Dollars or sense?

Few San Franciscans can afford the market-rate homes developers plan to build — so why doesn't the city have a plan to house its workers and low-income residents?


It's no secret that San Francisco is a particularly costly place to live. It consistently ranks in the top 10 most expensive cities nationwide, and it isn't uncommon to see people renting out their walk-in closets as makeshift bedrooms to make ends meet.

There's ample evidence that the city's market-rate housing is out of reach for many families, middle-class workers, and low-income populations, particularly during the recession. Yet the shortage of affordable housing is a problem that is going largely unaddressed at City Hall.

The city's General Plan estimates that a full 61 percent of new housing would have to be affordable to satisfy the housing needs of city residents, but even the most demanding development standards fall far short, producing only about half that amount. And while most new affordable housing is built for low-income people, a sizable portion is intended for first-time homebuyers with salaries at the highest threshold of affordability. In recent years, about one-third of new "affordable housing" was built to sell to people with "moderate" incomes.

So as big plans are mapped out for new residential developments composed of mostly market-rate units, what's the strategy for addressing the underlying affordability gap? And will it ever be enough to keep from further turning San Francisco into a city of rich people while its workers are forced to live elsewhere?

This map, which appears in San Francisco's Five-Year Consolidated Plan, charts concentrations of low- and moderate-income households in the city using HUD 2000 income data. Under federal guidelines, people with low and moderate income could be eligible for affordable housing.

A San Francisco Unified School District proposal to create new housing for San Francisco teachers underscores just how mismatched housing prices are to income. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that San Francisco renters paying market rate in 2010 would have to earn $56,240 to afford rent a one-bedroom apartment, $70,400 for a two-bedroom unit, and $94,000 for a three-bedroom unit, assuming they spend no more than about one-third of their income on housing.

A starting teacher's salary in San Francisco is $50,000, so early-career educators may feel the squeeze. A survey of teachers conducted for the proposal found that 81 percent of respondents were renters, most living with unrelated roommates. More than half had plans to relocate in five years to a city where they could afford to be homeowners.

Housing was a hot-button issue at the Sept. 16 Planning Commission hearing on the environmental impact review for a hospital and housing complex that California Pacific Medical Center wants to build near Van Ness Avenue.

"The CPMC EIR fails miserably to analyze the income of the CPMC work force, and where it's supposed to be housed," affordable housing advocate Calvin Welch told the Guardian. "It's a profoundly important question. If they are [providing] jobs that produce incomes that are insufficient to pay for average market-rate housing in San Francisco, who's responsibility is it going to be to build housing for that workforce?"



San Francisco has a reputation as a diverse, politically engaged hub that supports emerging artists, independent thinkers, and advocates for youth, workers' rights, healthy ecosystems, protections for the most vulnerable segments of society, and hundreds of other causes. Without economic diversity — which is only possible when housing is available to people with a range of incomes — it might be a different place.


The question should be: "Why is the City entitling even more new market rate units that won't cover their impacts and don't meet our needs when we don't have to?"

Progressive policy here would be to down zone the City except for projects that allow the City to buy in 50/50 at development time. Where's the funding for that, you ask?

If developers are frozen out until they work with us to help us both meet our mutual needs, then they will soon become our greatest allies in identifying sources of affordable housing matching funds. Problem solved. This is what negotiating for the public interest would look like.

Don't count on Calvin Welch to take a progressive position to challenge Newsom or the developers in favor of the public interest, because Welch is dependent on Newsom for his MOH money. The affordable housing "community," executives and staff of private nonprofits, holds all neighborhood/community cards at this table, and what whenever they play our moderately strong hand, we get creamed. Like so much in San Francisco politics, it is all about cliques and friendship networks, which quickly eclipse normal metrics like success or failure, a vicious circle which further impedes progress.

The Guardian is tight with Calvin, so Tim and Bruce are not going to challenge him. Welch, known as the Lenin of the Haight, is keen to keep affordable housing policy circles small, what with so much money at stake and nobody with his experience, expertise and record around.

As it stands, progressives can't confront corporate and political corruption until progressives clean house and confront corruption within the nonprofits in general, capital and funding intensive affordable housing agencies in particular. It is going to take ongoing, sustained organizing to move this agenda, organizing which the professional activists have declined to facilitate because they cannot control it.


Posted by marcos on Sep. 28, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

Good call. If we prevent developers from building housing, we'll soon have enough housing for everyone who needs it!

