Subscribe via RSS Feed

Bad anti-housing arguments

[ 186 ] July 24, 2015 |

In the San Francisco housing thread below, Steven Attewell points to this post by Robert Cruickshank that complicates the most simplistic version of the claim that some portions of ‘the left’ in San Francisco oppose housing. Cruickshank, accurately, points out that a number of recent leftist politicians and mayoral candidates ran on platforms with thoughtful, progressive plans to increase supply, with a strong focus on affordable housing. I don’t doubt this is true, but I don’t think that entirely rebuts the central claim of Metcalf’s central argument; namely, that ‘the left’ has unwittingly contributed to the current housing shortage and attendant affordability crisis. I don’t doubt the sincerity or wisdom of Matt Gonzalez and others’ housing plans, but the rubber meets the road when that faction is forced to choose their second best option amongst the following:

1) New housing built, with significant units set aside for affordable housing

2) New housing built, with relatively few units set aside as affordable housing

3) New housing not built.

The problem isn’t that the left favors (1), it’s that they have repeatedly agitated for (3) over (2). The case that adding more housing to our cities positively contributes to a significant array of progressive goals seems pretty much unimpeachable to me. Martin Duke lists the benefits, in the context of Seattle; most apply just as well to San Francisco:

  • Fewer vehicle miles traveled, resulting in less energy usage, air pollution, and run off into the Sound.
  • Less farmland and virgin forest destroyed for new housing.
  • More legislative representation and better treatment of urban issues in Olympia.
  • More time in congested central cities, where vehicle speeds make fatalities rare.
  • Less competition for existing affordable units.
  • More economic activity both in construction and in the businesses spawned by new units
  • A larger tax base for large capital projects (like light rail) that benefit everybody, as well as social programs

And this is true even when the new housing is expensive, because it takes the pressure off older housing stock by taking rich people out of the bidding for it. But significant portions of the left in San Francisco have worked very hard to convince themselves that (3) makes a greater contribution to progressive policy outcomes than (2). This leads them to make some pretty strange and embarrassing arguments. Since it was linked in the thread below and I saw some anti-housing NIMBYs in Seattle circulating it on facebook a few weeks ago, let’s take a look at Tim Redmond’s effort on that front:

The people with high disposable incomes who fill those condos or luxury rentals will spend money in town, creating a demand for jobs – restaurant workers, grocery clerks, cops and firefighters, bank tellers … and those people will also need a place to live.

(Sup. Scott Wiener notes that the city’s police force hasn’t kept up with the population growth. Perfect example – bring in 5,000 new wealthy residents, and the city faces pressure to hire more cops to protect them. Those cops cost tax money – but they also need places to live. And that puts pressure on the housing market).

So according to the study, by Keyser Marston Associates, every time the city allows 100 new high-end housing units, it needs to build between 20 and 43 new affordable units – just to keep the housing balance the way it is now. Put the affordable units in the main complex and the impact is lower (because fewer millionaires move in). Built them, as is common, somewhere else and the impact is greater.

In summary, for every 100 market rate condominium units there are 25.0 lower income households generated through the direct impact of the consumption of the condominium buyers and a total of 43.31 households if total direct, indirect, and induced impacts are counted in the analysis.

If the city demands 15 percent affordable set-asides, then every market-rate building adds more demand for affordable housing than it supplies. That means every new building makes the housing crisis worse.

This analysis has a rather obvious empirical flaw, so obvious one would think it hardly needs to be stated: refusing to build a luxury unit will not dissuade its would-be wealthy resident from moving to the city. It’s not like they’re moving to the city because they really liked that one particular condo. They’re almost certainly going to come anyway, and bid on some less-nice unit, denying some less-rich person, quite possibly a long-term San Francisco resident, for those worried about displacement, from living in a city.

But the obvious empirical flaw in this argument is trumped by an even more terrible normative flaw: namely, that it’s a good and progressive policy to prevent jobs, including some good middle class jobs, from being created. In the context of 2015, less than a decade after a massive job destroying recession, followed by many years of anemic job growth, which has pushed many thousands out of the job market and harmed the economic well-being and security of the middle class, this is particularly grotesque, simply because the city doesn’t want to go to the trouble of allowing for enough housing for them, should be seen as appalling immediately.

Another thing–there’s plenty of potential for new housing with minimal displacement in the city, simply be liberalizing some of the rules that strangle development in single family zones. One example, which had some success in Vancouver and Portland, and is now being proposed in Seattle, is to change the incentive structure and rules regarding the construction of backyard cottages:

Adding tiny, freestanding structures behind single-family homes across the city would increase density while preserving neighborhood character, proponents say. This would go a long way toward satisfying the city’s official policy of “infill development,” putting more housing on existing underutilized land. But first, the city would have to tweak existing building regulations tailored to mid-20th century lifestyles.

The trend is catching on, with small apartments popping up in urban backyards across North America. Like attached “granny flats” within existing buildings, backyard cottages are smaller dwellings, tucked away off the street — typically 200 to 800 square feet — with little aesthetic impact.

But remarkably, San Francisco seems stuck in a 1950s zoning mentality, mandating single-family dwellings with large backyards across nearly two-thirds of the city’s residential land. Backyard cottages are nearly impossible to construct within city limits, due to a combination of zoning laws, labyrinthine building codes and a lugubrious review process that grinds development to a halt when just about anyone protests.

This isn’t a silver bullet–nothing is–but it’s an obvious no-brainer. Each unit contributes to affordability twice, once for the renter and again for the homeowner, making it easier to make the mortgage. While the linked article overstates the potential here, it’s a good idea that costs the city nothing, is more likely to produce relatively affordable units than luxury construction, and has the potential to help out strapped homeowners, all while distributing density in a low-key way.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • DocAmazing

    You either missed Tim Redmond’s point or you paid no attention to what happened during the first dot-com boom of the late ’90s and is going on again. If you build no luxury units, rich people are less likely to move into sketchy neighborhoods like the Mission, and long-term (and likely poor and nonwhite) residents are not displaced. Only adventurous types move into sketchy neighborhoods. Put in luxury units, and you advertise for the rich, and they move in, thinking that the neighborhood is no longer sketchy, but spicy. Now the rich neighbor lives among working-class people, who do awful things like hold block parties and share beers on the porch. This leads to rich neighbor calling the cops, which leads to landlord taking notice/rent being late due to rent money being spent on bail. Rich neighbor also doesn’t care for all the noise caused by the body shop and the nightclub that have been operating in the neighborhood for the past decade or two, and calls city government to harrass those businesses out of existence, eliminating the employment for several long-term neighborhood residents. Now we have long-term residents and businesses being forced from the neighborhood–much to the delight of the developer who sold the luxury unit, as there are now now units to turn onto luxury units.

    This in not new. We all saw this happen 1995-2001; we’re seeing it happen now. Pretending that free-market solutions to the housing problem are going to somehow produce different results are pretty feeble. Chasing out long-term residents and bleaching the city is not a very useful long-term goal of housing policy. Back to the drawing board.

    • NewishLawyer

      Semi OT but I am surprised by the sheer number of auto car shops in San Francisco for some reason.

      I’ve been here 7 years and I am still surprised by the number of apartment buildings with garages. #youknowyouareaNewYorkerwhen

    • LeeEsq

      You can’t really believe this. Your basically arguing that the poor and working classes should be continually kept in miserably maintained neighborhoods, or as you call them sketchy, in order to maintain affordable housing and to inflict some type of vague punishment on wealthy people because they can’t live in the cities they want to or something. Its basically a pro-ghetto argument from a vaguely leftist position. Besides being really immoral, its not even true. Williamsburg, which was mainly Hasidic Jewish or Eastern European, before it became a happening place, attracted a lot of wealthy people long before luxury condos started to be built. They just moved into the housing occupied by the less well off and spruced it up.

