The rent is too damn high


You look at numbers like this and you go: Whoa. The rent really, really is too damn high. Median rent in San Francisco is now over $3,000 a month. WHo can pay that? Seriously.

The federal government says your rent payment shouldn't be more than a third of your income. That means to qualify for the median -- not the highest, but the median -- rent in this town, you need to be earning $9,000 a month, or $108,000 a year. That is NOT, by any standard, the median income in town.

So let's say you spend half your income on rent. You still have to make $72,000 to afford the median apartment. Crazy stuff. And when local politicians say they support "rent control," that's nice but it's not the point. Controlling rent at $3,000 a month doesn't make the city affordable.

If rent controls applied to vacant apartments, then rents overall, across the city, would rise at the level of inflation -- and people on fixed incomes (social security, disability, SSI) would be able to keep pace. You want to know why there are so many homeless people in this city? One reason: Two decades ago, SSI paid enough every month to cover the cost of an apartment and leave enough to buy clothes and eat. Now, it doesn't pay enough for an SRO hotel, even if you don't buy anything else.

So people wind up on the street.




Most jobs in San Francisco are still of the punch-the-clock variety. The people you're talking about are the majority of the city's workforce, so it makes sense for them to be able to live here. Long commutes are expensive and worse for both the environment and for a coherent community. No large city (and yes, San Francisco is still in the top 15 of U.S. cities in population) should be for the rich only.

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 9:03 am

Just like there are ghetto's that house only the poor. But I'd agree those are the two extremes, and most wealthy enclaves are smaller than SF e.g. La Jolla, Los Altos, Aspen etc. You won't find poor people living there but of course some low-paid folks do work there - in fact, the wealthy create many service jobs which is part of why we want and need rich people here. They create employment and tax revenues.

In SF, though, the solution is evident. Oakland is just a few minutes away by car, bus, train or ferry. It's housing is 50% or less than in SF. That's not a "long commute". And in fact many welthy places have cheaper places surrounding them, providing homes for the jobs in the wealthy nexus.

It's all very well saying that housing should be cheap, but what that really means is that you want somebody else to pay for that. Those who advocate housing subsidies are usually those who wouldn't have to pay for them.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 9:19 am

you may not care, but the San Francisco you envision will require the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of its existing residents.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 10:38 am

police force relocating people. That can happen, say when a city uses eminent domain to acquire property. But generally it is more a natural process that happens over long periods. and in fact SF has been changing forever, as different economic and ethnic groups come and go, all without force.

I'm not advocating a law to move people or the use of force at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I'm advocating a relaxation of laws that currently deter people from being more mobile and flexible.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 11:07 am

execute evictions, which, although often legal, constitute economic violence. Your vision of a San Francisco with a minimum income of $60,000/yr will be accomplished by removing people poorer than that by "market" forces enforced by police force.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 11:23 am

pay rent or abate a nuisance or damage a property is not? It's the latter that give rise to the former?

Force is only use by the sheriff to evict a tenant when that tenant has refused to comply with a court order to leave.

Is it force when a millionaire homeowner refuses to leave a property seized by the government via eminent domain? Or is that somehow magically and conveniently different?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

the "taken" property. I note this not because I agree with all eminent domain, but to distinguish it from tenant evictions. Likewise, I will grant you that in some instances, tenants fail to live up to their responsibilities. But without just cause eviction and rent control protections, most evictions occur because the rent rises above a tenant's ability to pay, as Hortencia notes in her comment, or just because the landlord wants to evict. That is the scenario envisioned by your economically segregated San Francisco free of rent control and low income residents.

Finally, how often is a millionaire homeowner's property seized by eminent domain?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

...were repealed tomorrow, you'd see a massive, immediate increase in rents and a subsequent wave of evictions that would have the same effect.

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

There are various ways to enact such changes. For instance, existing tenancies could be "grandfathered in" while new tenancies have no rent control.

Or subsides could be paid to the tenant, along the lines of Section 8, in those cases where there would be genuine hardship and the tenant is below a certain income guudeline.

There are ways to cushion a repeal of rent control. Boston repealed RC a few years ago and I do not believe there was a "wave" of evictions although naturallu there was more mobility as a result.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

There is nothing "natural" about market economics coercing people out of their homes.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 15, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

Oakland is still a commute (though, depending on where you live, it can be quicker to downtown S.F. than some places in S.F. itself). But the point is about community and sustainability: a city whose workforce mostly commutes in from another city is no kind of well-rounded place to live and work; the cost to the environment isn't negligible, either.