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 12:43 am

The problem is that the planning dept. caters to the developers. BVHP, Treasure Island, Transbay Terminal and Parkmerced all allow regular development and speculation to rule. The real solution lies in development of projects and options/alternatives per CEQA that protect existing housing stock. Parkmerced's plans tear-down units, versus the Infill option, rebuilding and strengthening seismically the existing towers. The impact of SFSU-CSU on the districts housing stock was unaccounted for, and the flipping of units by Stellar Management not even reviewed for its impact on the existing largest family rental housing stock in the city. Parkmerced was the solution prior, it should be the focus on how to rebuild essential rental affordable housing for the future of SF. Parkmerced's "Vision" can be built anywhere in California, Parkmerced itself is eligible for the national register, and could receive tax credits, and still be on the national register utilizing the infill strategy which can meet the project sponsors goals, while addressing directly the need for new rental units. The problem is that the sustainability and green issues of preservation are being tossed by a planning department and developer to green with "green-$-greed"....The planning department and the architect's cozy relationship on numerous projects in SF is troubling stifles ideas, and concepts and provides little actual solution to the current crisis.

Posted by goodmaab50 on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 11:11 am

I find it interesting that in an article bemoaning the lack of affordable housing, the Guardian fails to mention the barriers that are constantly thrown up by anyone and everyone when housing of any amount is proposed.
So Debra thinks its too expensive to build affordable housing in high rises.. any ideas why it is so incredibly expensive to build in SF?
Any ideas why banks are hesitant to lend to builders in the most bureaucratically hobbled development climate in the US? Take your pick among the NIMBYS:
The guardian - check
SF Neighborhood mafia groups- check
The BOS - check
Marc Saloman - check (housing only for verified San Franciscans!)
Randy Shaw - only if the money funnels through me!
Sue Hestor - I've made my living off making sure housing doesn't get built
Calvin Welch - see Randy Shaw

Anyone with 500 bucks and some time during the day can make sure housing doesnt get built, and in SF that is a hell of a lot of people.
Anywhere else in progressive urban America, people are championing densifying and greening underused spaces, but in the SF progressive bubble PROGRESS = making sure nothing changes ever.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 11:17 am
Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

High rise condos are much more expensive to build than stick + concrete construction due to fire escape systems and the like.

The real issue is that nobody from the housing lobbying organizations, HAC or SPUR, is able to give back of the envelope calculations of the following:

- How many units over how long would we need to build in order to see downward pressure on price or price increase?

- What would the City look like afterwards?

- How long would such a construction binge push down prices?


- What happens after that?

I wish I was able to stop the construction of luxury housing, but I've been sold out and abandoned by the nonprofiteers without them even using my relative extremism to push the envelope one unit further.

At this point, equity and parity are viewed as extremist. That's how far we've come.


Posted by marcos on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

Actually, that is completely false.
Spur has published multiple articles on the numbers of housing units SF must build just to provide housing for its current residents - as well as future.
The real issue here is Marc's second point "what will SF look like after" - the common refrain of the NIMBY: that building any amount of new construction will ruin the charm of our small town.

The real goal here is to stop contstruction period - change nothing anywhere ever. People like Marc have made the comment regularly - and why shouldnt they when they have theirs. Of course there is absolutely no correlation between the loss of the culture they view as essential to SF and SF's complete inability to construct new housing. Build nothing because they will come. We build nothing and they still come - and they additionally are better able to compete for housing than what is left of a middle class.

Create a committee and chew on that for ten years - everything will be the same at the end

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 8:29 am

SPUR is a developer lobbyist.

SPUR has put forth numbers of housing units that they say SF can build based on maximum envelopes in service of the developers who pay their bills.

SPUR has not put forth economic analysis that indicates that this new housing will pay its fair share without sucking down city services over the long run. Under Prop 13, housing sees a horizon in its pay more taxes than receives in services metric, where it tends to not turn over and be reassessed, thus costing more than it generates.

Please, supply a link that answers the four questions above, otherwise you're arguing with the waving of the hands, promoting the conventional wisdom that Reagan Youth were brought up to believe, just like the tooth fairy.

People move to San Francisco for a reason. Our city is different from every other City in the US for a reason. SPUR wants to transfer the gold from the goose from commonwealth of a livable desirable city into the pockets of the developers which fund SPUR. Let me tell you a little story about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue.