      The same thing would happen in the Mission. Wealthy people aren’t going to say, “well because they aren’t building luxury condos, I might as well get married, have kids, and move it the suburbs earlier than I was planning to.” They will just move into working class housing.

      • DocAmazing

        Jesus. You’re arguing that poor people should be chased out of their own neighborhoods in the name of–what? beautification? You don’t like ghettos: well, then, where do poor people live, apart from outer-ring suburbs?

        Rich people don’t move into sketchy neighborhoods. That’s what gentrification is: successive groups of increasingly upscale people moving into working-class neighborhoods. That’s what happened in Williamsburg: poor (white, Anglo) artists moved in, followed by (white, Anglo) students, followed by scenesters, followed by the rich. I assure you that the rich did not move into neighborhoods where they thought that they might be set upon by Those People. Rich people do not move into working-class housing; they move into extensively rehabbed housing that had been working class before the artists & students & scenesters moved through it.

        • Gregor Sansa

          And not building condos is going to interrupt this sequence how, again?

          Nobody here is saying ghettos should be razed or otherwise eliminated. But trying to preserve them by making sure they stay sketchy (how? By outlawing artists or students or “scenesters”?) would be just another kind of harmful colonialism.

          • DocAmazing

            No luxury units, no increased police presence chasing out existing residents and businesses.

            If you’re going to have luxury units, you need to set ground rules with law enforcement and city agencies, to say nothing of the rich people moving in. City government already had to codify a bunch of this regarding noise complaints made by rich people who bought condos next to nightclubs.

            • efgoldman

              City government already had to codify a bunch of this regarding noise complaints made by rich people who bought condos next to nightclubs.

              I’ve seen this kind of thing with reference to nightclubs in N’Awlins, churches with bells in New England, and railroad crossings (I don’t remember where.)
              My question always is: Didn’t these smart fellas and gals know the fucking noisemaker was there before they bid on the goddamned property?
              Jesus. This is the very definition of “entitled asshole.”

              • Lee Rudolph

                Didn’t these smart fellas and gals know the fucking noisemaker was there before they bid on the goddamned property?

                What always got me was smart fellas and gals not noticing that they were moving downwind from a dairy farm.

            • Bruce B.

              I never heard of gentrification either, nor ever saw it in action in any neighborhood I lived in.

        • Philip

          I can tell you that I personally know a lot of techies who have moved or tried to move into the mission. If your goal is to save the mission from gentrification, well, it’s a bit late.

        • LeeEsq

          How are you going to keep the artists, students, and scenesters out than?

          • DocAmazing

            No need to skip those steps and go straight to luxury units, nicht wahr?

            • LeeEsq

              You are admitting there is no way to keep them out.

              • DocAmazing

                I am demanding some form of mitigation or the damage they do. I am demanding that they be integrated in to the neighborhood in a deliberate fashion to blunt their frankly destructive effect.

        • joe from Lowell

          This notion that there can only be affordable housing in ghettos skids past wrong and comes to a stop up against horrifying.

          • DocAmazing

            Where else is affordable housing being preserved? Around here, the only way to keep the rent on vacated units from tripling is by having an undesirable, scary neighborhood. Otherwise, its “bring in the rich guys”.

            If you’ve got another solution that can be brought to bear now (not in a decade, not in theory), I’m all ears.

            • joe from Lowell

              In neighborhoods with some income diversity.

              I know your whole region is getting swamped with growth pressure; you’re still drawing the wrong conclusions.

              Also, speaking of theoretical: the notion that keeping the building stock in a neighborhood the same will prevent gentrification is wholly without empirical support.

              • DocAmazing

                Oh, by all means build; just be sure to ensure adequate affordable housing–no weaselling by developers–and ground rules with law enforcement and city agencies as detailed above. I’ve no problem with building as long as there’s mitigation for the displacement it causes.

                • MDrew

                  Well, does “be sure to” return a value of “and if you fail, then don’t build,” or does it return, “just do your damnedest to ensure adequate affordable units, but if you fail, then still do what’s best” as an actual operating instruction? I.e. 2 over 3, or 3 over 2?

                  Because that is explicitly the crux of the OP, and even right here you’re avoiding dealing with the question.

                • DocAmazing

                  If you fail, then don’t build; don’t fail. Go back and use the city’s power to issue or withhold permits and easements to require adequate affordable housing. “It’s too hard” is not an acceptable excuse, and accepting a bad deal is worse than negotiating a new deal.

                • MDrew

                  You can’t make them want to build to your specifications. They will either want to, or they won’t. So you set your specifications for ‘adequate’ to what they will build under, or you don’t.

                  And the combination of your admitting that it’s 3 over 2 for you, combined with your commitment to the term ‘adequate,’ combined with your clear cultural antipathy to this kind of development (your arguments have not been about why having developments with adequate affordable units would be so great, they’ve been about why developments like these tend to make everything worse), makes me think we’re not dealing with a good-faith interlocutor?

                  I.e., what will turn out to be the number of affordable units that are “adequate” so that you will start endorsing development? I’m guessing it’s going to consistently be “the absolute highest number a developer will agree to build with, plus one.”

                • DocAmazing

                  Actually, the city has (surprise!) actual laws & stuff regarding this. While the number is negotiable, it’s a fraction of the units, not a specific number. Given the astronomical amount of money developers make in this town, I’d say the city’s God-damned generous.

                  I’m wholly uninterested in what developers “want” to do, since they “want” to maximize profit and externalize cost, just like any other business enterprise.

                • MDrew

                  So what are you saying? That the city has been issuing permits in violation of the law, or it hasn’t been issuing them simply because it’s constrained by law it somehow can’t change?

                  Whether it’s under a general legal requirement to negotiate for adequate affordable housing before approving projects, and you’re critiquing their interpretation of adequate, or they’re under more specific guidelines about what’s adequate, can we stipulate they’re following the laws and guidelines at least according to their interpretation, and agree that we’re discussing either whether their interpretation of adequacy is correct (if there’s more leeway), or whether the laws/guidelines themselves actually dictate adequacy (if they’re more specific and restrictive)?

                  If not, I’m not sure what you’re saying is going on. The city is under a requirement to provide “adequate” affordable units (in order for projects to go forward), and it’s just flat-out not meeting that, and illegally issuing permits? Or what?

                  I thought we were talking about what you say actually amounts to adequate units compared either to what the law requires, or what the city says is adequate that they have negotiated for under a general requirement to ensure “adequate” affordable housing.

                • DocAmazing

                  The city has, in several cases, settled for less than the law requires. In some of those cases, it was for other trade-offs. In some cases, the developers just skated. So we see the city settling for less than they could have gotten. Now that we’ve enriched developers at public expense, are you satisfied that the djw requirement that San Francisco progressives accept bad deals to be thought of as Not Opposing Housing has been met?

                • MDrew

                  The city has, in several cases, settled for less than the law requires.

                  I’m guessing this is a much, much more complicated claim than its simple language suggests.

                  …I think I’m just going to leave a response at that for now.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Oh, by all means build; just be sure to ensure adequate affordable housing–no weaselling by developers–and ground rules with law enforcement and city agencies as detailed above. I’ve no problem with building as long as there’s mitigation for the displacement it causes.

                  OK. I like this argument a lot better.

                  But this refutes everything you’ve been writing. You’ve been saying that building luxury units generates demand for more luxury units.

                  Now you’re saying it won’t, necessarily, if it’s handled well.

                • DocAmazing

                  If you build a mixed-use development with lots of below-market-rate/affordable units, the new rich tenants can’t get away with the cop-calling, business-harrassing behavior as easily, as their immediate neighbors act as a brake on them. djw’s argument in the original post was that progressives should accept development without adequate provision of BMR/affordables in the interest of increasing the housing stock. I hold that building luxury units in the absence of BMRs accelerates displacement.

