Is San Francisco’s Gentrification Such a Bad Thing?

The city by the Bay is rapidly transforming. Should we lament that?

Image in CC0 Public Domain

Karen Heller chronicles “How San Francisco broke America’s heart,” a development I must admit to having missed. The tale is in some ways familiar, albeit on a grand scale.

After a long anecdote to set us up, we get to the meat:

For decades, this coruscating city of hills, bordered by water on three sides, was a beloved haven for reinvention, a refuge for immigrants, bohemians, artists and outcasts. It was the great American romantic city, the Paris of the West.

No longer. In a time of scarce consensus, everyone agrees that something has rotted in San Francisco.

Conservatives have long loathed it as the axis of liberal politics and political correctness, but now progressives are carping, too. They mourn it for what has been lost, a city that long welcomed everyone and has been altered by an earthquake of wealth. It is a place that people disparage constantly, especially residents.

Real estate is the nation’s costliest. Listings read like typos, a median $1.6 million for a single-family home and $3,700 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

“This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” says Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who in a TV interview branded his city “a train wreck.”

You no longer leave your heart in San Francisco. The city breaks it.

The nature of extremely attractive places to live is that the demand for things, most notably scarce land, exceeds the supply, thus driving up prices. It’s exceedingly expensive to live in Manhattan, Boston, DC, Los Angeles, and other great American cities. Ditto Paris, London, and Tokyo. And this is especially true in the more desirable neighborhoods.

So, what’s the problem?

The city is filthy rich in what other regions crave: growth, start-ups, high-paying jobs, educated young people, soaring property values, commercial and residential construction, a vibrant street life, and so much disposable revenue. ButSan Francisco, a city of 883,305 residents, 100,000 more than two decades ago, is the Patient Zero of issues affecting urban areas. The sole constant is its staggering beauty.

Downtown is a theme park of seismic start-ups — Uber, Airbnb, Slack and Lyft, with Twitter in the nearby Tenderloin, every app a skyscraper.

That . . . doesn’t sound like a problem.

In the shadow of such wealth, San Francisco grapples with a very visible homeless crisis of 7,500 residents, some shooting up in the parks and defecating on the sidewalks, which a 2018 United Nations report deemed “a violation of multiple human rights.” Last year, new Mayor London Breed assigned a five-person crew, dubbed the “poop patrol,” to clean streets and alleys of human feces.

Okay, that’s a problem. Eww.

The small downtown’s streets are choked with Google and Apple employee buses, and 45,000 daily Uber and Lyft drivers, some commuting from hours away and unfamiliar with the city. By comparison, there are 25,000 ride-sharing drivers in Philadelphia, a much larger and more populous city.

There’s an ongoing battle between the NIMBYs and YIMBYs over development in one of the nation’s densest cities. Tech companies here are the beneficiaries of gilded carrots, tax breaks. Longtime residents worry that tech workers are drawn here for the jobs, not the city, and may never become stakeholders in San Francisco’s future.

“Our rich are richer. Our homeless are more desperate. Our hipsters are more pretentious,” says Solnit, who once wrote that “San Francisco is now a cruel place and a divided one.”

For the most part, this is a good problem to have. And, again, I can’t think of a large city whose traffic infrastructure can keep up with demand. Even cities famous for their great subway systems, like London and New York, are nightmares to drive in. DC and its suburbs have rush hours that last three and four hours.

Obviously, an increasing homeless population is a problem. Presumably, taxing those who benefit from the growth that’s creating the displacement is part of the solution.

And, unless the people who come to the city for tech jobs are planning to work there for a short time and then move back to whence they came, they’re naturally going to become invested in the community. The community is the people who live there.

The Bay Area is home to more billionaires per capita than anywhere on Earth, one out of every 11,600 residents, according to Vox. The entire region, as far as two hours away, has been affected by spiraling real estate prices. Venture capitalist John Doerr has claimed that the area’s economic growth is “the greatest legal accumulation of wealth in history.”

And it’s only likely to keep growing. Several San Francisco tech companies, such as Slack and Postmates, are scheduled to go public this year — Uber did on May 10. This IPO fever could mint thousands more messenger bag-toting millionaires and, denizens fear, more absurd prices.

