This first ran on March 27, 2010

Follow Us

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. The housing affordability crisis that is manifest in San Francisco and in particular in the Mission, has been caused by a number of factors/groups of people.
    1. The people who love the physical San Francisco so much they never want it to change. They put measures on the ballot stopping growth on the waterfront, growth that causes shadows, growth that will mean more people will be able to enjoy this wonderful city. This group of people exhibit strong nativist tendencies, tend to live on hill tops like Telegraph, Potrero and Bernal, and they are politically organized and powerful. They also have a broad array of tools at their disposal such as an arcane permitting process and a CEQA process that heavily favors anyone seeking to stop anything new.
    2. People who love the quirky people of San Francisco and the characters that make this place special. They have been hell bent lately on stopping “gentrification” of the city, the changing of the city’s demographic make up, primarily its socio economic make up. This group have made it clear that they are prepared to chop their noses off to spite their faces. Despite the only real tool available to fund affordable housing being fees charged to market rate development, they will not allow any new market rate units to be built for fear it will change the character of the city in much the same way group 1 opposes new construction for aesthetic reasons. they want every new unit to be affordable to the poorest San Franciscans, yet offer no ideas as to how this will be paid for.This group is also well organized and politically adept at getting their way in City Hall.
    3. Then there are the scapegoaters. They look at their changing neighborhood and they blame their new neighbors, not the decades of lousy policies or the lack of political will to make the tough choices for changes they don’t like seeing. Its all somehow Google’s fault for paying their employees too much and treating them too well.This new group is great at attention seeking and grabbing headlines.

    Some people proudly wear all three badges, blissfully unaware of the cognitive dissonance running amok in their little heads.

    Anyone who is genuinely supportive of addressing this crisis and finding actual meaningful and feasible solutions to the lack of housing at all levels of affordability in San Francisco, must first solve this political conundrum. The sorry fact is that San Francisco is politically hard wired to not allow new housing. You can have all the rent control laws ion the world, and make all the amendments to the Ellis Act you want, but unless you address the supply problem, market forces will always drive up prices and people will continue to find san Francisco a beautiful place to visit, and an impossible place in which to live.

  2. Harvey Milk brings up what could be called “purchase opportunity costs”, whereby you don’t buy something at the local shop because that money went to rent.

    A related effect of high housing costs is what I call “time opportunity costs” whereby you don’t DO something because that time had to be spent working for the company (so you could pay your high rent).

    Since [money for rent] comes from [hours of labor], higher rents mean more hours of labor, and thus FEWER hours of non-labor activities.

    So the total amount of city life that comes from people’s non-labor activities diminishes as housing costs rise. These non-labor activities might be socializing, sitting in the park, thinking, creating, fighting for a cause, helping, going for a walk, etc.

    As housing cost hyperinflation reaches extreme levels, the activity of the city will become predominantly business related, and SF will no longer have the soul which people came here for in the first place.

    This situation is sometimes called a “rat race” – sleep, commute, work, sleep, commute, work…

    The transformation is doubly sad because SF used to be the antidote to the rat race, the one sane city of the USA.

    1. You could make the same argument for the cost of anything. Or for the cost of taxes. If I didn’t pay 40% of my income in taxes, I could spend a lot more time “thinking” and hanging out with friends.

      But of course we’d have no government services. Or, in this case, no homes.

      Why do you think a property owner is going to give you a home if he can only charge you a fraction of what it is worth and what it costs him?

      Your ideas are hopelessly idealistic. And if Milk hadn’t been shot, I suspect he would never have had a bar named after him.

      1. An idle rich person, who boasted recently that he could stop working because of his investments and who spends most of his waking hours writing internet comments, complains that taxation is too burdensome and eats into his free time.

        Anybody else see the irony?

        1. The comments made follow directly from nutrisystem’s and Milk’s flawed observations.

          The more anything costs, the more time to take to make the necessary money, and so the less free time you have for “thinking” and “hanging out”.

          So what?

    2. @nutrisystem: Oh there are all sorts of cities in the U.S. where one can have a decent 9 to 5 job and spend the rest of one’s time “socializing, sitting in the park, thinking, creating, fighting for a cause, helping, going for a walk, etc.”. Most of them don’t have SF’s climate, restaurants, sports teams, museums, theater, music, proximity to recreational activity etc. They probably don’t have SF’s “soul” either. But it is important to realize that people come to SF for many, many, reasons. It is just the narcissistic conceit of certain people (like you) that somehow the big draw of SF is to hang out with enlightened progressives faux-artistes.

      1. San Jose has similar [climate, restaurants, sports teams, museums, theater, music, proximity to recreational activity] to San Francisco, yet the Tech elite find it repellent and are willing to add 2 hours/day of commute time to live in SF. How do you explain that?

        Could it have something to do with the fact that SJ is a soulless corporate treadmill… a Dallas-by-the-Bay?

        1. And the bulk transplantation of a cultural monocrop of tech commuters into San Francisco as a bedroom community could never turn San Francisco into that soulless Dallas by the Bay.

          These techie commuters have one of two choices, enjoy San Francisco’s culture or live here, they cannot do both.

          1. So people who want to live in SF are somehow “bad” just because they work outside the city?

            What about the 500,000 people who commute into SF every day. Are they bad as well? In fact, they drive SF housing costs down by living elsewhere far more than the far smaller of outbound commuters drive them up.

            But facts and figures never concern you when there is an ideology to be promulgated and a structural bias to be nurtured.

        2. nutrisystem, five times as many commuters come into SF every day than leave it. So clearly there are far more SF workers who do not want to live in SF than there are workers outside SF who want to live in SF.

          Your point is 100% wrong. It’s the exact other way about.

          1. Maybe those commuters DO want to live in SF but can’t afford to.

            You don’t know, so stop talking out of your ass just for the sake of arguing.

            Insofar as real estate prices are a reflection of desirability, SF’s Mission District is more desirable than any part of SJ. This, despite being flat, run-down and landlocked.

            How do you explain this? Why is it that the skanky neighborhood with complexity and soul is more desirable than the countless squeaky-clean, orderly, corporate-friendly neighborhoods of America?

          2. nutrisystem, SF housing costs are no doubt driven up by the 100,000 or so people who live in SF but work outside. My point was that that is more than out-weighted by the 500,000 commuters who arrive in SF every day.

            You cannot have it both ways, i.e. blame the 100,000 outbound commuters but ignore the effect of the much larger number coming the other way. Overall SF doesn’t provide enough housing and the suburbs provide too much. IOW, we owe the burbs – they don’t owe us.

            Mission district RE has done well for a complex array of reasons. As a long-time Re investor in Mission RE, I’d explain how and why if I thought you were really interested.

        3. Actually the restaurants in San Jose suck and there isn’t much of a night life (whether in the classic or contemporary sense). And, in fact, lots of the techies do live in San Jose.
          It just seems hard to believe that people move to SF so that they can live next to people like you who hold them in contempt.

  3. Harvey’s landlord raised the rent so high, that he had to move from 575 Castro… The same landlord raised the rent of the Elephant Bar from $6,000 a month to 12,000, forcing the owner to go out of business… Then the Landlord Paul Langley took over and had the Chutzpah to name the bar- Harvey’s!

    1. It was brought to my attention that it was Herth Real Estate who was Harvey’s landlord,not Paul Langley. However it was Langley who took over the Elephant Walk Bar after raising the rent from $6,000 to 12,000 a month and then re named it Harvey’s