          • djw

            Among the many, many things wrong with Doc’s goofy “let’s use crack dealers as yuppie scarecrow” argument, it’s about 25 years past its sell by date. Insofar as it might ever work, you’d need the general attitudes toward cities and fear of urban crime of the 1980’s to come back. Today’s young people aren’t anywhere near anti-city and fear-of-crime motivated enough for this to work, which is exactly why it…didn’t work. Even in the late 90’s people I went to college with moved down to SF and lived in the tenderloin when it was sketchy as hell and there was certainly no luxury development going on but it was already getting pricey anyway.

            • DocAmazing

              Please refer back to my gentrification timeline. Your friends in the ’90s would probably fall somewhere between the “students” and “scenesters” camps–I’m pretty sure you weren’t hanging with the luxury condo crew. Your friends were early gentrifiers–the adventurous ones who clear the ground for the luxury condo crew. Keeping a few rough edges about the neighborhood still keeps the luxe types at bay–just read the comments sections in SFist.com sometime.

              By the way, it is a little disturbing that no one has yet pointed out that crack dealers are city residents, too, and do deserve to have a place to live. Hell, we make room for hedge fund thieves and Richard Blum in our town; you’d think a little crime of the down-home variety would scarcely be noted.

        • Scott Lemieux

          You’re arguing that poor people should be chased out of their own neighborhoods in the name of–what?

          No — you are. That’s the point. If no new housing is built, upper middle class and above people will bid on the housing that’s available. The idea that you can stop gentrification by not building is transparently wrong.

          • DocAmazing

            And the idea that you do anything but accelerate gentrification by building luxury units is equally wrong.

            • sonamib

              So you want to decelerate gentrification. But, as you admit upthread, gentrification will happen anyway, just not as fast.

              You identified two (or three) stages of gentrifications. First, the students and the bohemian types, then the really rich people. You say keeping the students away from the “sketchy neighbourhoods” is impossible, but that keeping the rich away is possible.

              But the rich still want to live in the city, right? That’s the crux of the problem : the demand for housing in the city is high. If the rich can’t live in the Mission, they will live in a middle class neighbourhood, thereby displacing some residents. The displaced residents, if they still want to live in the city (they probably do), will just move to a poor neighourhood. The displacement still happens, albeit in a more indirect way. That’s because the only way to meet higher demand is to offer higher supply.

              What is your endgame here? You do realise that if the housing is permanently kept scarce, the city will eventually become totally gentrified (just look at Paris). There’s zero long-term hope here.

              • DocAmazing

                Increase the supply, by all means; just do so intelligently, and with lots of affordable housing built. Building just to increase the stock isn’t going to work–demand will outstrip supply, or landlords with warehouse apartments.

            • joe from Lowell

              And the idea that you do anything but accelerate gentrification by building luxury units is equally wrong.

              No.

              You don’t know what you’re talking about. Nobody is moving to your city for the housing stock. They’re building the housing stock because people are moving to your city.

              • DocAmazing

                The specific neighborhoods into which they are moving, however, are targeted by developers and are, in general, traditionally working-class neighborhoods. The specific units they are aiming for are marketed directly toward them.

                Notice, for example, that we keep talking about the Mission. Why? Aren’t there bunches of other districts? Ah, but the Mission has traditionally had a poorer and more marginalized population–easy to sweep away. Put baubles for the rich in there…

      • efgoldman

        Besides being really immoral, its not even true. Williamsburg, which was mainly Hasidic Jewish or Eastern European, before it became a happening place, attracted a lot of wealthy people long before luxury condos started to be built. They just moved into the housing occupied by the less well off and spruced it up.

        Boston’s South End, too.

    • djw

      Whatever this narrative is, it hs absolutely nothing at all to do with Tim Redmond’s argument.

      • DocAmazing

        You maybe need to re-read Redmond.

        • djw

          He’s not talking about neighborhood character at all. It’s pure spreadsheet gazing–for every 100 luxury units, we’ll need X affordable units for the working class jobs those new residents will bring in, but current inclusionary zoning requirements only force them to to provide Y units, X > Y, therefore they make the problem worse. I’ve read it three times now, there’s not a word about the kind of cultural conflicts of gentrification, or really anything neighborhood-specific, in the linked article. He may discuss that elsewhere, but not here.

          • DocAmazing

            And so we have a demand for workers who cannot live in the city where they work, because we have prioritized wealthier new residents.

            New units have to be built somewhere. There is some vacant land (which, weirdly enough is not being used or even considered), but not a lot of it, so those units are almost always going to be built where existing housing sits now. That existing housing is not, I assure you, inhabited by the well-off; they don’t want it in the state it’s in. Now the city has a choice: issue permits for building something that’s going to stand for decades and is dense and sufficiently replete with affordable units that it mitigates the displacement caused by its own construction; issue permits for something that the neighbors will not tolerate in five years and will be torn down due to lawsuits; issue permits to build luxury condos; some combination of B and C.

            We’ve got waaay too many developers trying to get out of their affordable-housing requirement, and the mentality that led to the famed Manhattan “poor door” is alive and well among the Silicon Valley set. This goes back to my point in the previous thread: building for building’s sake alone is not a good idea, and it is possible to make a bad situation worse with poorly-planned, poorly-negotiated projects. Increasing high-end stock in poor areas without adequate affordable housing being built really does make a bad situation worse, as we saw in the previous boom.

    • MDrew

      Who moves into a neighborhood because it’s spicy and then calls the cops when there’s a block party or people “share beers on the porch”?

      • DocAmazing

        Happened fairly often in the Inner Mission and Potrero Hill during the first dot-com boom. Has been happening quite a bit lately. We had a situation on Potrero Hill involving a new, fairly well-off couple setting off an armed police confrontation when they called the cops because Latino men were drinking beer on their own porch.

        • MDrew

          Says you.

          • DocAmazing

            Well, now, there’s a devastating rejoinder. What do you want, a police report? An affidavit from a neighbor?

            • MDrew

              That would seem… reasonable to me. Without it it’s a story about no real people that happens to support a narrative that on its face makes no sense at all (that it’s commonplace for yuppies to move into neighborhoods knowing they’re “spicy,” partly for that reason, and then set about calling the cops on their new neighbors with less than no justification whatsoever.)

              But you’re not inclined.

              …So you’re confirming, then, that at best it’s something you heard about through your grapevine of people who are like-minded to you on this issue, if not just outright made up. Yes?

              • DocAmazing

                No, it was in the SF Chronicle, and I’m not going to waste time looking it up for you because you’re feeling skeptical and bored. Your Google skills are undoubtedly up to the task.

                • Doc, translated: “I can’t be arsed to do my own research”. Way to go, fella.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  Wait a minute.

                  Doc’s core argument of “neighborhoods should never become more expensive or have their cultural norms shift” is frankly chilling. A significant part of the racial wealth disparity in the US is due to redlining, that is, black people who couldn’t buy into some places where the property values were rising; enforcing the other side of that is just as bad.

                  But when Doc has a specific example of entitled assholes moving in, then yes, we should believe them. The response is not “pics or it didn’t happen”, but “how do you propose we should stop that, and what would be the other consequences of that proposal?”

                • MDrew

                  No one doubts that entitled assholes move in, nor even that they call the cops. I suspect that, simply, is what Doc doesn’t like. If she wants to cop to that, that’s fair enough, then I’m willing to simply find out what the proposal is (since,as you point out, if that is a problem, then it is a problem without or with adequate affordable units, and will be a problem even with them).