“The city is losing the very things that people moved to the city for,” Beatts says. “People think that the best thing to happen is to get a lot of people to move here. But what happens when you get everything you want?”

One is reminded of the old Yogi Bera line, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Obviously, this is bad for longtime residents. For them, it’s almost all downside—more traffic, higher taxes, higher prices, and so forth. But, almost by definition, this growth represents people living and working in a place they prefer to wherever they were living and working before.

And, indeed, the chief lament seems to be over what has been lost to those who’ve been there awhile:

Tech isn’t what everyone talks about in San Francisco. It’s money.
Real estate, income inequality, $20 salads, the homeless, adult children unable to move out, non-tech workers unable to move in.

San Francisco has experienced plenty of change through its rich history: the Gold Rush, corruption, earthquakes, fire, reconstruction, strikes, multiple waves of immigration, the rise of gay culture, the Summer of Love, the dot-com bubble and the dot-com bust.

What residents resent now is the shift to one industry, a monoculture.
“What I wanted was this flow of humanity and culture,” says editor and former nonprofit executive Julie Levak-Madding, who manages the VanishingSF page on Facebook, documenting the “hyper-gentrifiction” of her city. “It’s so devastating to a huge amount of the population.”

To many inhabitants, San Francisco has become unrecognizable in a decade, as though it had gone on a cosmetic surgery bender.

“I can’t tell you the number of friends who tell me how much they hate San Francisco,” says former city supervisor Jane Kim. Which is something given that she ran for mayor in the 2018 special election. (Kim came in third.) “They say it’s too homogenous.”

Too homogeneous. Too expensive. Too tech. Too millennial. Too white. Too elite. Too bro.

To take a midday tour downtown is to be enveloped by a jeaned and athleisured army of young workers, mostly white and Asian, and predominantly male. The presence of a boomer or toddler is akin to spotting an endangered species.

San Francisco has less of what makes a city dynamic. It has the lowest percentage of children, 13.4 percent, of any major American city, and is home to about as many dogs as humans under the age of 18.

The city was once a center of black culture, and Breed is its first black woman mayor. But the African American population has withered to 5.5 percent compared to 13.4 percent a half century ago. Director Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a Sundance winner scheduled to open in June, is an elegy to earlier times and a tribute to his long friendship with the film’s star and co-writer, Jimmie Fails.

“You’re constantly trying to justify why you stay. There’s this blanket of anxiety and frustration that lives on top of everything,” says Talbot, a white fifth-generation San Franciscan. “You’re heartbroken because it’s changed so much and so quickly. This nostalgia is baked into everything, of missing what was here.”

The city has become less eccentric, less of a home to artists and musicians, because they can’t afford studios or practice spaces — if they can find them. How will the city create its next Grateful Dead or generation of beat writers?

The city has produced exactly one Grateful Dead and one generation of beat writers. The former launched more than fifty years ago. The latter, more than sixty. And it’s not obvious that either were more valuable than Silicon Valley.

Still, it’s not obvious that the art and music scene has to disappear because there’s a lot of tech money. Or even bros. The Bay area has produced a lot of bands over the years and there’s no indication that it’s stopping.

As a Southerner with conservative instincts, I’m quite sympathetic to the desire to preserve the culture of a place and the resistance to too much change, too fast. Still, change is inevitable and it certainly appears that much good has come with the bad in this case.

Additionally, the population growth of the city itself has been modest and steady:

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
18481,000—    
184925,000+2400.00%
185234,776+11.63%
186056,802+6.33%
1870149,473+10.16%
1880233,959+4.58%
1890298,997+2.48%
1900342,782+1.38%
1910416,912+1.98%
1920506,676+1.97%
1930634,394+2.27%
1940634,536+0.00%
1950775,357+2.02%
1960740,316−0.46%
1970715,674−0.34%
1980678,974−0.53%
1990723,959+0.64%
2000776,733+0.71%
2010805,235+0.36%
2016870,887+1.31%

Indeed, we see from the data that the city was in decline from the 1950 Census until a slow rebound by the 1990 Census. So, the tech boom would seem to have saved the city in the process of killing it and breaking our collective hearts.

