San Francisco is a gorgeous town – a rich tapestry of interwoven and ever-changing cultures, generations, and avant garde political movements.
Throw in three generations of bleeding heart hippies, an influx of smart young techies whose worst problem is money storage, and progressive politics ranging from smartly liberal to literally communist and you have the makings of a lovely little housing war.
What’s odd is that while San Francisco is on the forefront of this issue, it’s hardly alone. Everywhere from Harlem in New York to Austin, Texas is dealing with gentrification that mirror image of the challenge of middle class flight.
With all the money pouring into the housing market and all the well-monied employees and entrepreneurs from the tech nexus that is that part of California, it’s not surprising that there has been a 115% increase in evictions over the past year.
(Gizmodo has a really cool slideshow of using Google street maps of how San Francisco has dramatically changed just since 2007.)
Tech workers being bussed in to shop for homes earlier this spring ignited fiery protests from affordable housing activists, who blame the younger buyers for driving up the cost of housing in a city that likes to think of itself as progressively egalitarian.
The latest skirmish arises from Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposal for a housing balance, which would require that market-rate housing does not exceed 70% of the total housing built, as reported by San Francisco Magazine.
“Proponents argue that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has regularly talked about how 30% of his planned 30,000 units would be affordable. They say all their measure does is put “teeth” in the mayor’s plan by requiring conditional-use approval for market rate projects exceeding the 70% limit. Opponents see it differently. They say that imposing strict limits on market-rate housing does nothing to increase affordable units, and will worsen the city’s housing shortage,” the magazine explains.
The proponents say that Kim’s housing balance would ensure that Lee’s goal of building 30% affordable units of the 30,000 is actually done. This is insurance, they argue, because Lee can’t guarantee it with his plan alone.
“The idea is that if private developers know their projects will be delayed—or even halted—by the city’s failure to meet the 30% threshold, then city political leaders will make sure it is met. Kim argues that it creates an incentive for developers to work on the same side as community advocates, to make sure affordable housing is built and rent-controlled units aren’t lost," the magazine says.
Opponents of the balance measure, meanwhile, say that mandating a housing balance penalizes private developers for circumstances beyond their control. The balance does not add to public affordable housing funding, and could actually reduce affordable units via lost inclusionary units in market rate projects that could be blocked by the new conditional use requirement.
“The balance also strikes at the heart of the supply-and-demand argument most powerfully advanced by Gabe Metcalf of SPUR. Metcalf’s argument is that a lack of supply worsens San Francisco’s housing affordability crisis, and that the city must build tens of thousands of new units to increase affordability,” the magazine says.
This simmering war isn’t just being politely argued.
ValleyWag reports how Star venture capitalist Ron Conway on Monday absolutely lost it at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit after fellow VC Chamath Palihapitiya suggested Mayor Ed Lee was doing a poor job addressing San Francisco's gentrification crisis.
Let’s roll the video tape.
"I live in the city of San Francisco, you live in the city of Palo Alto. [...] Ed Lee, who you ridicule—how dare you, Palo Alto resident!" Conway sneered as eyes widened behind him.
ValleyWag also points out the scope of the affordable housing problem in Fog City.
“According to study by San Francisco's chief economist Ted Egan, it would take at least 100,000 market rate units to make a noticeable dent in housing prices,” the site reported.
So it goes. This is not going away – no city that markets itself as a sanctuary for the homeless, for illegal immigrants and for every other downtrodden soul (as progressives define it) can abide this divide.
Pull up a chair and make some popcorn.