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.





Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

How would the government GET these properties? Would it eminent domain every single residence in San Francisco and dispossess the owners of their primary asset? Seize property upon death of owner? How would the supply occur since in all likelihood no one would willingly agree to part with their home?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

People willingly part with their homes all of the time, it is called selling.

The City could float mortgage revenue bonds and begin to buy up housing as it came on the market and have a community land trust allocate them and use the rental or purchase proceeds to pay down the public debt and free up more capacity for the next units.

This would involve a long term strategy of buying up housing, having those who can pay market rate rents paying these down for the public sector and as they turned over in the future could be allocated on to income or wealth targets. The poverty nonprofits, of course, can't countenance involving the the unpoor in acquiring housing for permanent affordability, so this is not going to happen.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

or otherwise?

And you're right - the poverty pimps would in no way allow this scheme to unfold or else they'd wrap their tentacles around it and strangle it slowly.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

Prices would be set by %age of incomes, I'd envision a range of income targets from very low to something in the below $100K range with focus on the ranges not served by the market. But that would have to start up at market rate and work its way down as City purchased properties built equity and could afford the subsidy. Given that anyone who can afford to pay market rate is evil, progressive left scripture clearly dictates they are worse than Hitler.

The financials pencil out over time using tools currently in place. The only "progressive" opposition to this comes from the nonprofits.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

swathes of the city become low income. What would a 5 million dollar pacific heights mansion be worth if, on either side of it, there were roommates situations and low-income denizens?

I would dare to suggest that no formal feasibility study has been done on this to show it is financially viable. Nor, to my knowledge, has something like this ever been tried except on a very local basis. And certainly not on a city as large and wealthy as SF.

Nice dream though.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:19 am

public housing is a major contributing factor to the housing crisis for low-income people and the accompanying rise in homelessness.

Efforts by cities, community based non-profits, and enlightened property owners to preserve existing private affordable housing stock are praiseworthy, but insufficient and unfortunately defensive against the "market" forces of the speculative real estate landlording industry.

Creative attempts to preserve and increase low-income housing are needed. In several eastern cities, tenants have the right of first refusal when properties are being converted from rental to ownership (condo, or TIC.) In some instances, this gives tenants the opportunity to set up limited-equity cooperatives (sometimes subsidized), or work with non-profit community housing groups to acquire the properties, take them off the speculative market, and preserve affordability permanently.

In this era of decreasing resources for social housing, the widening of the gap between the haves and the have nots, the disappearance of pensions in the private sector (often replaced by the desire for an unrealistic appreciation of one's home value as the primary retirement nest egg,) solutions to the nation's affordable housing crisis are becoming more difficult.

The free marketers are going to point out areas with cheap housing like Detroit, but throughout the country there is a mismatch between affordable housing and adequate employment opportunities.

Tim, Marcos, Greg, and others are brainstorming potential ideas to deal with this issue here where there is a community infrastructure, but also an out-of-control real estate market fueled by an inflated stock market and speculative tech industry bubble.

Why is the vacancy rate in public housing so high and maintenance so poor? We can't afford any unnecessarily vacant units.

Sorry for the ramble. I worked as a low-income tenant advocate from the mid-80's through the early 90's here and in Boston. I couldn't do it anymore. I have the utmost respect for those that struggle around this issue--residents and their helpers in the community.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

idea that government should be running homes. Many projects were crime-ridden and have been pulled down. And the trend now is to give financial aid to poorer people, either thru Section 8 for renters or by mortgage interest deductibility for owners.

I like your idea of selling public housing to the tenants and in fact Margaret Thatcher - hardly a progressive - introduced such a scheme in the UK which has been very successful. However it is done on a unit-by-unit basis, and is effectively a privatization of public housing, but it's privatized to the tenant and not a corporation. And of course the tenant has to get a mortgage.

I'm not sure Sf has enough public housing any more for that to make an impact, but I think it's a more plausible and probable idea than imagining somehow that every SF property will be run by the city and allocated by some vast central committee.

SF is a victim of it's own success and such places are never going to have cheap housing. I think that those who wish for things to be better have to also accept that they can probably only tinker at the margin. SF quite simply doesn't have the funds for a grand or final solution.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:29 am

but I wasn't advocating for the selling off of public housing to its residents. I was referring to converting privately-owned affordable units to community or tenant ownership through mechanisms like limited-equity cooperatives.