                  But Doc makes a further claim, one that’s frankly hard to believe for me. That young people moving into neighborhoods partly because of the established culture that’s there, and then turning around and calling the cops on the basis of no illegal behavior or genuine nuisance at all, is a common enough problem to figure in policy discussions. (I.e., that it’s happening pretty often; it’s not just an anecdote here or there).

                  I have no problem challenging that extension of the argument. It’s clear enough why well-off white people moving into a neighborhood and calling the cops about activities that previously did not occasion calls, even though they are illegal or pose genuine safety concerns, presents a problem for poor communities, where too many people already face the drag that a criminal record or even an arrest record on opportunity. We could leave the argument there, but no, it needs to be who moved in for the spicy culture and then couldn’t handle the (entirely legally unobjectionable) heat.

                  No, sorry. It’s too flattering a tale to this particular person’s evident political sensibilities. I’m asking for documentation.

                • MDrew

                  Shorter: Doc doesn’t have a specific example. She has a vague allegation/recollection/story she heard. A specific example would be something I could read about. She says I can google it, but I genuinely don’t know how. What phrase should I search? Why should I fish about completely blind as to what I’m looking for, when she could take the few minutes to actually find it, since she knows something about it?

                • DocAmazing

                  Once again, Doc is uninterested in wasting his day Googling “sf potrero hill shooting” and digging through all the articles that pulls up. If you find it hard to believe that well-off white people call police on non-well-off non-white people at a fairly high rate, I submit that you haven’t lived in a changing neighborhood. If you find it hard to believe that well-off white people move to neighborhoods that scare them while not actually threatening them, I submit that you, once again, haven’t lived in a changing neighborhood. But again, I’m not really terribly concerned either way, unless it’s you calling the cops.

              • MDrew

                Genuinely, I cannot think of the phrase to google to find that story. But you clearly read it, so maybe you have a sense of how to find it. You didn’t mind spending the time to refer to it, but now it’s a waste to come up with the citation. There’s a reason that ends up being an unconvincing sequence in the academic world, but whatever. I’m happy to let the tiny audience here make up their own minds about whether it turns out to be a story that actually establishes the couple clearly should have felt no reason to call the cops at all, versus one in which, when all the facts were in, it turned out there wasn’t much of one, or may not have been.

                • DocAmazing

                  Yes, you’re bored. Good night.

    • Tyro

      If you build luxury units, I am going to take my $1 million in housing money that I budgeted and buy that luxury unit. If you DON’T build luxury units, I am going to buy YOUR home for $700,000, do $200,000 in renovations, and have a nice place to live for myself, while you and your roommates are stuck looking for a new place to live with one less cheap apartment available to live in.

    • This doesn’t make sense. It only takes one scenester to decide to be a hardass and complain to the police regularly and recruit neighbors to do the same.

      And as others have mentioned, it just keeps pressure on other parts of the city. Maybe not the rich people. Maybe the people who otherwise would have bought into a marginally more expensive neighborhood. They also have a choice whether or not they’re just going to put up silently with the inconveniences of being forced by economic circumstances to live in a less expensive neighborhood,

    • JL

      If you build no luxury units, rich people are less likely to move into sketchy neighborhoods like the Mission, and long-term (and likely poor and nonwhite) residents are not displaced. Only adventurous types move into sketchy neighborhoods.

      Rich middle-aged people, especially from generations that came of age during crime rate peaks, maybe not, but I hadn’t thought they were the ones moving into the Mission. Not-rich-yet-but-will-get-there-at-this-rate high-income millennials in their mid to late 20s? The generation that came of age with falling crime rates and disillusionment with suburbia, and loves urban walkability? I know people in that category who got together with friends and renovated and moved into half-crumbled warehouses in SoMa. Or, for that matter, who moved into crumbling overpriced little places in the Mission three, four, five years ago when it was “sketchier” than it is now and there were fewer luxury buildings.

      The ’90s boom had a different generation moving in. Cities have much lower violent crime rates and aren’t perceived as scary in the same way. While millennials as a whole aren’t particularly urban compared to previous generations (FiveThirtyEight has talked about this), college-educated ones are (FiveThirtyEight has talked about this too). The tech industry had a different state of industrial maturity – the current wave are more people following the high-end jobs that they spent years training for out to the place where they’re located, than people dreaming of all the money who heard that you could become a millionaire overnight with one coding class and something like pets.com. A lot of the effects are the same, with the displacement of existing residents, but if you’re trying to understand the gentrifiers and what makes them tick, I’m not sure you can just transplant your memories of 1998 onto the present.

      Pretending that free-market solutions to the housing problem are going to somehow produce different results are pretty feeble.

      I do agree with this – I’m not convinced SF can build fast enough to get supply and demand back into some kind of balance.

      • joe from Lowell

        San Francisco itself cannot. There needs to be more redevelopment in Oakland (building condo units in obsolete/historic industrial/commercial sites is perhaps the best possible form of development, but then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?), and there needs to be more smart growth in the burbs.

        Ah, but then the water problem…

        Screw it, I’m going to start drinking.

        • I’ve only been to SF once, so I don’t know where these neighborhoods are, how big they are, how close they are to more expensive places. IOW, how big is the Lower Mission, for example? What would It take to keep neighborhood boundaries where they are for years and years? You don’t want the wealthiest areas to just expand and expand until they get to a place where the people are so poor you feel bad policing them, and lose everything in the middle, either. U.S. cities traditionally haven’t thrived like that.

        • DocAmazing

          Oakland has already been shouldering more than its share of the burden, and the low-hanging fruit is long gone. Oakland is losing nonrich and nonwhite population faster than SF is. Apparently not enough.

          Eneryville completely transformed from industrial to mall/residential. Apparently not enough.

          Interestingly, the communities in the Bay Area that have responded the least are the wealthiest and the whitest ones. Hmmm.

          • SatanicPanic

            Oakland has already been shouldering more than its share of the burden, and the low-hanging fruit is long gone.

            Oakland has built a lot of affordable housing in recent years, but market rate? Not really.

            • DocAmazing

              There are large areas of West Oakland that are market-rate condos and “lofts” that were previously cheap warehouse housing. I don’t really see too much of a problem in a relative shortage of housing specifically for the better-off.

              • djw

                To state the blindingly obvious, the problem is that they start outbidding less rich people for less fancy housing, and so on down the line, making the affordability crisis worse.

                • DocAmazing

                  Doesn’t work with below-market-rate housing: the new units are earmarked for the less rich. Oakland has good strong vacancy control laws (like SF), and landlords seeking to evict poorer tenants to bring in rich ones have many hurdles to clear. If your argument is “the rich will always get what they want”, then there isn;t any point in building market-rate housing, as all housing will be consumed by the rich eventually.

                • djw

                  There’s another category of housing you’re ignoring: unremarkable, older stock in less trendy that isn’t protected as below market rate, but also isn’t likely to be attractive to really rich people unless there’s not enough of the kind of housing they want. In a healthy housing market, such units provide housing that non-rich people who don’t qualify (or didn’t win the lottery for) below market units. When rich people descend upon such housing and outbid those not poor enough for income protected units and not rich enough to compete with the tech crowd, a crucial piece of the affordable housing equation has been lost. Since you insist on turning SF housing debates into a morality play between the minorities and immigrants on the one hand and tech villians on the other, I’m not surprised you overlook this problem.

        • SatanicPanic

          There needs to be more redevelopment in Oakland (building condo units in obsolete/historic industrial/commercial sites is perhaps the best possible form of development,

          Oakland worries that it won’t have enough industrial space for its Port of Oakland needs, so it’s not converting a ton of industrial land/buildings anymore. Same with San Jose.

