Editor's Notes

The real issue in the Housing Element isn't density — it's affordability
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Tredmond@sfbg.com

The San Francisco City Planning Department is revising its housing plan, and there's a lot of indignation on the west side of town. See, the Housing Element of the city's General Plan calls for a little bit of increased density in some of the neighborhoods that have fought density for years.

The unwritten law of San Francisco housing politics is that you don't even talk about density west of 19th Avenue, and it's pretty hard to talk about it anywhere beyond the western borders of Districts 3, 5, 8 and 11. So all the new housing gets pushed into the eastern neighborhoods — and all the rational planning people agree that the other side of town should absorb at least some of it. Density doesn't always mean big, tall buildings, by the way — legalizing in-law units would create more housing, and more density, in single-family-home areas. But you run into the problem of everyone wanting a car — and turning garages into apartments means more cars fighting for that almighty parking space. Housing cars in this town sometimes seems more important than housing people.

So we're going to hear some squawking — and a lot of it's going to be misplaced. Because the real issue in the Housing Element isn't density — it's affordability.

The city acknowledges, in its own documents, that based on local needs, more than 60 percent of the new housing in the city has to be available at below-market-rate prices. The planners also admit they have no idea how to make that happen:

"The city will not likely see the development 31,000 new units, particularly its affordability goals of creating over 12,000 units affordable to low and very low income levels projected by the [city's needs assessment] ... [But] realizing the city's housing targets requires tremendous public and private financing, [which] given the state and local economy and private finance conditions, is not likely to be available during the period of this Housing Element."

Translation: we can't afford to do what everyone agrees we have to do.

San Francisco city planning has been driven for decades by the needs of the private sector. It's made good money for the developers (building housing in SF is still highly lucrative). But as public policy, the model has failed.

Until we set clear policies saying that the needs of local residents come first — and that high-end housing isn't meeting those needs — we're going to keep living with a serious disconnect.

Comments

Can someone explain to me what the implied meaning is of "local resident"
Is there some kind of SF resident who is non local?

Posted by Bob on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 8:09 am

New housing anywhere helps control the market cost of housing everywhere, so increasing density in the Western neighborhoods (i.e., adding more housing units in the Western neighborhoods) helps keep market rate homes from being so out of reach.

But there's a wide spectrum of those who cannot afford to buy a $600,000 two bedroom condo. Some of us are poor. Some of us just feel poor because we don't have $100,000 or more sitting around for a down payment. And a lot of us are in-between. "Below Market" doesn't just mean subsidized housing, and it doesn't mean just the needy -- a wide spectrum of residents benefit when new housing becomes available.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 9:13 am

"New housing anywhere helps control the market cost of housing everywhere, so increasing density in the Western neighborhoods (i.e., adding more housing units in the Western neighborhoods) helps keep market rate homes from being so out of reach. "

There is no evidence over time that supports this assertion that increasing supply of market rate housing drives prices down.

Nor is there any evidence over time that new market rate housing keeps prices from rising faster than they would.

Nor is there any evidence of how many units would need to be produced over what time frame in order to potentially stabilize or drive down prices.

Nor is there any hint of what the City would look like were those targets to be hit.

The Housing Element calls for way more market rate housing than is required under state mandated housing targets, which current zoning already entitles. Apparently the Planning Department is of the mind that anything that crimps housing production is illegal, even if encouraging housing production actually causes SF to fall short of GHG targets per AB 32.

Developers got lobbyists, ecosystems suffering climate change due to added auto trips and slower transit do not.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 10:35 am

Its hard to disprove there is no evidence, but I think you are just saying this as it sounds good and fits your world view. Prove there is no evidence, or are you just saying this and have no proof there is no evidence.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

No evidence has been put on the table by proponents of those positions that these conclusions are anything but the product of arguing by "the waving of the hands."

I am not trying to argue those positions myself, rather I am calling on those who are to make with the substantiation or quit making the unsubstantiated arguments.

You want us to build housing to drive down or stabilize prices? Gimme an economic model that makes the case that here in SF that policy will produce those results given the concerns I've outlined above.

One more: You want us to build more housing because you think that Rincon Towers luxury condos compete with tract homes in the exurbs and check sprawl, then make the economic argument, backed up with data, to that effect.

Otherwise, shaddup you face on this crap, your're just bleating Chicago School economic scripture where there should be substantial evidence backing up your claims.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

I actually believe that because SF is limited in space, building more unit will not bring down housing prices. But that is just my believe with out any basis on fact.

But you state as a fact that there is no evidence, when you now are admitting there is no evidence of no evidence.

So I suggest "shaddup you face on this crap" when making statement of facts, which have no basis.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

"The city acknowledges, in its own documents, that based on local needs, more than 60 percent of the new housing in the city has to be available at below-market-rate prices."

In what kind of alternative universe is it possible to sustain a real estate market under these conditions? Further, when you say "the city acknowledges...," which entity are you identifying as "the city?" The Mayor? The Board of Supes? The Housing Board? The Rent Board? The Planning Department?

If you expect 3 out of 5 housing units to be built and sold at less-than-their-market value, I shudder to imagine the sort of community you would create in San Francisco. When I look at public housing in San Francisco, I don't exactly see a cohort of citizens who are grateful to the financial interests who made that below-market-rate housing available to them, so I don't imagine that would change if 60% of all new housing units in the city were offered under the same circumstances.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 2:13 pm