Here's how it works, we have what they want. What they have we don't really want nor need, in fact, it will probably cost us over the long run to take what they've got off of their hands and they will make more than that in the short run. If we were to run the City like a vaunted business, then we'd be negotiating on behalf of taxpaying San Franciscans to cut the best fucking deal possible for the shareholders of this municipal corporations.

Recent development plans are giveaways pure and simple that are designed to produce political chits for which beleaguered will be on the hook for decades to come. Transit Oriented Development is a sham, our transit infrastructure at capacity and deteriorating, not capable of handling existing loads and with all of the parking associated with new luxury development, expected to take more of a hit (look up "statement overriding the significance of impacts on transit").

The Planning Department is one big corrupt scam, transferring the public largess into the pockets of private developers, with San Francisco destined for their rear view mirrors. We're the suckers in this scam.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 8:29 am

Sorry, too much mental mastur****** going on in there for me to weed through the points, glad you got some curses out though - they clearly underscored your point.
You brought up SPUR - which is why I did.

You can use all the long paragraphs you want to hide what your basic goal is:
Build nothing anywhere ever. See building housing isnt as simple as providing for people who need housing at a lowered cost. According to you building new housing wont provide enough revenue because of prop 13 -
so I guess nothing is greater than something. How much prop tax does a place built and sold in 2010 pay? Is that greater than a similar house built in 1950?

Yeaaaah. You seriously make the tastiest kool-aid, its too bad you spend so much time drinking all of it.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 10:59 am

So you're saying that current San Franciscans should take a hit on our services to bring in new residents so that developers can get richer?

What's the percentage in that?

My longest paragraph was 84 words, your middle paragraph was 83.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

Have you considered at all that a greedy developer built the condo you currently own in the area you are currently helping gentrify?

It would seem that if we had some magical way of some unknown source building condos and not making any money off of them, then it would be easier for your Robin hood self to stomach?

Take out the greedy developer part that you have so much trouble with. Why cant we build to support the people who want to live here? Or are you of the mind that SF is basically full (how lucky for you!) until there comes a point where we magically have a budget surplus which can be used to beef up all these services which will be devastated by new residents ...

SF fails to provide adequate housing for its current residents and fails even more miserably in planning for new residents. My original premise is that this article failed to discuss any of the reasons why it is so incredibly difficult to build in SF. Among those reasons:

a populace unwilling to adjust to change in the built environment no matter how small
a government that feeds on endless discussion and bureaucratic delay and obsesses over unattainable consensus

In other places being progressive means you actually stand for progress... in SF it means you belong to the cult of stasis.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

"Why cant we build to support the people who want to live here?"

Because that is not economically feasible for the City.

What's next, asking San Francisco taxpayers to give gold bricks to everyone who wants to live here as a consolation prize?

If you want adequate housing, then you'll have to convince developers to build adequate housing. What they're building now is luxury housing which is not adequate for most who want to live here who would contribute productively to San Francisco's economy.

Come out behind your shield of anonymity and we'll talk about our post '06 quake condo in a neighborhood I've lived in since before the last quake.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

funny, I thought you had moved away for a few years...
I suppose you are right, It's about as likely that SF would require homeowners to give out gold bricks as it would to build enough housing to adequately house even its current population.
BTW, what happened to your plan to personally verify that every person allowed to purchase housing in SF would be a REAL San Franciscan?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

Anonymous chickenshit.

Have the integrity to own your pimping for developers.

In the post-Reagan era, real estate unified with finance and insurance to create the profitable sector which has out-competed economically productive sectors for capital.

The entities which rebuilt after the quake do not resemble today's developers economically. Look to Florida or Las Vegas for an example of how development is disconnected from the wage base's ability to service the loans on those boondoggles.

The similarity between San Francisco's specialized real estate market and Florida or Vegas' is the imperative to build, build, build in order to advance progress irrespective of the costs.

It had been common practice through the 20th century for developers to build infrastructure for their subdivisions. But now, developers expect for the public sector to cover the costs of their profitable investments even as their lobbyists berate the public sector as incompetent.

Economics and government today are all about siphoning off income trickles from the needs of individuals, families and local government into streams and rivers that flow up to Wall Street. That was not the case in 1908.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 10:04 am

Of course I'm a "pimp" for developers because I think that there is more to the story than "gosh, its expensive to build in SF!"
So let me see if I follow all of this:
Real estate, finance, and insurance are not economically productive.
Developers in 1906 are not the same developers in 2010 - this i agree with

Florida and LV have no bearing whatsoever in the SF real estate discussion.
Florida and LV = drastic oversupply and lots more land to build +political will to build
SF= drastic undersupply with no open land left to build + extreme political reluctance to build

There are no subdivisions in SF. I would really love for you to show me how developers in post quake 06 were paying for roads and infrastructure while they were building over dead bodies and rubble.