    • UserGoogol

      Although I mostly fall on the same side as the other people calling you wrong, I think the best compromise between anti-gentrification and pro-growth is to upzone rich neighborhoods. If developers can turn a luxury townhouse into a luxury high-rise, that increases density without causing any gentrification. (It probably still changes the “character” of the neighborhood, but screw them.) Developers would probably prefer to build luxury high-rises in those sorts of neighborhoods anyway, since as you say, rich people like living around other rich people. (Granted, the land is cheaper in poor neighborhoods, but it’s cheaper for a reason.)

      There’s no particular reason why gentrification will just naturally happen, it happens because rich people can’t find enough room in rich neighborhoods (because of rich NIMBYs) and expand out.

  • Lasker

    What do you think about the argument that new developments at higher price points than the average for the area they are built price cause problems by accelerating upward pressure on rents? In my Bronx neighborhood, even the apartments set aside as affordable in new developments cost at least as much as the currently existing apartments.

    On the neighborhood level, I would think that you really could make an argument that a wealthier person might choose to simply live somewhere else if there wasn’t housing stock that appealed to them.

    I say the above as someone inclined to agree with you, but the above are arguments I hear from some of my friends.

    • Gregor Sansa

      It’s confusing cause and effect.

      It is true that whenever a crack dealer moves out of a neighborhood, rents go up. But that doesn’t mean we should try to preserve neighborhoods by subsidizing crack dealers.

      It is also true that more white people generally translates to higher rent, even with age and economic status otherwise equal. Unlike the drug dealer thing, this is racist and totally sucks. But again, responding by working to maintain segregation would be monstrous.

      • DocAmazing

        If crack dealers are going to keep the poor residents of a neighborhood in their homes, I’m for the crack dealer. When you have an equally effective alternative, please let me know.

        • Sebastian_h

          Wow, wow, wow. Next you’ll be suggesting rapists will keep rich white women from moving in, so leave rapists in those neighborhoods too. We could make it even more effective by telling people that we won’t arrest rapists in those neighborhoods. Hell we could REALLY help out affordable housing by legalizing rape in certain neighborhoods. I can’t see anything wrong with this idea…..

          Way to stick it to the man by protecting poor people! Good job!

          • DocAmazing

            So your suggestion for preventing displacement of poor residents is…

            Oh, that’s right. You don’t have one.

        • I’m sure the poor people of those neighborhoods would really appreciate you sticking up for the crack dealers. Jesus Christ, what a fucking obnoxious, offensive thing to say.

          • ColBatGuano

            You rarely see the pro-crack dealer side of the story. I’m sure the residents of those neighborhoods would love to hear Doc explain it to them.

            • DocAmazing

              I’d tell them, but now that the crack dealers are gone, the old residents were evicted and now live in Antioch and Newark; the current residents thought “crack dealer” had something to do with artisanal bacon doughnuts.

              • ColBatGuano

                Your concern for their circumstances is touching.

          • nixnutz

            I’ll admit to a certain perverse nostalgia for the days when 24th Street was well stocked with Norteño PCP dealers, in the same way that I miss mini trucks blaring Rob Base and the old-school zoot suit guys in their ancient Buick low-riders but even if it weren’t offensively shitty policy the ship sailed at least 25 years ago. I moved there in ’88 and there were already a million hipsters; if you want to forestall gentrification you need to find some way to make your neighborhood unattractive to artists and freaks, once they’re in the rest of it is inevitable.

            • There are ways to do that. They mostly involve refusing to rent to them, threatening to beat them up on the street, and so on. They involve landlords refusing either to change the neighborhood character or to raise rents and let outsiders move in. They mostly involving being either majority white or having an organized crime group the police are afraid of. IOW, old fashioned community values.

              Scenesters don’t move into white neighborhoods until things have fallen so far only the crack houses are left.

  • Linnaeus

    By the way, it’s spelled Cruickshank.

  • NewishLawyer

    How about we think about it less in terms of affordable housing and more in terms of family housing?

    I am a kind of inbetweener in these debates. I think the Doc Amazing approach is more just about cultural sneering and he is trying to turn back time on techies in the city.

    But I am not fully convinced of the build, build, build crowd like Matt Y because it seems like trickle down economics.

    Most of the luxury condos I see being built are not bad because they are luxury condos. They are bad because they seem to be studio, one bedroom, or two bedroom apartments. They are great for single professionals or DINK couples or maybe couples with one-child. They are not so good for families with a bunch of children unless we are also taking a moralizing tone and saying families with bunches of children should live in 1 and 2 bedroom apartments.

    So the luxury condo debates are really about people being inadvertently told by developers and marketing that they are not wanted or welcome even if they have lived in the city for decades, maybe their entire lives.

    Now I think Doc protests too much with what is happening in the Mission but there is something to being skeptical of luxury condos.

    • DocAmazing

      Doc’s patients are mostly first-generation immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua. Does that clue you in a little as to why Doc isn’t enthusiastic about the bleaching of the Mission?

      • Nicaragua? That surprises me a bit given the small amount of migration from Nicaragua compared to those other nations.

        • DocAmazing

          Oh, we do get ’em, but many, many more Guatemalan Maya and Hondurans and Mexicans. A few Peruanos; scattered Uruguayans. More than a few Filipinos. Some Russians. Increasing numbers of ‘Murricans who found Fond du Lac and Elgin non-happening.

          • Steppanhammer

            They must have found it really non-happening to be willing to see Zoidberg.

  • AlanInSF

    And yet, at the end of the day, while they’re building market-rate housing with some affordable units at an insane, Shanghai-level pace here — rents for the lowest-end properties keep going up. Astronomically.

    • djw

      This is silly, even as hyperbole. Shanghai has built enough housing to add 10 million people, a ~70% increase, since 2000. (Actually more than that; they overbuilt and now prices are dropping). San Francisco has built, over the last few years, about 3500 units a year, with a peak of maybe 5,000 in a year. It’s less than Seattle is building. It’s just not that much, even by North American cities standards, for a period of rapid economic expansion.

  • Francis

    Here are a few reasons not to be adding a substantial population to San Francisco:

    water supply shortfalls;
    sewer capacity shortfalls;
    traffic impacts, both local and regional;
    lack of land to build all the governments services associated with growth, like schools, parks, police and fire substations, libraries, jails, etc.

    Population growth and housing mix are two completely different issues. The City has any number of tools at its disposal to prevent the mansionization of the city, including historic neighborhood designations, height limits, volume limits, setback requirements, permitting mother-in-law quarters, rent control, mixed-use zoning etc. A strongly liberal City like SF should be able to muster the votes necessary to offset the power of new money.

    The idea that San Francisco is really going to grow out of its housing demand issues seems to me to ignore significant physical constraints. The smarter path is to use City powers to continue to make the city desirable and affordable for a range of income levels.

    • NewishLawyer

      I get what you are saying but there seems to be a fantasy in the anti-housing movement that people (especially young college graduates) are just going to stop moving to the Bay Area or NYC and just move back to Witchita or where ever.

      This is not going to happen. There is no legal mechanism to make it happen. This is purely a fantasy of trying to keep places trapped in Amber.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I don’t think it’s so much wanting to keep the place trapped in amber- which, even though I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, strikes me as a condescending way to describe it- as it is having some control over how it does change

        • DocAmazing

          I’d settle for not having poor families shipped wholesale out of town.

          • Tyro

            Once again, if someone has money to spend, they are going to spend it. They might spend it on luxury housing. Or, if that is unavailable, they will spend it on the home that a poor family lives in and send them an eviction notice on the basis of owner occupancy.

            • DocAmazing

              So we let the free market so its magic, since we cn do no other?

