Editor's notes

While some hustle to afford a closet to sleep in, many pricey SF pads remain empty

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tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES This is how dysfunctional the San Francisco housing market has become:

The Chron reported in late January that young people who are just arriving in San Francisco are paying exorbitant rents for tiny spaces — $500 for a laundry room, $600 for an upper bunk — and often living in substandard conditions.

And on Feb. 11, The New York Times reported that a significant number of high-end condos in that city were vacant almost all the time, owned by the uber-rich who used them as pieds a terre — something that's going on increasingly in San Francisco.

The Times notes:

"The higher up you go in price, the higher the concentration is likely to be of owners who spend only a few months, a few weeks or even just a few days each year in their apartments. This very costly form of desolation means that some of the city's most expensive residential buildings stand mostly dark, lonesome and empty on the inside."

I called Brad Paul, a former deputy mayor for housing and a longtime expert on development in San Francisco and read him that quote. "As my nine-year-old son would say, 'You think?'" he said. My kids would be shorter: "Duh."

The more housing you build that only multimillionaires can afford, the more likely your serving a population that has three or four other houses and just wants this one for the couple of weeks a year that they jet into San Francisco.

Planning Commission member Katherine Moore has mused about the problem in public, noting that in her Nob Hill neighborhood, there are more and more dark apartments.

Who cares? Everyone should — for a couple of reasons. For one, empty neighborhoods are no good for small businesses. They're also not as safe. And it just seems so ass-backward: A city that can't provide decent affordable housing for current residents, much less for the next generation of immigrants who keep the place lively, is giving up valuable land to build housing for people who aren't going to live here at all.

That's what the fight over the new condo projects on the waterfront, 8 Washington and 75 Howard, ought to be about.

At the very least, the city ought to get some data here. It's not that hard — just check property records against the tax documents filed for homeownership exemptions. As Sup. David Chiu told me, "It would be good for us to know if San Francisco's high-end condos are actually being used."

Maybe we should find that out before we build any more. You think?