It's not about "wanting someone else to pay for that." It's about agreeing as a community that we can only thrive with a healthy socioeconomic mix of residents, just we can only thrive with public education, police, fire, and healthcare services, etc. We pay for all of that as a community, and therefore there is no "someone else."

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

The MTA is planning to invest in its real estate infrastructure to bring it up to date and plan for future service growth. Part of this involves "redeveloping" some of the bus barns for "transit oriented development."

Leaving aside the preposterous thought that most folks will take transit if their jobs are outside of SF or off of CalTrain/BART, why is the MTA's first instinct not to create affordable housing for Muni operators so that they don't have to commute 2-5 hours each day from and back to the exurbs?

It is not like the operators' rent and housing payments will bring in as much as market rate condos, but it would not bring in that much less, either. And it would serve a social function and perhaps be the only legitimate implementation of "transit oriented development" that SF has ever seen.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

it's also business's job to provide transit, as Apple, Google etc do. Yet transit activists whine about that too.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:34 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

It's about Muni as a landowner with property its not using as a transit operator. I'm not sure I agree with marcos that their first priority should be Muni operators as tenants, though, since a lot of them make more than the average office or retail worker.

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

People don't say they live in the Bay Area - they say they live in SF or Berkeley or Oakland, or wherever. There is no sense of unity across the Bay Area and so people regard Oakland as separate from Sf in a way that someone in Queens would never regard themselves as being separate from Manhattan.

If we had a more unifed vision of the Bay Area, then the diversity you crave would apply to the entire Bay area, which it already does, rather than to every single part of it.

And even within SF, we balkanize into non-diverse neighborhoods. Social engineering on a massive scale to impose diversity is misguided.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

Bridge and Tunnel Troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

completely detached from reality. The process of distinction of neighborhoods in NYC is identical to the Bay Area, just the names of the neighborhoods, boroughs, cities, etc. are different.

San Francisco has many diverse neighborhoods where people from different backgrounds voluntarily live together. On my block in the Mission, I have White, Black, Asian and Latino neighbors, from babies to the very elderly, straight and gay. In fact, members from most of those groups live in our 20 plus unit apartment building.

Just because you choose to live in a non-diverse neighborhood, don't think that all San Francisco residents share your values. Many people love the diversity within our neighborhoods. I know that I do, and it is one of the reasons I moved here from the East Coast and why I resist moving to another city in the United States even as San Francisco transforms into a bleakly economically homogenous city increasingly indistinguishable from the places people like me exiled ourselves.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

What planet is trollasaurus maximus living on where people living in Staten Island feel deep sympathies with the denizens of the Upper East Side; Park Slopians demonstrate a significant affinity with their fellow New Yorkers in Breezy Point.

The goal here is to water down any remnant social justice sentiment in San Francisco in a bath tub of regional planning towards universalizing suburban boredom. This way, the NIMBYS from around the bay and from the conservative C of San Francisco permanently direct development into San Francisco's freeway corridors where there is real money to be made.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

Or have you not noticed a majority of hispanics in the Mission, Asians in chinatown and the avenues, blacks in bayview and hunters point and so on

There aren't that many SF neighborhoods that are really diverse. Rather, there are ethnic groups living close to each other but ignoring each other.

Oh, and the whitest area in Sf is Castro, which is also gay. Coincidence?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

different backgrounds from myself. I'm glad I don't live in your restricted world and miss out on the richness (non-financial) of this city.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

I agree with you I was born in San Francisco. I no longer live there, but i dont want to see my city only cater to rich folks .,

Posted by bloe collar on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

What callous effrontery. Try to go to Twitter for a loaf of bread or to buy some new tires. You can pat yourself on the back all you like, but the notion that we have some new kind economy and that everybody who isn't part of it is a useless loser is laughable and despicable at the same time.

I'd guess that more than half of "knowledge economy" workers are fucking worthless -- and among those I'd expect to find a preponderance who mimic your superior attitude.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

worker can get a cozy union job in light indistry, and buy a home for 20K. you cannot turn the clock back, and the simple fact is that, even by the standard of a largely post-industrial nation, SF is more post-industrial than most, because a huge amount of our economy is now in services and technology.

Most cities would kill to have an economic base in biotech, IT, social networking, law, medicine, RE and finance like we do. But something else comes with that - we become a very wealthy town. And yes, we still need cleaners and janitors and servers, but there is fierce competition for those jobs too, simply because everyone and his dog wants to live here regardless of their economic skills.