              • Tyro

                I am just pointing out the inevitable consequence of “build nothing” policies. People have money to spend and will spend it on housing. It can either be spent on new housing or the housing of poor people, displacing them. Part of the hostility to new housing seems to me out of spite: anti-development factions are fine with seeing the poor families displaced by new homeowners buying existing housing stock as long as the new housing isn’t built.

                • DocAmazing

                  And do you know of some progressives that pursue “build nothing” policies, as djw feints at in the original post?

      • wjts

        …and just move back to Witchita or where ever.

        I know, right? Who wants to live in Wichita? Certainly not any of the ~650,000 people who live in and around that city.

        • NewishLawyer

          I am sorry for that example but the implication seems to be that young people should not move to S.F. even though S.F. has one of the hottest industries right now. Other places don’t have as much access to Angel Investors, don’t have generally temperate weather year round, etc.

          And yeah I am a coastal partisan. Mainly Eastcoast but…

          • wjts

            Yeah, I was being unduly snippy: obviously, San Francisco and New York City are attractive destinations for recent college graduates who want to work for, say, Google or Condé Nast and the number of people who want to move to both of those places outstrips the availability of affordable housing. But it really is the case that millions upon millions of people (including recent college graduates) don’t move to either of those places because they actually, legitimately would prefer to live somewhere else.

            (And, yeah, I’m a Midwestern partisan. I am positively baffled as to why everybody doesn’t want to live here.)

            • weirdnoise

              Google is in Mountain View, 30 miles South of SF. Yet plenty of newly-hired software engineers there set their sites on a place in SF shortly after being hired. Those company buses aren’t for employees who happened to live in SF before they were hired — they’re for employees who took their $150k/year salary and cast their eyes North. It’s the same for other companies in the South Bay (LinkedIn, Yahoo, etc) and the Peninsula (e.g. Facebook). We’re talking thousands of employees riding hundreds of buses.

              I work here in the South Bay; I’ve worked for two of the companies I mentioned. Given the hour commute each way, the attraction of The City for young software engineers mystifies me, but it’s definitely a thing.

              • NewishLawyer

                Google does have a facility in SF. You can’t really blame 22 year olds for wanting to live in a walkable city with bars and restaurants over a suburb.

                • weirdnoise

                  All the companies I mentioned have small offices in the city. But they still run hundreds of buses — free to their employees — so their employees can commute South every day.

            • NewishLawyer

              I like the ocean. I also really like Northeastern Autumns.

            • NewishLawyer

              Though the main thing is arts and culture. Bring something like BAM’s Next Wave Festival to somewhere and I could see living there.

    • LeeEsq

      All the tools you mentioned is why housing is getting so expensive in San Francisco and other cities. You can’t actually stop people from moving places. Preventing new housing from being built will just cause rents to go up because the housing stock can not meet demand.

    • altofront

      In 1580, Queen Elizabeth I of England made a royal decree that started like this:

      The Queen’s Majesty, perceiving the state of the city of London (being anciently termed her chamber) and the suburbs and confines thereof to increase daily by excess of people to inhabit in the same in such ample sort as thereby many inconveniences are seen already, but many greater of necessity like to follow . . . . where there are such great multitudes of people brought to inhabit in small rooms (whereof a great part are seen very poor, yea, such as must live of begging or by worse means, and they heaped up together, and in a sort smothered with many families of children and servants in one house or small tenement) . . . . Her majesty . . . doth charge and straightly command all manner of persons of what quality soever they be, to desist and forbear from any new building of any house or tenement within three miles from any of the gates of the said city of London, to serve for habitation or lodging for any person where no former house hath been known to have been in the memory of such as are now living, and also to forbear from letting or setting or suffering any more families than one only to be placed or to inhabit from henceforth in any house that heretofore hath been inhabited.

      London’s population at that point was maybe 150,000. Guess what happened.

      • wjts

        Guess what happened.

        Nobody ever moved there ever again and now fewer people live in London than in Lubbock, Texas?

  • altofront

    I wonder if Vancouver might stand as a counter to the “it’s always better to build at least some housing” argument. Over the past generation the downtown peninsula has been enthusiastically turned over to luxury high-rise condos, with many thousands of units added. This hasn’t noticeably affected house prices, though: the average cost of a detached house in Vancouver is well over $2 million now (and let me tell you, that mostly means shitty plaster boxes on small lots in sketchy neighbourhoods). My uninformed impression is that the extensive downtown development mostly created a new market (with many international investors) rather than satisfied an existing one.

    • I’ve long wondered about Vancouver. I’ve thought that if you build those gigantic housing towers in San Francisco like in Vancouver, would it actually bring prices down?

    • Lt. Fred

      Absent landlordism is also a big problem in the big world cities – London, Sydney, NY etc. There’s a really easy solution (for renters): you have to live in or rent out your house for X weeks every year or pay Y taxes (where Y is ridiculously unaffordable; many multiples of the normal council rates, preferably). In extreme circumstances, you may wish to put in a clause that allows the council to take control of the “abandoned” house or unit.

    • djw

      My understanding is that a majority of the newer high-rises were rental, not condo, and for a goo chunk of the 90’s and 00’s that kept rental prices somewhat reasonable even as the cost of owning skyrocketed (fueled in part by Hong Kong/Chinese second home purchases). That seems to have deteriorated in the last couple years, she rents really took off. I don’t know if they slowed down on construction or demand surged of what.

    • Scott Lemieux

      You’re assuming that prices would have gone up less without the new construction. What’s your basis for this implausible assumption?

      • altofront

        I’m assuming no such thing. In fact, I would listen to an argument that prices would have gone up even more without the new construction. The point (as Erik notes above) is that developers have basically been allowed free rein since the mid-1980s, and have utterly transformed the entire downtown area–there are now over 650 buildings in the city at 12 storeys or more–but it’s still pretty much as unaffordable as SF is.

        • djw

          have basically been allowed free rein since the mid-1980s,


          A lot of construction =/= ‘developers given free rein’. The zoning rules, permitting processes, code requirements, etc place significant reins on developers. (In many cases, rightly so, in others not so much.)

          It’s not that much of a mystery, demand has risen faster than supply. In Vancouver that includes demand for second homes for rich Hong Kong/Chinese folks, which complicates matters further.

          • altofront

            Okay, but this thread has proceeded from the axiom that demand is completely inelastic with regard to housing being built: if you don’t build luxury units, the wealthy will buy other places instead. My sense, though, is that Chinese demand for second homes in Vancouver has a lot to do with how those properties were developed–after all, the first major development of the north side of False Creek was by Hong Kong investors. Maybe Chinese investment in Vancouver real estate would have happened at this scale anyway, but it seems more likely to me that building the luxury units attracted international buyers who otherwise would have spent their money elsewhere.

            As for “free rein,” of course there are various zoning restrictions on developers, but come on: just compare the skyline of 30 years ago to what it looks like now. Greater Vancouver apparently has more tall buildings than any city in North America except Toronto and NYC, despite a population still well shy of 3 million.

            And in case this needs saying, I’m delighted with how multicultural Vancouver is now, and I have no objections to the Chineseness of the foreign capital that’s flooding the local real estate market. I just think that the mechanics of that market in terms of supply and demand may be more complex than the “always build something” argument suggests.

  • Jordan

    Less farmland and virgin forest destroyed for new housing.

    Is this a real thing that is advocated as a progressive reason for urban development? Because I can’t imagine its a true thing in most places.

    Also, I’m not convinced that building new luxury/whatever places to live doesn’t in fact create some of the demand for those places. Sure, there will be some rich people who will buy lower-priced places instead and refab them or whatever. But there will also be some others who won’t look at anything that isn’t already a luxury/whatever place in an already rich-person building/neighborhood. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t buy first principles supply-demand reasoning here, and would need to see good empirical evidence – localized to the specific city – to be on board with that. Because otherwise I’d guess that restricting new luxury-building would in fact decrease the number of new rich buyer types.