Despite some past failures, public housing can and does work. It addresses one fundamental problem of low income housing in a economy based around private ownership and speculation--the cost of production of new housing in the private sector exceeds what is affordable to low income people. The public sector can reduce this problem by insuring that existing public housing units are maintained, occupied and safe, and by building more units without financing them to subsidize financial profits. That's what the military does when it builds housing for its needs--no financing, so it's cheaper. Of course, that housing serves little useful purpose, except for continuing militarism and imperialism, but that's another discussion.

An excellent documentary about the myths of the failures of public housing is "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth," which I'm glad I saw at the YBCA in the past year or so:

Finally, President Obama and his family live in public housing, the White House.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

The SFTU went apoplectic over the notion of converting rent controlled units to limited equity permanently affordable land trust condos in the early 2000s. But rumor has it that Ted's changed his mind on this seeing the writing on the wall.

The Affordable Housing developers went apoplectic over the notion that anyone above their income targets might play a role in this.

So the main impediments are division on the progressive side more so than opposition from conservatives.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

the Bay Area has few mixed-income limited-equity housing cooperatives. I'm not sure why. My sister-in-law and her family bought a unit in Harlem within the last decade. I may be misremembering but I think it cost less that $50,000 and I don't know what the HOA fees, etc. are. And that's not for a low-income unit, but for a "market" one in a mixed income development. It's a nice sized apartment for NYC.

I can understand why the SFTU would oppose the conversion of rent-controlled units to limited-equity coops, but if the alternative is Ellis Act evictions, they would surely support any mechanism that will maintain long-term affordability.

Inclusionary housing is not enough to meet the need nor address this worsening crisis.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

Precious time has been lost, is being lost by the advocacy groups attachment to tactics that no longer work instead of consistently reassessing their analysis so that their tactics continue to gain results.

We've become accustomed to being on the defensive, to being pushed back, that resisting being pushed back is viewed as radical and gaining the initiative to push our opponents back is out of the question.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

housing because both are specifically exempted from rent control.

So if you rent from the government or a non-government non-profit agency, then you rent increases could be higher AND you have no protection against eviction.

For the city to convert private housing stock to some type of public or non-profit ownership then they have to either try and argue eminent domain or else opportunistically buy in the open market, which will mean paying top dollar, and the city is broke.

Of course the city could pass such draconian building codes that all SF homes are devalued to the point where the city could step in and by them for a song. But that wreaks of opportunities for corruption, and of course would eviserate the tax base.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

I enjoy reading your insightful commentary.

Willie Brown precided over much of the destruction of San Francisco's traditionally high public housing stock.

I know the Geneva Towers was an abortion which the city should never have take off the private developer's hands, but I really was amazed at the sense of elation its demise was supposed to engender.

My sense is that public housing is subverted from within.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:55 am

Gotta say, nothing brings folks together across divides of race and class like a good old fashion double tower implosion, I tell you what!

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:07 am

Projects became a byword for crime and blight in many cities and overseas too. As with many quasi-social services, the trend in recent decades has been to get governments and municipalities out of the business of running businesses, and instead to furnish direct financial subsidies in a targetted way.

A good example of this is the way that housing projects have been replaced with Section 8 vouchers.

The fact that public housing complexes in even an expensive city like SF have high vacancy rates should tell you everything you need to know about them.

Except perhaps for one thing - those units are of course exempt from rent control (Wry smile appears on face).

The housing non-profits have taken up the slack.

PS: I quite like Eddie's posts. He explains his positions and, even when I disagree with him, I find he doesn't rant and get all pissy like some here.

Posted by Anon on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Reaganite Troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:35 am

Imp Troll

Posted by marcos on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 10:47 am

The main reason is that the revenues from furnishing housing at an artificially low cost would be inadequate to achieve the sum of money required to buy properties at a market price. You are effectively setting up a financial structure that is guaranteed to be insolvent. The only way the difference could be made up is thru taxes, but of course you are destroying the tax base by doing this as well. and of course nobody is going to vote for higher taxes when the purpose of that is to buy a home that they already own.

And if the revenue bonds do not add up, then the Wall St. banks won't issue them, because of the credit risk. So who are you going to get to float those bonds? You'd have to start your own bank and capitalize it. With what? More taxes?

Buying the entire stock of SF housing would cost hundreds of billions. Hardly a figure that could be raised predicated on bonds that represent a sinking fund of value. The idea is cute, but a non-starter. It's also almost definitely unconstitutional, but that hardly matters because the voters would never vote for it anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2013 @ 9:16 am

"After 20 years, you get a house of your own."