Someone poster earlier that almost 50% of SF'ers make 100K or more. How can we have cheap housing if that is the case?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:33 am

The Market for rental properties is driven by what prospective renters are willing to pay for vacant housing. Tenants are never forced into renting a vacant property.

Posted by Richmondman on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

demand is more than it otherwise would be precisely because of a lack of supply. The lack of supply is partly due to a lack of turnover among rent-controlled tenants and also because of NIMBYesque attitudes to new construction.

Rents will stay high unless there new supply. (Hey, that rhymes).

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

More crowding is not the answer. Already, most single family houses have been converted to flats (always with an illegal 3rd unit), or have had garages (legally or not) converted to multi-unit dwellings. It increases the number of cars, while simultaneously removing off-street parking. Keep SF at 750,000 - not 1,000,000 residents to keep our city livable, and less like NYC.

Posted by Richmondman on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

although it is in other Bay Area counties and, in fact, San jose's population exceeded SF's some years ago.

But SF has under-ulitized area's such as the South-East, and high-rises there could alleviate the problem, partially anyway.

It is pure NIMBY'ism for people here who have homes to not want others to come. Except of course because they want their own home value to increase, like Marc, Redmond, Welch, Hestor etc.

Posted by Anon on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

Actually, you need to look at the fact that many (most?) apartments are shared by multiple people. So the assumption that one needs to earn $108,000 should further assume that two people sharing an apartment will need to earn at least $54k each. This is not unrealistic in SF.

The outrage over rents is disconnected from reality and does not factor in the cost of building (or buying) a building and the cost to maintain older buildings, much less taxes, insurance and other expenses.

The real truth is that everything is expensive in San Francisco including food, medical care, transportation and other essentials. You can't merely focus on one essential and declare that it is "too damn high". There are a variety of reasons for the high cost of living in SF, but one can't just assume that it is 100% about speculative greed.

Finally, if you think it is appropriate to impose rent control on vacant apartments I would suggest that it would only be fair to impose price controls on housing in general such that one would only be allowed to sell their home for the price paid plus 60% of the average annual inflation factor. Now that would certainly make homeowners happy!

Posted by Guest666 on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

is "essential", and therefore market rates should not apply.

But then he stops short of the obvious solution - put a proposition to the voters asking them to approve a new tax that will subsidize rents. That way, poorer tenants would get a break without the landlord feeling backed into a corner and Ellis'ing.

And in fact, that is how section 8 housing assistance works, which I consider a much more sustainable model. Give rent breaks to the poor; not to everyone including the rich and multiple sharers.

Then let everyone else pay market and, alongside that, build lots more rental units.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

A needs based, city subsidized system would require everyone to share in the responsibility for caring for the elderly, disabled, and poor. Would a majority voters support such a proposition? I'm not sure.

We'll likely to just see more and more owners exit the rental business, further inflating prices.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

is that they appear willing to support rent control at the polls because (and probably only because) they perceive rent control as being a "free" benefit. The taxpayers (i.e. themselves) don't pay the subside (not directly anyway). Rather the landlords do and there aren't many of them to make a difference at the polls. Indeed, many LL's don't even live in SF.

But ask the voters to pay more tax themselves just so the most needy can catch a break and you'll find they are much more reluctant to approve such largesse.

Of course, rent control just turns around and bites the residents in the ass anyway. They get Ellis'ed, or pay too much rent themselves, or have to move to Oakland. But as long as rent control look like "something for nothing", as as long as SF has more rneters than not, then it will continue.

And that means higher rents, more evictions, more TIC's and condo's, and less supply and new build. Ultimately there is never a free lunch.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

Also many very highly paid and educated people receive generous housing subsidies under the current system. They can be expected to fight any common sense revisions.

Btw, Marcos, I am concerned.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

I absolutely believe that. So is food, education, and health care. I'm all for a tax to subsidize rents -- but I'm even more for taking housing out of the private market and regulating it like a public utility.

Part of the problem nobody's addressing here is that San Francisco has a lot of jobs that are done by people who DON'T make $100,000 a year. Who do you think makes our # 1 industry, tourism, possible? People who change sheets, clean toilets, cook meals, serve drinks .... and make far less that what it takes to pay market rent. So they have to live out of town and spend money (and fossil fuels) commuting from far away. It's just irrational planning not to have housing that fits the workforce.

Posted by tim on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

But just because those jobs are in SF doesn't mean that they have to live here, let alone that the taxpayers should subsidize that "right".