The lament that gentrification is bad for poor residents, particularly the elderly, blacks, and Hispanics is a common and reasonable one. In this case, the displacement seems not to be coming from an influx of whites but rather of Asians:

According to the 2015 census estimates, the ethnic makeup of San Francisco was:

-White: 47.2% (non-Hispanic: 41%)
-Asian: 34.3%
-African Americans: 5.3%
-Native Americans: 0.4%
-Pacific Islanders: 0.4%
-Other: 6.6%
-Two or more: 5.1%
-Hispanic or Latino of any race: 15.3%

The Chinese population of San Francisco represents the single largest ethnic minority group with 21.4% of the population. Other major Asian groups include: Filipinos (4.5%), Vietnamese (1.6%), Japanese (1.3%), Asian Indians (1.2%), Koreans (1.2%), Thais (0.3%), Burmese (0.2%) and Cambodians (0.2%).

Those of Chinese ancestry are concentrated mostly in Chinatown, Sunset District, and Richmond district. Filipinos are concentrated heavily in Crocker-Amazon and SoMa, and the city has one of the largest Filipino communities outside of the Philippines.

San Francisco’s age distribution shows that 13.4% of its population is under 18, 9.6% are 18 to 24, 37.5% are 25 to 44, 25.9% are 45 to 64 and 13.6% are 65 or older. The average age is 38.5 years, and San Francisco has a smaller percentage of children than any other major metropolitan area in the United States.

Interestingly, native-born Californians make up a relatively small percentage of San Francisco’s population, as only 37.7% of its people were born in the state, while 25.2% were born in another state in the country. Over one-third of San Francisco’s population were born outside the country.

Again, I understand why native San Franciscans would feel displaced by this rapid change. But it’s hard to argue that this wildly diverse demographic makeup somehow constitutes homogeneity.

The data isn’t sufficiently granular to identify toddlers and Boomers but we have nearly equal parts—roughly 13.5% each—under 18 and over 64. That seems quite healthy to me.

FILED UNDER: Society
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    The bottom line is that nobody is building affordable housing, and even if you lifted all of the SF’s really bad NIMBY laws you’re going to get nothing but luxury buildings with studios starting at 3,500, all called The Fitch or something. It’s the total pathetic helplessness of American capitalism. If somebody lives and works in a city and can’t afford to live there that’s fucked up. Building homes is not like halting carbon output. It’s the most basic thing in the world, and yet it can’t be done because nobody in their right mind would give or receive a 20 million loan in order to build anything that’s not luxury. That’s why the government in the golden age of the 50s was the force in creating affordable housing stock, but after decades of libertarian propaganda aimed at middle-management losers, you will not be hearing that.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Years ago I read a book about NYC infrastructure (unfortunately I have no idea of the name, the author or even the year I read it) and there was a chapter on one of the water reservoirs in the city. While the author was discussing the history of the reservoir itself, they told another story in passing. I remember coming away astounded that the surrounding neighborhood had gone through at least three cycles of gentrification in the last two centuries. When the neighborhood was good and prosperous property costs shot up, driving out all the small and low cost business and making the neighborhood less desirable. The owners would decamp to a newer, trendier neighborhood with cute little shops, and a neighborhood tavern on the corner that served a reasonable steak and a pint at a decent price. In the old neighborhood, the great houses would get divided up and rented as apartments and over a few decades the neighborhood became less and less costly as the infrastructure decayed. Landlords had no emotional investment in the neighborhoods and did as little as they could to update and maintain the once beautiful buildings. Eventually younger people with a few dollars would start to come in at the edges and buy up houses because they had “good bones” and clean them up, add in gas lines/electricity/wifi depending on the era, fix the roofs and the plumbing, and beautify them. Unlike the landlords they would descend on a the local politicians and demand better streets, lower crime, better schools. Soon the neighborhood was in demand and the housing prices were going up but, since “everyone” wanted to live there now, it was considered a safe investment to pay more and more for those homes and apartments. And eventually the neighborhood was back to the starting point and the cycle would start over. FWIW, I think another contribution is that the people who actually bought and invested the most in the neighborhood tended to be roughly the same age, which meant they cycled through ambition, children, retirement, aging more or less in unison.