    Otherwise, yeah, seems good.

    • It’s definitely a real thing as far as farmland goes, as the farms of Texas and Virginia get plowed under for housing tracts. Virgin forest, no.

      • Jordan

        Ok, yeah, I meant to just highlight the virgin forest thing. Farmland I can see. Virgin forest, no.

        • I think people routinely mistake mature forests for virgin forests. It’s something of an arbitrary divide, especially in New England, given that a healthy interesting and valuable forest doesn’t necessarily have to be one that was never cut in 1900. But the last truly virgin forests around Seattle or San Francisco are almost all under protection and certainly aren’t slated for urban development.

          • Jordan

            Right, that is what I was thinking. Any virgin forests around the places we are talking about are already gone, or are protected.

          • (This isn’t meant to be any sort of criticism, just seemed like an appropriate place to put it)

            I bet there are many, many Bay Area residents who don’t realize that logging still goes on in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

          • djw

            Yeah, Duke shouldn’t have said virgin. Other nice mature forests could be at risk, though.

      • My in-laws live in formless suburbia near Ann Arbor that was a farm twenty years ago.

        • I’ve been driving around Virginia and Maryland a lot on the weekends during this research trip. The number of new development signs far, far from DC itself is depressing. Even in the West Virginia panhandle.

          • The combination of racism and an embedded love of car culture is an amazing thing.

            • The height restrictions of DC definitely don’t help.

              • True.

                Before I forget: are books for sale at the Brooklyn event, or should I swing by B&N beforehand?

                • They will be for sale there. I will be signing. Even in ketchup if you so desire.

                • wjts

                  If I send my Brooklynite brother there on my behalf, will you sign a ketchup bottle for me in absentia?

        • joe from Lowell

          I find it grimly amusing how often developers name their subdivision after the thing they destroyed to build it.

          Johnson’s Farm. Shady Brook. The Meadows. That sort of thing.

          • It’s a long American tradition, originally used to name things after the people they had just committed genocide against.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Absentia.

        • Linnaeus

          Funny thing is Ann Arbor is dealing with gentrification issues itself.

          • I know. My in-laws got pushed (economically) almost the entire way into Ypsilanti.

            • Linnaeus

              They must be either in Scio or Pittsfield Township, then?

              • Not actually sure. I think of it as “the ex-farmland.”

                ETA: Google Maps tells me I’m an idiot. “Superior Township,” which appears to be part of Ypsilanti.

                • Linnaeus

                  North of Ypsilanti, mostly.

        • Jordan

          I did mean to refer to the virgin forest thing mostly as the “realy?”

          However, insofar as we are talking about taking over farmland … why is it a progressive goal to preserve that over providing additional housing?

          • Because open space is super important and because sprawl is terrible.

            • Jordan

              Sprawl is bad, of course. But private farms aren’t really “open space” in any meaningful sense, right?

              • They can be–the edges of farms often hold key bird habitat, as well as the last remaining habitat for a lot of wild grasses and the like.

                • Jordan

                  Huh, ok, right.

                  I probably should have thought about this more, one of the places I lived growing up was surrounded by smallish farms in between growing suburban areas. And of course they were built over.

                  Anyways, yeah, that makes sense and I did not know that they played a significant role for bird habitat or the wild grasses. Thanks.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                even a badly-run, from a conservation standpoint, farm absorbs more rain into the water table than a paved cul-de-sac and a handful of ranch-style houses

                edit: and what Erik said. Although here, it isn’t just around the edges

                • Jordan

                  Maybe. I grew up in a place without much in the way of rain, but with lots (and lots) of rivers. Thats where they got their irrigation, rather than from wells or anything.

                  I mean, still probably better than a cul-de-sac, for sure.

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  believe me, I *know* it works that way. The nearby town has done a fair amount of building on the side closest to me, and a stream that begins just outside of town runs right through this farm. As the amount of concrete increases so does the speed and amount the creek levels rise after a heavy rain, to the point flooding of our crop ground is a much more regular occurrence than it used to be. So more chemicals, manure, and god knows what else finds its eventual way to the Gulf of Mexico

                  Thankfully the more recent builders have been incorporating short-term holding ponds and other mitigation into their projects, which helps a lot

                • Jordan

                  Ah, I see. I didn’t understand your point (because I thought you were talking about something else because dumbness on my part).

                  Makes sense now.

          • joe from Lowell

            Lots of reasons, in addition to the environmental ones.

            Those aren’t just lots of land in agricultural use; they’re an important regional base industry just about everywhere. Jobs, both in farming and related industries.

            We also might all find ourselves a great deal more dependent upon our local agricultural sectors sometime soon, so it might be a good idea to actually have one where you live.

            • Jordan

              I buy your third paragraph.

              Your second one, mmmm. Maybe. Decreasing housing costs is also a good thing, and in general building more of them where people want to live is one way to do that.

              • joe from Lowell

                Sure, but what does that have to do with whether or not to preserve farm land?

                The direct line you’re assuming between “build some homes” and “destroy the farms” only exists if you assume that the homes will be single families on acre plus lots.

                • Jordan

                  Well sure, but that is exactly the claim I’m been pushing against.

                  From the OP:

                  “Less farmland and virgin forest destroyed for new housing.”

                • joe from Lowell

                  No, I’m saying, the scale of development necessary to keep the housing costs reasonable and provide attractive housing doesn’t require losing all, or even most, of the farmland. The new units can be accommodated while still keeping the agricultural sector in business, with better design, promotion of infill, and other tools.

                • Jordan

                  Oh yeah, then I think we agree.

              • joe from Lowell

                And in a situation in which there really isn’t sufficient developable land in the area without losing some farms, it’s important to do triage: save the highest-quality farmland and the sites with the most significant cultural, historical, habitat, or scenic value.

                • Jordan

                  Yeah, that I completely agree with.

      • efgoldman

        It’s definitely a real thing as far as farmland goes, as the farms of Texas and Virginia get plowed under for housing tracts.

        MA has a law in place to protect farmland

        The Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program is a voluntary program which is intended to offer a non-development alternative to farmers and other owners of “prime” and “state important” agricultural land who are faced with a decision regarding future use and disposition of their farms. Towards this end, the program offers to pay farmland owners the difference between the “fair market value” and the “agricultural value” of their farmland in exchange for a permanent deed restriction which precludes any use of the property that will have a negative impact on its agricultural viability.

        http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/agr/land-use/agricultural-preservation-restriction-program-apr.html

        Farmland is also property-tax advantaged.

        Chapter 61A – The Chapter 61 Program provides a tax break to owners of recreational, forest or agricultural lands as long as the land remains in the specified use. Specific information regarding how these incentives are calculated and which lands can qualify can be found in the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services Property Tax Bureau’s “Taxpayer’s Guide to Classification and Taxation of Agricultural/Horticultural Land in Massachusetts” brochure dated October 1997. It is important to note that Chapter 61 is an incentive program not a permanent protection of open space or farmland. Local planners should assume that all of theses lands in their community have development potential. Changes were made to this law in 2006, see Chapter 394 of the Acts of 2006. The following link provides a summary of those changes: http://www.mass.gov/agr/chap_61_changes_3_22_07.pdf

        ETA: On the other hand, our street and the bank next door are built on what was an abandoned apple orchard. But it was abandoned in the mid-late 1950s, and the houses built in the early 60s.

        • Lee Rudolph

          ETA: On the other hand, our street and the bank next door are built on what was an abandoned apple orchard. But it was abandoned in the mid-late 1950s, and the houses built in the early 60s.

          Not to mention that it’s not in Massachusetts.

          Does RI have an APR-equivalent?

