Friday, July 28, 2006

Whither the family in San Francisco?

   Do moderate-income families have a future in cities such as San Francisco?  With median housing prices around $800,000 and an enormous population of well-paid childless adults, San Francisco is seeing its school enrollment dwindle.  How can the city retain and continue to attract moderate-income families?  San Francisco has decided to spend millions on rent subsidies for such families and has imposed moderate-cost-unit set-asides for new developments.  Here's a story on NPR.

   Forgive me if I am skeptical of the chances for real success for such land use plans.  Subsidies can only do a little against the mighty current of market forces, while set-asides probably won't get much built in a city that was in effect "filled out" decades ago -- the city's population is about the same as it was 50 years ago.  The only land use plan that could successfully provide for truly large numbers of moderate-cost housing would be to demolish huge stretches of single-family houses and replace them with multi-families structures.  Absent this, moderate-income residents of the Bay area will simply have to put up with living elsewhere (San Francisco holds only about one-ninth of the Bay area's total population).  Land use laws should foster multi-family housing and good public transportation in the suburbs, before currently-less-fashionable suburbs such as South San Francisco, Hayward, and Richmond price out moderate-income families as well.        

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