    Gentrification is part of a cities life cycle, just as decay is.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    I suspect that this is a problem which will find a solution at some point….either all the support population will get tired of 4 hours of commuting and demand higher salaries, or they will all be replaced by automat machines and working robots. Or we’ll have a huge crash in the economy due to Iran blocking the Straits of Hormuz when Trump finally gets his war-with-Iran on and all the people in downtown SF having taken on millions of dollars in mortgages will go bankrupt. Basically the real estate crash of 2008, version 2.0.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    My brief foray into college was at SF State in 1973. Unlike just about everyone, ever, I never warmed up to the city. It’s gorgeous but it was always insular and smug. It was certainly cleaner and more interesting in those days, there were not tent cities of homeless under every elevated freeway, and of course it was cheaper.

    After bailing out of college I rented a house with my roommate from the dorm and a couple I knew from work. Three bedrooms, nice yard, in the Richmond just outside of Sea Cliff on two law library drone salaries. Not remotely possible now.

    What’s changed is hard to quantify, but back in the day SF had an aura of cool. It’s no longer cool. You can’t be a bedroom community serving Palo Alto and Mountain View and be cool. Cool has moved to Oakland. But there are still creatives it’s just that they create with keyboards not paint brushes or Stratocasters. It’s uncool creativity. It’s corporate creativity. People invested in their proximity to cool are disappointed. They like rebellious creatives, one-offs, outliers, the colorful and the weird, and that’s gone. Some fried hippie chick with ribbons in her hair twirling through the Haight, that’s cool. Platoons of 25 year-old Asian bros are not cool. But hippie girl now sells real estate in Napa and never created anything, while the bros are, for better or worse, the artists of our age.

  5. al Ameda says:

    Background: I was born in San Francisco, lived here, grew up in the inner suburbs, and have worked in the city on and off for the better part of 3 decades.

    One thing I’ve learned is that change is going to happen whether you accept or not.

    The good old days? When was that?

    The late 50’s early 60s ? When the city’s redevelopment agency leveled about 40 square blocks of single family houses in the Fillmore and Western Addition area to build public housing towers, and in so doing effectively caused the decline of a Black middle class district.

    The Central District (Hayes Valley area to the west of city hall) today there are trendy bars and restaurants, and many people have mooved into the area, rents are very high. In the 1970’s I remember open drug dealing and prostitution, it was a crime ridden area.

    The Mission District. Near 14th-16th, Valencia St etc. Back in the early 70s I remember it as a very tough area, and many called it the arson belt. Today, while not gentrified, it’s not the arson belt any more. Out by Precita Park? In the late 60s early 70s it was very tough. A lot of open drug dealing and ancillary crime. Today? Restaurants, cafe’s, high rents, a safe park were mothers bring their kids.

    People have rose colored glasses when it comes to the look back.
    I’m not saying that there are not negative effects to this wave of intense gentrification, but I’m saying that not all of it has been bad.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    @michael reynolds:

    SF’s cool never took to the commodified art regime which now stands in for what makes something cool. In the late 90s, I used to hang out at this bar on Polk with an original clientele I would call beefy longshoremen’s union in housewife drag. Think they only had Bud on tap. I was very much a young gentrifier on the outside looking in, but SF used to be filled with people and places straight out of a Pynchon novel, most of whom were not capital-A artists. They were barely there when I was present, but they contributed far more, I think, than the hippies ever did.

  7. Gustopher says:

    The problem is the zoning. The city has surprisingly low density housing, so it can’t absorb an increase in population.

    But, no one wants to change the zoning in their neighborhood to allow for taller residential buildings, since it would change the character of the neighborhood, and it would lower their property values.

    Seattle has the same problem — a bit more restrictive zoning actually — but we aren’t as far down that path. In the areas that have been up zoned, the single family craftsman homes in the center of their lots are being replaced with four townhomes, or two row houses.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    That’s why the government in the golden age of the 50s was the force in creating affordable housing stock,

    You mean when they destroyed functional inner city neighborhoods, robbed black people blind and subsidized massive suburban sprawl? Yeah, what a golden age.

    Sorry, the NIMBY’s are the problem. Not just in San Francisco, but all over California. People who own houses love seeing the prices go up (given the way Prop 13 works, their taxes don’t go up). And they form a powerful lobby against multi-family housing. Then you have the people who want to preserve the character and all that. The result is people making massive silicon-valley salaries living in trailer and people who aren’t drinking poison. Seattle is seeing similar growth but isn’t having as much of a problem because they’ve building housing.