You sure have rose colored glasses for post quake SF history

Posted by Guest on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

You are a pimp.

San Francisco has opened a development envelope by zoning for, what, 25,000 new units over the past two years? And you say that there is no political will to build! Those are the words of ap pimp.

The same corruption that led to sprawl in Florida has purchased San Francisco City government to open the envelope with EN and MO rezonings. This is why Tim Colon had Citibank sponsor his 2008 Housing Forum. Why would a bank hip deep in subprime mortgages get involved with local housing lobbyists? I wonder why.

The infrastructure in the Mission was largely in place in 1908. Those developers upon whose ashes and rubble our home was built paid for the original infrastructure.

There are no subdivisions here because that all ahppened a long time ago, back when developers paid their own freight. I'd bet that when the Sunset was built out in the mid 20th century, that those developers provided infrastructure that did not exist previously, not the City and existing taxpayers.

FIRE used to lubricate capitalism, after Reagan, FIRE tried to become capitalism. When FIRE leveraged 30:1 can pay ROI that dwarf any productive investment, then FIRE sucks capital from productive investments that can pay 8% on a good day. FIRE exists now to hook each of us up to catheters that suck down our trickles of payment streams, housing, education, transportation even consumption into rivers of interest that make the super rich richer. That drive for mega ROI is what drives real estate and development today. Insource profits, outsource all costs.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

It was built to the ocean with RR tracks by the city before there were houses past the twenty numbered St's.

Developers are now required to chip into every WPA make work program that the city dreams up.

Do you even follow the politics in this city?

Posted by matlocl on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

Zoning for gold mines does not produce gold. Mission bay was conceived in the early 70's and still isn't built out. It's a little disingenuous to say there is political will to build because some zoning has changed. All it would take is one law suit from Sue Hestor et al to freeze entire sections of the city as is, in perpetuity - a la eastern neighborhoods moratorium

Your whole "I bet that the sunset.." is completely untrue. City streets and sewers (infrastructure) were paid for by City bond, not by developers. The only exceptions to this would have been planned communities like st Francis wood who wished to provide an "upgrade" to what the city would provide.

It's kind of like saying d6 is mostly made up or poor gay males because thats what you see - even though its made up of some of the most diverse census tracts west of the Mississippi. Just because you think it, it doesn't make it true.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

The largest single demographic in D6 is gay males. That is a different statement than the majority of D6 is gay males. Why do you put words in other people's mouths? Where is your source on the Sunset facilities bonds, hidden with your true identity?

Try putting a facilities bond on the ballot to cover the cost of new development today and see what happens. That's gonna be fun to watch. Seriously, please try it.

Why would developers even do that if doing nothing but entitling would leave those who would not support such a bond paying for the infrastructure in the end?

Hestor's nonprofits have their promissories of an ounce of gold from each of your gold bricks. Hestor is not going to sue because her price has been met.

The best part is that none of them are going to get much of what they bargained for as the economics that underpinned those plans no longer exists, even with "stimulus" and all sorts of sweeteners.

Just like the live work loft ban took place after the bubble had popped and had no immediate effect, the EN and MO plans came to fruition just as the real estate bubble had popped.

The truth is that San Francisco government is so cumbersome that it is impossible for it to plan anything while the economic predicates for their dreams are still in place.

All quantitative easing is going to do is support existing CDO fantasy values for a few months longer, not create any jobs to sustain demand capable of servicing mortgages. And you twist in the wind, twist in the wind...


Posted by marcos on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

BS on the demographics. Cite a published statistic, otherwise its just more of your version of reality.

At any rate, here is an article from the 1913 SF chronicle on development of the sunset:
Some choice tidbits:

Improvement of the streets westward from Twelfth avenue, block after block yielding to the steady march of progress has literally paved the way for the builders.

The United Railroads Company is relaying its tracks in Lincoln way with its standard heavy grooved rail, making a roadbed which will assure rapid transit for cars to the beach. This is done in anticipation of heavy traffic over the line. The city is about to pave half the street facing the Park out to the ocean beach.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

Where is the bond you mentioned? Who paid for the utilities? Invigorating climate, eh? Better health, eh? That's painting a rosy picture.

