Another week is here, and with it, another story about the affluent, techie-infested caricature that San Francisco has become. Hey, assholes: step one to surviving this trying time is to build more fucking housing.
The funny thing about the New York Times’ story, “In San Francisco and Rooting for a Tech Comeuppance,” is that it includes all the familiar stuff about why San Francisco sucks for normal people now—it’s overrun with a zillion tech bros who are pretty wack and everything is expensive and there’s a homeless problem and you can’t afford an apartment and all the cool people are getting evicted and It Ain’t How It Used To Be—but at no point does it drill down one half inch below this state of affairs to point out: Hey assholes, build some new fucking housing, why don’t you????
San Francisco doesn’t need a little bit of new housing. San Francisco need a lot of new housing. It is the most in-demand epicenter of an entire in-demand region, none of which has any affordable housing. San Francisco needs a skyline redefined by construction cranes building new apartment towers. San Francisco needs a building boom. San Francisco needs to pour new units onto its insanely priced housing market. Even if they build new housing mostly for the wealthy, the benefits will accrue to renters far down the line. And if they build enough, eventually, years from now, there might be such a supply of housing in this in-demand city that middle class workers can actually live in it again. Imagine that.
Look, we all like complaining about people who moved somewhere more recently than us. They are the worst! Are they not? So corny! I highly recommend this as a lively topic of conversation. I love talking shit about people other than me! But then, when it is all done, it is grown-up time, and people need a place to live, so the grown-ups need to figure out a place for people to live.
Do you have to bulldoze all of the real pretty San Francisco neighborhoods and build awful glass cubes where beautiful Victorian homes once stood? No. You can build new things in other places. You can toss in some zoning laws so the new construction is not incredibly repellent to look at it. You can even invest in public housing for the poor, and pass rules that require people to live in houses they own to prevent rich foreign investors from warping the local market. These things are possible.
Instead of doing this, San Francisco does the opposite. The city’s regulations make it incredibly difficult and cumbersome to build large new projects, and rental laws encourage renters to stay in place and discourage some people with extra space from entering the rental market. These restrictions are, ironically, driven by longtime residents—often those who already own their own homes—who adopt the mantle of progressive preservationists, fighting the big bad developers and rich newcomers. Their efforts have the effect of driving up housing prices. Not a bad thing, if you already own a house! This also has the following effects:
A) It makes San Francisco so expensive that many people who would in theory like to move to San Francisco cannot move to San Francisco, and
B) It drives rent prices on the insufficient existing housing stock so high that middle class residents are priced out of San Francisco.
Both of these things have already happened. Thanks to the political efforts of people who consider themselves real hardcore lefties! Thanks a lot, motherfuckers! Enjoy the beautiful houses you purchased real cheap in 1970 while you rail against the development that might one day allow middle class people to live in your lovely city again!
None of this is a secret. This dynamic is widely understood and frequently discussed. Indeed, the comment section of today’s NYT story is full of people complaining about it. And yet it has not changed. The San Francisco skyline is not studded with new towers rising up to house the huddled masses. It’s still a pretty little city where only lucky rich people who got there a long time ago (or just plain new rich people) can afford to live.
Acting in a way that prevents everyone else from living in your pretty little city because you already have a place that you like does not make you a progressive. It makes you greedy.
Build some housing, assholes. A lot!