    You can’t just wave your arms and say, “Ack! Libertarians!” when you’re talking about one of the most top-down, micromanaged areas of the country. Facts matter.

  9. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Gentrification is a red herring. The problem is that San Francisco is that it has low density(Not only in the city of San Francisco, but in the suburbs) and it does not invest enough in infrastructure. You can’t have a large metropolitan area with high paying jobs without a good transportation infrastructure and neighborhoods with good density.

    Even in Brazilian cities that are ridiculously small(There are not even the equivalent to a diner or a gas station there) have apartment buildings, something that’s extremely rare in San Francisco.

  10. john430 says:

    I lived in San Francisco for 8 years and loved it. Met my wife there. But, that was some time ago. In all the comments above I see that left unsaid is the unwillingness of liberal city officials to own up to the problem that unchecked, out of control hedonism is it’s downfall. The City had always accepted “quirkiness” as far back as the days of Emperor Norton and then on to gay communities, hippies, communes, etc. We moved from the Upper Market area and out of state because San Francisco went from “funny-ha-ha” to “funny-sheesh”. Enough was enough. Today it is not “quirky” but an uncivilized cesspool–period.

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  11. Guarneri says:

    Jerry Garcia is dead, people.

    Now all you’ve got is feces, neddles and homeless on the streets. And fog……..

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  12. wr says:

    Teachers. Cops. Firefighters. Waiters. Gardeners. Bank Tellers. Store clerks. Dry cleaners. Burger flippers. Barristas. Paralegals. Crossing guards. Bartenders. Delivery people. Construction workers. Picture framers.

    What do all these people have in common? They — and so many others — don’t make enough money to live with two hours’ commute of San Francisco.

    It’s easy to say “Hey, tech bros are people, too, and why shouldn’t they own the entire city.” But unless the city is nothing more than a dormitory, it needs the people who actually do the work to support it.

    Sure, rich guys are wonderful and they deserve everything we can shovel at them, from tax breaks to indentured servitude. But somebody’s got to clean their condos…

  13. wr says:

    @john430: Yes, the city’s problems with unaffordable housing are all due to hedonism. That’s truly an insight worthy of you.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    @wr:

    Teachers. Cops. Firefighters. Waiters. Gardeners. Bank Tellers. Store clerks. Dry cleaners. Burger flippers. Barristas. Paralegals. Crossing guards. Bartenders. Delivery people. Construction workers. Picture framers.

    What do all these people have in common? They — and so many others — don’t make enough money to live with two hours’ commute of San Francisco.

    That can’t be true, right? The city has all of those people, no? You’re telling me all of them are commuting 4-plus hours a day?

    That it’s hard for poor and lower middle class workers to live in the central city has been a problem for quite some time. It’s true in Manhattan, Boston, DC, etc. It’s probably even more true in San Fran, given that it’s the highest cost of living city in the country. But, surely, people would be barristas or picture framers somewhere else if they weren’t making enough to make the commute worthwhile?

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  15. KM says:

    @James Joyner :

    But, surely, people would be barristas or picture framers somewhere else if they weren’t making enough to make the commute worthwhile?

    No offense, but that’s sounds like someone who’s not had to cling to whatever crappy job they could get in an iffy economy. Most folks – especially if they are drowning in debt – will put up with horrible commutes because they can’t afford to move somewhere else and work the same mediocre job. What barrista is going to move hundreds of miles just to continue being a barrista ? Yeah, housing might be cheaper somewhere else but that’s usually because you get paid less there and not a lot of folks are going to be demanding fancy $10 coffees and framed pictures, know what I mean?

  16. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    That it’s hard for poor and lower middle class workers to live in the central city has been a problem for quite some time. It’s true in Manhattan, Boston, DC, etc. It’s probably even more true in San Fran, given that it’s the highest cost of living city in the country. But, surely, people would be barristas or picture framers somewhere else if they weren’t making enough to make the commute worthwhile?

    People get a half dozen roommates, or live in their cars. I mean, what’s the alternative, go live in Idaho? Do they even drink espresso in Idaho?

