Doorways. (Armand Emamdjomeh)

Voters seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with tech – at least that’s what Curbed has found when comparing a recent survey of voters (commissioned by the pro-development Rise SF) that found most blame both the tech industry and the city for housing costs, and a 2015 survey (commissioned by a mayoral aide) that found most voters had a favorable view of the tech industry.

As Curbed notes, “Technically, it’s not a contradiction if you have a favorable opinion of tech in general but to also think it’s the root of your city’s biggest problem. But it is pretty weird.”  Also of note to me was the fact that the poll asks about the tech industry and its effect on housing prices – not “techies,” as some like to frame their blame game.

The thing is, whether you agree with that framing or not, the frustration with newcomers is understandable, if not necessarily always specific to tech. According to a study picked up by the Business Times and later SFist, people moving in have more money than people living here already – meaning anyone who’s been here a while and is trying to find a place to live is competing on a somewhat stacked playing field.

So, on one hand, this is obvious. But there are a couple of details about this situation that make it slightly more dire than just basic math: (1) Despite how costly it is to live here, more people are moving in than out and (2) the disparity in San Francisco between average earners who are here already and people moving in is the most extreme in the country. San Jose comes in second.

Where do we put all those people streaming in? Business consulting firm McKinsey & Company put out a report this week basically saying, “put them in the spaces where there isn’t housing now, ya twits.”

Okay, we already knew this. The city has already started looking at “soft sites,” parcels that could be built on with relative ease without displacing current residential units. Generally speaking, according to Curbed, the city has 373 vacant parcels that already have zoning that would allow for housing, and the study claims if we built those as high as they’ll go we could add 4,500 new units.

McKinsey goes on to suggest that we could squeeze in a whopping 70,000 new units if we just built everything that isn’t at its height limit up to capacity, which is inevitably where the conversation derails. Because who will be the first to volunteer to get their second-story walkup demolished so we can build more housing for rich newcomers?

We might also consider worrying, collectively, about all the buildings in the city that will come crashing down in the next big earthquake. The city will embark on a new round of threatening finger-wagging for owners of soft-story buildings (the kind that have garages on the ground floor, prone to collapse in an earthquake), trying to encourage people to undergo the costly and time consuming task. 

As the Department of Building Inspection’s Bill Strawn notes, compliance has been at 100 percent for those properties with the earliest deadline to get started and at 87 percent for the second round. In the final group of around 3500 buildings, compliance is at 43 percent, with a deadline to pull permits in September of next year.

You may have seen this kind of retrofit happening near you – a whole mess of soft story buildings are clustered in the northwestern Mission. The building at San Carlos and 20th appears to be on the list of those coming into compliance, since a retrofit planned there is going to displace botánica Lucky Candles.

And if all of this housing talk has you thinking about fleeing to the East Bay, don’t be deterred by the articles flying around right now implying that Oakland’s average rent has reached 3,000 a month – SocketSite pointed out that that statistic doesn’t include apartment rents and offers a reality check stat of around $2,600 average rent – which is actually a decrease. Don’t worry about that sound you’re hearing, it’s just SocketSite’s mic drop.

This story has been corrected to reflect comments on seismic retrofit compliance from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections.

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1 Comment

  1. Exactly how is one awarded the “right” to live in San Francisco? I don’t know of any laws or civil codes that define who is granted this most important right….

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