state Legislature. A Santa Monica legislator has introduce a bill to repeal Costa-Hawkins, and even the California Apartment Association is saying it could pass.

The social housing model

That’s if the state acts, and functional rent regulation becomes part of the picture. There’s one other long-term solution that will transform San Francisco’s housing situation. We could take as much housing as possible out of the private, for-profit sector, permanently…

NoMonster

As long as landlords can make huge profits evicting tenants, we are going to be fighting building by building. If we can regulate the profit out of evictions, we can slow this down. If we can get the private landlords out of the housing picture entirely, we can turn it around.
Otherwise, we are going to be fighting eviction after eviction for the rest of our natural lives. If anyone has a better idea that might actually work, I’m listening…(more)

Slowing the escalation of land values has to be a big part to the solution, however that is accomplished. The State legislature needs to be prodded into doing something soon.

A Day Without a Woman rallies unite thousands in Bay Area and beyond

By Kevin Fagan, Filipa Ioannou and Jenna Lyons : sfgate – excerpt (includes video)

Rallies took place around the Bay Area as part of International Women’s Day.

The Women’s March that spilled millions into the streets in January was no one-off, thousands of women loudly declared Wednesday from one end of the country to the other. It was the beginning of a movement.

From San Francisco to Washington, D.C., they punched home their point with their own bodies, gathering in protests to show what life is like at the workplace without women… (more)