Here's the LGBT same sex couple map from the 2000 census:

D8 is number one, D6 number two. Given that D6 and its SRO housing makes cohabitation difficult, and given that there are SROs in traditionally gay neighborhoods of the Tenderloin/Polk Gulch and SOMA, there is no question.

Who are you? Why do you hide behind a facade of anonymity, are you afraid to stand behind your pimping? What's wrong to you with stating the obvious, that the largest single demographic in D6 is gay men?


Posted by marcos on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

I like how I have to dig up actual proof of my assertions yet you can point out what is "obvious" to you as if it was fact.
I've made my points - and refuted several of your positions.
Who cares who I am. I choose to post anonymously and this board allows for it. Why don't you ask Bruce why he allows anonymous posting?
As for your assertion - It's just bogus that gay men make up the largest demographic in D6 - union sq? Treasure island, hayes valley? Cathedral hill?
Thanks for the lively discussion. See ya in the sauna.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 02, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

i'm the decider, i'm the decider, i'm the decider.
it's my idea that is the best one.
it's my point of view that is smarter than yours.
it's my needs that are more important than yours.
it's my family that needs more resources.
it's my pension that is more precious than yours.
it's my rent that should be free
it's my transportation that should be here when i want it, free.
it's my house that should be expanded. don't block my view.
it's my landlord who should share his equity with me.
it's my supervisor who should listen to me and only me.
it's my coffee that needs individual dripping

it's my pacifier that fell off the high-chair.

i'm a san franciscan and i, and only i, approve this message.

Posted by The Real S F Voter on Oct. 03, 2010 @ 8:16 am

Luxury Housing doesn't pay for itself.

That is the topic of this discussion.

How can you expect for San Franciscans who are not receiving city services from a corrupt government to pay for further corruption by subsidizing luxury housing for commuters to Silicon Valley?

The Planning Department has demonstrated that new condos will not cover their infrastructure costs. The Planning Department has demonstrated that new condos will not cover their operations costs.

Here's a footnoted piece on how San Francisco taxpayers and Muni riders are expected to subsidize luxury housing development with a deteriorating transit system and a crumbling infrastructure:

As if homophobia in the nonprofit housing mafiosi were not bad enough, now we've got explicit homophobia from luxury housing pimps.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 03, 2010 @ 8:21 am

It's too wide
It's too short
It''s for the rich
It's classist
It's hard on transit
It's close to transit
It's too tall
It's too narrow
It's too white
It's racist


What ever the point today, there never needs to be any reference to the past positions.

Posted by matlock on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 8:21 am

I'm Marc and I make my own reality. It is unbelievably rich that you point to your own article to prove your point. I mean, do you even see yourself? Do a google search of yourself sometime and see what comes up.

I'm gay, and I've said nothing about luxury housing - but thanks for getting yourself all worked up - its actually kind of amusing.

If one were looking at this objectively, one might wonder why luxury housing is the only kind of housing that pencils out in this small town. Couldnt have anything to do with how many palms need to be greased just to build to the actual height/bulk limit of a particular parcel.
If I had my way, I would do away with the automatic DR of anything over 40 feet and allow development at will for all projects with are completely within the zoning requirements of the parcel.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 03, 2010 @ 9:40 am

Why do poor people feel that they are entitled to live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.? (even worse, why do they feel they're entitled to be able to move here if they can't afford to in the first place?) I'm poor, if it weren't for my partner's place, I could never afford to live here, and I wouldn't shed a tear about it. (it's not like SF is THAT great, umm, the weather's good.......)

There are plenty of more affordable places in this country where all those low income people originate from.Let them stay there or move to a place like that! It's not like they're contributing to the city if they move here to be section 8, so why should San Franciscans' taxes subsides those people's "desires" to live here?

If no housing will be available then people won't move here, they won't take the jobs in the city, therefore, employers will have to start offering more competitive wages.
One can argue that by subsiding housing for the poor via taxes collected from the middle class, the city ensures that restaurants and other areas of the service sector remain extremely cheap for the rich.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 6:14 am

If I was no threat to you, then you all would ignore me.

Your ad hominem responses to my policies mirror the progressive cliquishness that you so despise.

San Francisco government as heavy machinery to deliver public largess into the pockets of the connected and powerful.

Naming that larceny for what it is threatens you as well it should.


Posted by marcos on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 9:07 am