San Francisco’s Self-Defeating Housing Activists
DEC 29, 2015
… Cutler goes on to point out that “the city’s height limits, its rent control and its formidable permitting process are all products of tenant, environmental and preservationist movements that have arisen and fallen over decades,” and that “the sophistication with which neighborhood groups wield San Francisco’s arcane land-use and zoning regulations for activist purposes is one of the very unique things about the city’s politics. But the city’s political leadership doesn’t want to change it, because it fears backlash from powerful neighborhood groups, which actually deliver votes.”
The cost of housing in San Francisco is a burden to the working and middle classes. It is the product of choices fueled by the self-interest and even greed of the well-off at the expense of the less well-off. But many of the San Francisco activists most passionate about improving affordability in theory are pursuing that goal in economically dubious ways that are, as often as not, counterproductive. The city’s overworked, underpaid housing lawyers can protect a few incumbent tenants from being evicted by especially underhanded landlords who skirt laws that hurt their bottom line. But theirs will be a losing battle until a great deal more high-density housing is built. Development that hits high-density targets is the only viable policy fix and ought to be the highest priority of affordability proponents.
Alas, well-intentioned incumbent San Franciscans are ideologically prone to look for villains elsewhere, and averse to any major changes to the aesthetic of the city they love. The city needn’t lose all its history or its charm to prosper. But it must grow and change a lot, just as it did when the homes owned by its NIMBYs were built.
It doesn’t matter if many of the locals keep hating tech companies.
But I’ll be optimistic that the root of the problem is finally be addressed only if and when the progressives of San Francisco—and low-density peninsula municipalities south of it—stop singling out tech companies for opprobrium and begin to cast preservationist homeowners, the anti-density wing of the environmental movement, and other anti-growth forces as the villains of their morality plays.
Supply and demand is one of the more simple “laws” of human social behavior. If people want more of something than is availble, then the price of what is available rises until demand (i.e. those who want and can afford the something) and supply are in balance. SF Libs & Progs, perversely, are imposing regs that limit housing growth and burden landlords while complaining of the high price of the existing supply of housing.
I see no reason to believe SF and other Bay Area Libs/Progs will recognize that their actions are the root of the problem they claim to want to address. Humans are very resistant to acknowledging, “I was wrong,” and acknowledging one’s political ideology is wrong comes very close to acknowledging one’s world-view is wrong.