    You need people to be able to support service industries. You can’t serve oat milk lattes to cows and empty fields.

    Ok, sure, there’s a middle ground between San Francisco and Idaho, but there’s a far greater pull towards the center than you’re assuming. It’s where the jobs are.

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Seattle is seeing similar growth but isn’t having as much of a problem because they’ve building housing.

    Not enough, not the right kind, and not in the right spots. And our public transportation sucks. We’re just behind San Francisco, making the same mistakes.

    “Luxury” condo towers are being built downtown, and in South Lake Union, and “luxury” apartment buildings along a few corridors, but not enough units to cover the cities growth, and we aren’t doing much with the middle ground between single family homes and condos — the vast majority of the residential areas are zoned for single family homes in the center of their lot.

    Fremont (a Seattle neighborhood, for those not from here) is replacing a lot of the housing stock with denser housing. Prices are ridiculous, though, since demand outstrips supply. My house is worth almost three times what I paid ten years ago.

    But most other surrounding neighborhoods are all single family homes, aside from a thin shell along the major roads.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: You’re leaving out the “stickiness” of the problem. You’re in one location, living month-to-month on a crappy pay check in a dead-end job and decide you want to move elsewhere. Moving is going to require a) finding another job elsewhere (where do you go?), b) finding enough money for first month’s rent as well as any deposit, c) finding enough money for moving expenses, and d) doing this while at the same time you continue to have your existing apartment costs and living expenses. It’s not easy.

  19. just nutha says:

    @wr: And don’t forget that it’s teh liburlz that are to blame for all that hedonism. SMH

  20. wr says:

    @James Joyner: Recent articles in the NY Times have talked about restaurants closing in SF because they can’t afford staff, and many that are still there are struggling because labor costs are so high.

    And of course, there are still working people around, but it’s getting harder and harder for them, and they’re getting pushed further and further away.

  21. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: And also… Northern California is really magical in so many ways. It’s physically beautiful, there are mountains and beaches and clean air and there’s still a great culture, even if it’s being crushed by Silicon Valley. For many people, leaving California is unimaginable… at least until there’s no choice.

  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    @wr:

    I’ve long wondered what the rich would do, if the worker bees that keep cities running, simply said enough, I’m not going to do this commute any longer. It won’t happen for the reasons that several commentators have mentioned, but it would be just.

  23. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “That it’s hard for poor and lower middle class workers to live in the central city has been a problem for quite some time. It’s true in Manhattan, Boston, DC, etc.”

    I can’t speak to Boston or DC, but in New York there are still affordable, commutable places to live. You can live in Queens or The Bronx and commute quite easily into Manhattan. In San Francisco you’ve got Silicon Valley to the south, Marin County — among the most beautiful and expenses areas in the country — to the north, Berkeley and Oakland to the east, gentrified and gentrifying rapidly, and to the west nothing before Hawaii. The only “cheaper” areas are east of the Berkeley hills, and there what used to be depressing commuter suburbs are now fabulously expensive commuter suburbs. Ten years ago my brother-in-law, who does installation and maintenance work on phone systems, took a job in the Bay Area. He ended up living in a trailer in Manteca, 90 minutes away in no traffic and four hours the rest of the time… and then took a job in Austin. And again — that was ten years ago. It hasn’t gotten better…

  24. Modulo Myself says:

    @Hal_10000: @Gustopher:

    Taller residential buildings have done wonders for housing costs in Long Island City and Williamsburg, that’s for sure.

  25. David S. says:

    @Gustopher: Seattle is having the same problem, but the magnitude of the problem is much, much, much less specifically because they’re willing to upzone. It’s not impossible that Seattle will end up like SF, but they’re at least walking down the road at a slower pace.

    The fact that the city council, and the city, was willing to butt heads with Bezos at all is worth something. As you say, it’s not enough, but it’s more than SF is trying.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    No offense, but that’s sounds like someone who’s not had to cling to whatever crappy job they could get in an iffy economy. Most folks – especially if they are drowning in debt – will put up with horrible commutes because they can’t afford to move somewhere else and work the same mediocre job.