It is too commie, or rather, Soviet for me, of course, but I do have a question about logistics under this system. There's a huge range of housing styles in this city, from Pacific Heights mansions to cozy Bernal Heights two-bedrooms to a perfectly adequate one-bedroom in lower Nob Hill. How do allocate these?

What I'm really hearing is that no one with more money gets to buy better housing. No privilege tied to money acquired, is that it? How far would you take that in other things people buy: clothes, food, cars, etc.?

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

totalitarian society. That is why we adopt very different solutions to the housing issue, eg Section * or, arguably, rent control.

Almost nobody in SF is arguing for the government to run the real estate business. And almost nobody believes that they could.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

But I've always suspected the end goal of "the progressive movement" is a totality of control.

Posted by Hortencia on Jan. 07, 2013 @ 1:15 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

Marcos is definitely off his meds.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

In 30 replies, not one mention that in 2011 SF built 418 units. The same year 149 units were lost through demolition, merger or the removal of illegal units in 2011 for a net gain of only 269.

269 units!

I honestly think people would rather things be ridiculously out of reach to prove that SF is the most desirable place in the universe for everyone to live in.

The reality is that SF does a tremendously poor job of planning for new people. We have to maintain this illusion of Carmel by the sea, while people still come here - each generation willing to pay more than the previous.

In 20 years it will be awesome to look back and see how the SFBGs obstructionist slow growth attitude has helped SF "retain its charm"

Posted by Guest on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

affordable unit s when you take into account Ellis evictions and TIC conversions. So SF is losing probably thousands of rental untis each year, while almost all new build is market-rate condo's that, even if they are then rented out, are not subject to rent control.

We need to build more, and rentals as well as owner-occupied units, but who would do that with the threat of rent control being applied to post-1979 construction?

Posted by Anon on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 4:50 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

Normally I appreciate your rational input to these discussions, even if I disagree with a lot of it. But this is - just not right.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 6:39 pm
Posted by marcos on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

Imp Troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

He's tilting at windmills.

Posted by Anon on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

Ad hominem troll.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

See, here's the problem... you have all these trolls on this site posting comments that don't add anything to the debate, but just seek to dumb down the debate.

I used to think you were a troll, but these people make you sound like a paragon of reasoned and thoughful discourse. They'll post the same tired dogma, the same sophomoric assinine remarks... sometimes it's just a little soundbite of a turd that sounds good when taken out of context, but is really nonsense. But it requires more time and effort to refute.

I actually resolved to spend less time fighting right wing trolls, but I do like to have a reasoned debate. I just don't want to get caught up in the muck with people who are only interested in polluting the site. It just turns the comments into a bunch of tangential mush, and it takes up too much of my time. And it brings out my worse side as well, because sometimes I inadvertently find myself going down to that level, and talking about irrelevant things and inadvertently contributing to the debasement of the whole site.

Well that's where marcos comes in... what he's doing is a public service. I can now scan the comments quickly for anything interesting, and I pretty much know that anything marcos has labeled "troll" is something that I can just ignore.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 03, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

There are now many Marcos' all imping one another and claiming the other is a troll. It's like a hall of mirrors up in here.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 12:30 am
Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:29 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

Sockpuppet Trollfest.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

That much is apparent.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:01 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

It turns out that their goal is indeed disruption, if they cannot disrupt by hijacking every thread into a libertarian capitalist lovefest, then they'll imp their way to harassment.

Rob Anderson and Lucrecia are San Franciscans who have skin in the game because of that. Progressives have not given either the time of day and as a result, progressives became vulnerable and allowed their coalition to be whittled down to the point where it can no longer win elections in progressive districts.

Any path forward to contest the corrupt corporate dominance of politics in San Francisco is going to have to dispense with the prejudices that progressives have used against people who are not 100% down with the program and focus on the areas of policy that we agree on.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

an opposing opinion here? That diversity of thought doesn't interest you? and that balance os for the birds?

Don't we only learn by listening to others, and never by talking in an echo chamber?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 9:29 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

I recommend that you read "The Open Society and it's Enemies" by Karl Popper.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

She's polished her act a bit since last year, because it made her look so repulsive, but she was just about the nastiest troll around. Or don't you recall? You can paint a mustache on a pig, but it's still a pig.

Posted by Jen on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

Everyone can grow, even the trolls. These days, there are far worse than her around these parts.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 4:06 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

somone you just happen to disagree with?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

Haven't heard that one before. Did you come up with that sound bite all by yourself?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

Why would you think otherwise?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 04, 2013 @ 7:56 pm