Oakland has some surprisingly cheap housing. I've seen houses for sale there for less than 100K and places for rent for under 1K a month. and just 10 minutes away by BART (which doesn't use that much "fossil fuel").

Now, I'd prefer the taxapyers to subsidize rent, in the way that Section 8 works, to rent control where essentially that subsidy is privatized. But if, as you say, SF's housing should reflect it's workforce, than wouldn't that explain why we are building and converting so many market-rate condo's? Because increasingly the average SF resident is a 100K-plus knowldge worker.

Posted by anon on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

I can catch up on my reading while I stand for an hour each way. Oakland is not so cheap as portrayed in these posts, and it will just get pricier as the ripples of the high end migration continues to push out from SF, the Peninsula, and the trendier parts of the east bay.
Soon low wage workers will be forced out way past Antioch or deep into the central valley, and have to commute for several hours a day, into economically (and to some extent racially) segregated areas of wealth.
The myopic view I am reading from the "free marketeers" is horrifying. Look down the road in terms of decades, and one can see that this broken system is a heading to a medieval world of locked city gates, and a landless peasantry.
Capitalism may be working for you personally right now, but don't be so smug. The wheel turns, and you or yours can be displaced by events beyond the control of the individual.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

Housing, food, education and healthcare.

Each in fact has a public component: Section 8 and public housing projects, food stamps, state schools and MediCaid/MediCare.

And each of course has a private component.

I seriously doubt that there is any public will to change that balance and choice. Nobody is seriously considering treating any of those like a utility (which themselves are usually regulated, but still private). You want housing to be run like PG&E?

SF is an expensive place and not everyone can afford to live here. I don't ask anyone to subsidize my rent so I can live in Switzerland. Why should here be any different?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

That's Tim's philosophy in a nutshell. Regulate, remove and reduce - that's essentially his attitude when it comes to housing. More rent control, repeal Costa-Hawkins and impose vacancy control, impose residency requirements - control, control, control.

BTW - Tim lives in a nice place in Bernal Heights which he owns. And the former owner of the Guardian sold their headquarters on Potrero Hill to developers who are turning it into spacious, expensively-priced condos.

"Do as we say not as we do."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

I've got mine. Now I just want to make sure that you can't get yours.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

Okay, now let me drive you completely bonkers:

I don't think housing in a popular city like SF, where the people who want to live here outnumber the available spots, should be allocated by the market at all. I think it ought to be done by seniority.

THat's right -- just like the college housing lottery. You first arrive in SF -- no matter what your job, no matter how much money you make -- you live in a small SRO. You stick around five years (and thus show you care about and are involved in the community), you move to a nicer place. You have a kid, you get another bedroom. After 20 years, you get a house of your own.

That does three things: It removes a human necessity (housing) from the whims of the speculative market, and it ensures that everone spends some period of time living "small," like the poorest of us -- and it encourages stability by rewarding people who stick around.

Sound commie enough to you? Go nuts.


Posted by tim on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

Like in Cuba or North Korea use today? Even nominally Socialist states like Vietnam long ago chucked that method of attempting to break the private property market.

Would you have to give up your Bernal Heights pad Tim?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

It's not bonkers at all. Nobody likes waiting lists, but they're a lot more rational than the market.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

Imagine the length of the waiting list, controlled by the city's unions, Non Profit Inc (who would, no doubt, be in charge of assigning everyone a home) and political power brokers, after everyone around the world realized they could get a free home in San Francisco!! You'd be on that list the day you were born and guaranteed a home by the time you were 60 or 70 years old.

Totally rational!!!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

I didn't think Tim said it would be free.

But that's an interesting idea. Free housing for the elderly. Imagine that! Next thing you know, it would catch on elsewhere. We wouldn't want that now, would we?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

"Should housing be allocated by a central committee of bureaucrats, based on nothing more meaningful than duration, and regardless of actual needs?"

what support do you think it would get?



Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:59 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

charge of deciding where you live?


Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

It doesn't have to be the same people. Could be the same people running the public health department, or the library, or any number of things the government does better than the private sector. Or maybe elect a separate commission.

In any case, at least someone would be running it, which is usually better than having no one run it. The free market knows neither reason nor compassion, it's not accountable to the people, and it sure as hell ain't free.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

Democratically run community land trust.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

would forcibly remove people from their homes and replace them with more worthy residents?

If it didn't work in Russia, why would it work here? Although I believe the soviet members were very well housed under that scheme.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:04 pm