    Sure, I get that. But a two-hour commute from San Fran would presumably mean you’re living somewhere with a Starbucks. Or homes to clean. Why not work there?

    I suppose I could see working for a big city police department and the lure of the pension. That’s probably not available in the exurbs. But most hourly wage jobs can be done anywhere—and the economy is doing pretty well on that front.

    @wr:

    in New York there are still affordable, commutable places to live. You can live in Queens or The Bronx and commute quite easily into Manhattan.

    That’s fair. Things are still very expensive even an hour out of DC. You have to get down to Stafford and the like to really get to anything like “normal” prices—and then the schools suck.

  27. Tyrell says:

    Thoughts of San Francisco bring images of the “city by the bay”, Tony Bennett, streetcars, the Golden Gate Bridge, great restaurants, “Vertigo”, Karl Malden, and Michael Douglas.
    That was another era. This is now and people talk about vagrant tent cities, streets lined with trash, needles all over sidewalks (the vaunted needle exchange program – evidently not so great), and people using the sidewalks as a restroom. Even the new mayor says that has to end. Instead of using the money to hire more people to clean the streets, they should use it to build centers for these homeless people somewhere out of town where they can get some help. Those who have addictions can get help.
    The days of San Francisco as a big tourist attraction are over and that’s sad.
    Solutions? Priority is to clean the streets up: no more tents, camping out, or using it as an open sewer. Cheaper housing is needed. Offer free transportation out of the city.
    It was “I left my heart in San Francisco” (Bennett). Now it is “I left San Francisco”
    “SF tourist industry struggles to explain street misery to horrified visitors” (Heather Knight)

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  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, change is hard, and the city is changing.

    When I was a grad student at Stanford in the early 80’s, downtown Palo Alto was a fun place to go. There were several art house theaters, led by the New Varsity. There were also bookstores and college-hangout style pizza places.

    All that stuff is gone now, replaced by stores that are so upscale that I find them repulsive. There is literally nothing I want on University Avenue. I see it as the street of VC and corporate CEOs now. Maybe they want that stuff, because I sure don’t.

    I think the same thing is happening in the City. I have no answer. Everything changes. The world cannot be preserved in amber. When I go back to the place I grew up, it’s all different, and not in a way I find attractive or appealing. Nobody asked my permission to change it all, either.

    Now, SF and CA in general have done a very bad job at building new housing. I am convinced that more housing of any kind helps. As condos/apartments that were once “luxury” age, they move down market, and become cheaper. But that process got interrupted for a couple of decades and we’re reaping the results of it now.

    In a sense you are right though. Gentrification is part of the life cycle.

  29. wr says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “I’ve long wondered what the rich would do, if the worker bees that keep cities running, simply said enough, I’m not going to do this commute any longer.”

    It’s basically Atlas Shrugged written by someone who isn’t a sociopath.

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    @just nutha:..And don’t forget that it’s teh liburlz that are to blame for all that hedonism.
    Most of it anyway:
    Dead Republican brothel owner wins election in Nevada

  31. Mister Bluster says:

    @Tyrell:..they should use it to build centers for these homeless people somewhere out of town

    No kidding! What’s your zip code?

  32. michael reynolds says:

    We should remember homeless is not necessarily unemployed. A lot of those people in tents under the freeway are baristas, etc…

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    @michael reynolds:..We should remember homeless is not necessarily unemployed.

    Some of the city council members and the mayor here in Sleepytown have done an informal survey of local panhandlers and have found that many of them are not homeless.

  34. john430 says:

    @wr: Using your perspective I have to ask: What is an “affordable” rent for a drug addled person who publicly dumps on the sidewalk and panhandles using threats to passers-by? Additional housing can only be made available by expropriating single family homes from other citizens. In case you haven’t noticed, the city and county of San Francisco sits on the tip of a peninsula and there is no more land. Of course, you can always build on Golden Gate Park, level the restaurants and shops in the Fisherman’s Wharf area and develop tent cities under the Golden Gate bridge. Failing that, I suppose you could always seize Treasure Island and make it a homeless encampment.