          • efgoldman

            Does RI have an APR-equivalent?

            I don’t know. I knew about the MA one because I remembered the hoo-hah in the Great and General Court because (surprise!) all the legislators representing construction/development interests were agin’ it.

  • Much as I love the bay area I kind of like my $90,000 mortgage here in Columbus OH.

    That’s for a 1,500 square foot 3 bedroom townhouse. I might get a double-wide outside of Manteca for that kind of money in California.

    • You could get a basement storage unit on Billionaire’s Row for that.

      • If I could store myself there it just might work.

        • Lee Rudolph

          The idea is, you take over the Billionaire’s living space, and store the Billionaire (who doesn’t need living space any more) in the basement.

      • efgoldman

        You could get a basement storage unit on Billionaire’s Row for that.

        Or a parking space.

        The Necco Street Garage isn’t fancy — 657 parking spaces on six stories of blocky concrete, in brown and white. But in the hot Fort Point Channel neighborhood, where new condos are going for $7 million, even the humble parking space has become valuable real estate.

        The Necco Street Garage has changed hands twice in two years, its price soaring 65 percent in 20 months, sending the value of each space to $85,000.

        https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/03/18/building-boom-sparse-parking-sparks-million-bidding-war-for-seaport-garage/zNUYty6y0oJMkIsN8VKgWO/story.html

        • Is Necco Street covered with powdered sugar?

          • efgoldman

            Is Necco Street covered with powdered sugar?

            Per Wikipedia, it’s the location of the original NECCO plant in the earliest years of the 20th century.
            The street name stayed, but the plant moved to its familiar location next to MIT, on Mass. Avenue in Cambridge, just before it crosses the Charles, in 1927.

            The Boston Wharf Company developed the 1902 complex of four five-story buildings[6] at 253 Summer Street and 11-37 Melcher Street. BWC named the adjacent streets Necco Court, Necco Street, and Necco Place.[7][8] In 1907, 5 and 6 Necco Court were added behind the existing complex, connected by a four-story interior bridge.[8] With nearby rail and water transportation, BWC specialized in shipment and storage of sugar and molasses. The Domino Sugar factory was also located nearby.[8]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necco

            • While we’re on the topic, the most bizarre incident I’ve read about in twenty years of researching building failures: molasses.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                sounds like a James Thurber story

              • joe from Lowell

                My family spent literally years thinking my father had made that story up to screw with us.

                Until it appeared in the Sunday Globe magazine.

              • efgoldman

                While we’re on the topic, the most bizarre incident I’ve read about in twenty years of researching building failures: molasses.

                People who lived in Boston’s old West End (mostly Jewish) and North End (mostly Italian) claimed they could smell the molasses for months, according to my grandparents, my dad (b. 1915) and my first wife’s grandparents.
                Dennis Lehane wrote about it extensively in his excellent novel The Given Day. The book is fiction, but most of the history is real.

              • wjts

                As I recall, the Great Molasses Flood is a plot point in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day.

          • efgoldman

            I haven’t even looked at NYC yet:

            Back Bay parking spaces sell for $560,000

            https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/06/13/tandem-parking-spots-sell-for/f7G3KRWmEut6K7f8OsagDJ/story.html

    • sparks

      Manteca might be too ambitious.

      Sorry, a sort of specific-to-California joke.

    • NewishLawyer

      Semi-OT but I always feel a bit like the odd man out in these debates. A lot of Americans seem to prefer living space (we do have a lot of it). Maybe I am just a culture snob but I would rather have a cozy one bedroom in a city with great cultural options like NYC (Lincoln Center, BAM, NYTW, The Joyce, Film Forum, etc. Than a huge space and a low mortgage.

      This debate does not go just to art but also goes to movies. I like seeing movies in theatres. I get a lot of people thinking that is nuts because you can just watch a movie on Netflix or Hulu from the comfort of your home and on a big screen.

      How did Americans get so atomized? Why are so many Americans so anti-social?

      I get that my desire for BAM’s next wave festival places me in the minority. But all this stuff looks so good:

      http://www.bam.org/#Theater

      So Lincoln Center Summer Festival bringing over an adaptation of Kafka on the Shore.

      Usually when I bring up this stuff people get defensive and talk about their community theatre or local productions of Rocky Horror.

      • I can see the attraction to that. In NYC your apartment is basically your bedroom and the rest of the city is “your house”.

        While it’s certainly no NYC or San Francisco (or even Chicago), Columbus has a decent amount of “big city” attractions and it doesn’t take me two hours to get across town in traffic.

        I’m kind of splitting the difference here in a medium density condo development.

        I have no desire to live in a 4000 sq ft McMansion even though it’s well within my means to do so. Just a lot of empty space to heat and cool.

      • Linnaeus

        There’s a fair amount of real estate between the Lincoln Center and community theater.

  • Philip

    So, I recognize that my perspective is a skewed one, but I still think that there are a few points I can fairly make.

    1) I am a new graduate, yes, but a new graduate engineer at one of the big 5 tech companies. I’m living with two friends, also in software. We can barely afford to live in the city even on the ridiculous salaries software engineers get paid. Yes, we looked in the mission etc. No, we are not living in SoMA or the financial district. There is no “affordable San Francisco” to preserve, as far as we found while looking for somewhere to live.

    2) Things are getting worse, not better. Housing keeps getting more expensive. I’m on my phone or I’d post links, but stories keep being published documenting the rent hikes even in “sketchy” areas, because wealthy tech people will in fact live in them. At this point the first concern isn’t decreasing rents, it’s stabilizing them, or maybe even just slowing the rate at which they are growing.

    3) tech isn’t going to stop growing here. The great worker protection laws in California (limited non-compete clauses, protection of worker IP, etc) make it much easier and legally safer to start your own company here, so even absent all the social factors techies would want to come to California. Plus all the social factors. And let’s face it, LA is a terrible place to live, so the bay will be the focus of that growth. Limiting housing is not going to stop that. More wealthy people is something that has to be dealt with, one way or another.

    • sparks

      You could always find a cheap double-wide in Manteca.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Liberate Colma!!!

  • pzerzan

    I’m getting tired of having to write this but, once again, this is not a San Francisco problem, this is a regional problem. San Francisco is building housing at a faster rate per capita than New York City. However, Marin and San Mateo Counties are preventing more housing from being build far worse than San Francisco. I know both you and Scott read Slate so why you chose to post that CityLabs article and not this one is beyond me. Also, I guarantee you’re going to keep making long winded arguments about San Francisco NIMBYs without addressing the even worse NIMBYs in the North Bay and the Peninsula or just giving lip service to the problems those folks cause. Typical…

    • kevinjy

      Sure, the Peninsula is worse, and sure, people don’t talk about that enough. On the other hand:

      * The number of new construction permits issued in San Francisco drastically spiked in 2014. That’s the number you’re quoting. One year of construction won’t make up for several decades of barely any construction.

      * The rate at which NYC is building new housing is actually not that high, according to all the numbers I can find, so it’s not necessarily a meaningful comparison.

    • djw

      Yes, I’ve extensively acknowledged this, including today in the other thread. Nothing about the monstrous irresponsibility of Mountain View and Marin county excuses San Francisco’s failure.

      • pzerzan

        Go out of your way to write a front page piece bashing the city while leaving your criticisms of the suburbs to the comments below the fold. Typical…

    • LeeEsq

      A lot of the people moving into the area want to live in San Francisco or Oakland and not one of the suburbs though.

  • MDrew

    Shouldn’t our energy be spent developing devastating demolitions of the arguments that new developments should, per market theology, include absolutely zero “affordable” units, at least following any government intervention, where “affordable” means “which will clear at a price below one the developer would take for a unit she was unencumbered in designing and locating pursuant to her market analysis”?