Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:31:00 am
by Peter Wong.

Propositions B & C allow San Franciscans to decide the fate of the controversial 8 Washington condo project.   This project will do the opposite of what needs to be done to address San Francisco’s current housing problems.  In fact, it’ll contribute to the worsening of a particular socioeconomic problem in America.  That’s why I’m voting No on Propositions B and C.

Nobody denies that there’s a serious imbalance between the people who want to live in San Francisco and the amount of housing available to shelter them.  At 18,000 people per square mile, San Francisco is second only to New York City for the Most Densely Settled American City crown.  San Francisco Planning & Urban Research Association (SPUR) executive director Gabriel Metcalf notes this situation has been worsened by the size of the employment boom brought by the likes of Twitter. 

The city’s real estate market prices reflect this imbalance.  The current San Francisco median home price is $825,000, a significant increase from last year’s median of $700,000.   Condominium prices are not much better.   Their current median price is $810,000, a price spike from the August 2010 median of $630,000.

As for rental properties, the arrival of waves of highly paid workers has caused local landlords to treat their properties as potential gold mines.  The Ellis Act has been the key instrument for landlords to evict those San Franciscans who don’t make tech worker salaries.  This map, which stretches from the 1990s tech boom to the present, shows the unfortunate results.    Thanks to the Ellis Act, 3,705 families have been evicted from their apartments over the course of 16 ½ years.

Propositions B and C embody a familiar but seductively false solution expressed by the S.F. Controller’s chief economist Ted Egan.  The thinking goes that if enough robust housing construction happens, the increased housing supply will allegedly lower housing prices in the long run.  However, once 8 Washington’s very high-end condos are added to S.F.’s housing supply, wouldn’t the value of these new condos cause median condo prices to spike even higher?  Nor does the 8 Washington project and others like it answer the also relevant question of how much new housing would have to be built to bring S.F.’s house and condo median prices down.   Surely if the goal was to make S.F. more affordable for those lacking high 5- or low 6-figure incomes, a majority of 8 Washington’s units should be affordable to those of modest means. 

But 8 Washington is not for the waiters who keep San Francisco’s restaurants humming or the office clerk who works in the Financial District.  Instead, complexes like the subject of Propositions B & C are for those who treat a city’s land as “a global reserve currency.”   As has happened in London and New York City, the potential customers for this contested project see the condos here as either an investment or a pied-a-terre from which one can venture forth on a whim to enjoy the city’s great dining and cultural entertainment. 

Popular approval of Propositions B & C means approval of a worsening of income inequality in San Francisco.  For those who think such inequality is not a local problem even after the Occupy movement raised the issue, your attention is directed to a page of graphic representations of income inequality in other major cities.  San Francisco is the representation on the bottom. 

 Kenneth Rosen, the chair for the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, may call the influx of high-income workers an overall good for the city.  Those with moderate incomes get Rosen’s politely regretful acknowledgment as the people who will lose out. SPUR’s Metcalf may see nothing wrong in turning the San Francisco Bay Area into a mega-city where the wealthy live in San Francisco proper while the peons make do commuting in from as far away as Stockton.

The values the 8 Washington project represents goes against the spirit of San Francisco.   The city earned its place as a haven for personal reinvention and an incubator for offbeat creativity by not making residency dependent solely on the size of one’s bank account.  The likes of 8 Washington would enshrine the attitude that San Francisco is merely a place for parking one’s mobile financial wealth.  This belief is poor soil for nurturing civic investment in the city.    

A better solution to San Francisco’s housing shortage was offered by ex-SF Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond.  He favored treating SF’s rental housing as a public utility by barring evictions for anything but just cause and establishing rent control on vacant apartments.  Also, rather than forcing the middle class or economically worse San Francisco residents out of the city, it should be the  Twitter millionaires who should contend with commuting from Stockton or the Peninsula. 

However realizable Redmond’s solution is, one thing can be stated for certain.  The 8 Washington project does not offer the types of housing benefits or sociopolitical benefits that San Francisco desperately needs.  Vote No on Propositions B & C.


Tags: 8 Washington, Propositions B & C, income inequality, real estate prices, Ellis Act


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