Friday, July 24, 2015

Is San Francisco's housing crisis the result of its progressivism?

Gabe Metcalf, well respected in San Francisco land use circles and the head of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research), has a nice piece in CityLab today about San Francisco's housing woes and their relation to progressive policies in that city.  That said, I found the most compelling part of Metcalf's analysis one that was unexplored, and mentioned only in this passing passage:

Let me say very clearly here that making it possible to add large amounts of housing supply in San Francisco would never have been enough by itself. A comprehensive agenda for affordability requires additional investments in subsidies for affordable housing. Given the realities of economic inequality, there are large numbers of people who would never be able to afford market rate housing, even in a better-functioning market. [See SPUR’s complete set of ideas to make San Francisco more affordable.] In addition, while my focus here has been on San Francisco’s own housing politics, many smaller Bay Area cities and towns have been even worse actors. A regional solution, in which all cities do their part to accommodate regional population growth, would be far more effective than trying to solve our affordability problems inside the boundaries of a handful of cities. But San Francisco has been part of the problem too, when it could have been a very big part of the solution. Our suburban communities never claimed to be progressive, never wanted to be a refuge for people from all over the world seeking cultural tolerance or an opportunity for a better life.

In my opinion, this is the heart of the matter.  San Francisco is a very small city jurisdictionally.  An affordable housing policy that effectively addresses the Bay Area's housing woes must involve the surrounding suburbs.  I made my analysis of the problems some months ago in a blog post I entitled, "Are San Francisco's land use rules the culprit for skyrocketing rents?  [Hint:  No.]."

| Permalink


Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Even Metcalf admits that the “progressives” have fallen in with the NIMBYs. By the way, I really don’t like the use of the term “progressive”. The term implies that anyone that disagrees with a progressive is, I suppose “regressive”. I think most people agree with most goals of the progressives. However, reasonable people can disagree as to the best policies to achieve those goals.
Yes, regionalism is the best way to achieve affordable housing. However, many cities look to others to provide the affordable housing for the workers that travel to their city to work (see Northern Virginia, which relies on the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and others to provide affordable housing). San Francisco should be a leader, and show others how to do it, then forge a regional solution (hopefully not like the one in Mt. Laurel, where a city can bribe (I mean, pay) another city to take on their affordable housing).
San Franciscans need to get off of their pompous high horses, stop patting themselves on the back, and do some real land use planning that includes affordable housing. It’s not that hard. Affordable housing is about supply and demand. I’ve seen very few cities (if any) with a sufficient supply of multi-family residential units. They don’t want them. The hardest part is having the political will to say “no” to the NIMBYs and do the right thing. Surely a progressive city like San Francisco can do that.

Posted by: Jesse Richardson | Jul 28, 2015 6:17:12 AM

Jesse, I don't think I disagree with you. In my original post (linked at the bottom of this post), I listed out four strategies that San Francisco could deploy right now that would significantly increase the amount of affordable housing built in the city. (Not surprisingly, they are all controversial, and let's just say that my phone hasn't been ringing off the hook asking me to help implement these ideas.). San Francisco should lead, and it can. That said, if you look at the "fair share" housing requirements, which I also linked to in my original post, you'll note that between 2014 and 2022, the State has determined that 187,990 affordable housing units need to be built in the Bay Area, but it only asserts that San Francisco's share would be 28,869 units. In other words, even if San Francisco built its fair share--or twice that--the region would still need hundreds of thousands of additional affordable units. It needs a regional solution. See,%20RHNA%20Adoption.pdf.

Posted by: Stephen R. Miller | Jul 28, 2015 7:53:23 PM

Oh, and I also find the term "progressive" to be oddly anachronistic, but it is still prevalent in San Francisco politics.

Posted by: Stephen R. Miller | Jul 28, 2015 8:03:02 PM