  35. THX-1138 says:

    Former resident of SF myself. Lived in the city since 1980 until 2015. I saw the changes happening live, I mean faster than watching paint dry. You wanna point fingers, point at city hall and their liberal policies. How else are you gonna make a city attractive to outsiders without sacrifice at the expense of the working class and the poor? City hall talks a lot about helping the working class but have very little to show for. Have any of you seen the Mayor’s Office of Affordable Housing? These affordable housing go for around $400 to $500K with about $500-$900 a month for HOA. How affordable is that to a family of four with two parents working while paying someone to look after the kids? What about Muni and the monthly pass prices? See, it’s not just the rich are benefiting. It’s also more money for city hall’s coffer. Just about every studies have shown that raising the prices of government services only hampers the working class and poor, regressive tax. It’s all smoke and mirror. Face it folks. As much as city hall folks loathe the rich (at least they love to go on tv and say it), it’s an unholy alliance. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Both are the beneficiaries whereas the working class and the poor are being pushed out. There is no fix.

  36. wr says:

    @john430: I’d love to engage with you, John, but I’ve just learned there are hedonists on this site, and I’m afraid they might pollute your perfectly clean soul. I think you should go spend your life doing what God put you on earth for — to make sure no one anywhere is enjoying themselves in any way. Go stamp out the evil hedonism that destroyed your fair city. Then come back and tell us about your victory.

  37. john430 says:

    @wr: You really are a moron. But apologies if English is your second language. Please note: From Merriam-Webster:

    The Modern Definition of Hedonism
    When hedonism first appeared in English in the middle of the 19th century, it referred to the doctrines of certain schools of philosophy in ancient Greece (such as the Epicureans and Cyrenaics), who held that happiness or pleasure constituted the chief goal in life. As used today, the word frequently carries a judgmental tinge. If someone is described as living a life of hedonism, the implication is that he or she derives happiness from debauchery rather than, say, spending quality time with family or forming meaningful relationships at work. Hedonism comes from the Greek hēdonē (“pleasure”), which also provides the root of the word anhedonia (“a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts”).

  38. just nutha says:

    @john430:

    Additional housing can only be made available by expropriating single family homes from other citizens.

    I’m so sad that you live in a place where that is the only way housing can be built. Lots of other places have other means as well.

  39. just nutha says:

    @THX-1138: (Tried to add this to my previous comment but was blocked.)
    “There is no fix.” Alas, you may be right. Again, I am so sad about the state of the situation.

  40. john430 says:

    @just nutha: I no longer live in San Francisco but you still have to remember that there is no more land.

  41. Gustopher says:

    @john430: In the People’s Democratic Republic of Seattle, private developers purchase single family homes, tear them down, and build townhouses, about 4 per lot, quadrupling the density of people per land, paying the former owners who agree to sell market rates, and making a profit for themselves in the bargain. Horrors.

    At least, where the Socialist City Council zoning allows for it.

    Is that “expropriating single family homes from other citizens”?

    Seattle has some of the problems of San Francisco, including a lot of limits because of geography. We should be allowing for more of this, and running light rail lines into these newly denser neighborhoods.

  42. Gustopher says:

    @john430:please explain how threesomes and buttsex and other hedonisms affect property prices.

    Are people willing to pay more for a home knowing that there has been hedonism in it?

    Are people from across America attracted to the hedonism, and competing for the available housing supply? Are you suggesting that if SF was as boring as Idaho, it wouldn’t have any of that population growth?

    Are tech employers attracted to the hedonism, is that why they are setting up shop there and not Idaho?

  43. john430 says:

    @Gustopher: Specific aspects of hedonism that I had in mind were rampant drug-use, public defecations and related acts. You sound like you are the one concerned about threesomes and anal sex. Enjoy!

    “…and making a profit for themselves in the bargain. Horrors.” basic economics seem to elude you. After the developers get their profit you now have town-homes that the working class STILL can’t afford. Clue: Replacement costs to build are based on today’s economy and “market rates” also apply to new construction.

  44. wr says:

    @john430: Right. You’re terrified that someone out there might actually be having a good time instead of trembling on his knees in front of the altar of your choice. Your kind has always plagued mankind. Now run along and find some children playing on a lawn you can yell at.

  45. wr says:

    @john430: “Specific aspects of hedonism that I had in mind were rampant drug-use, public defecations and related acts”

    So in your mind people shit in the street because they enjoy it… not because they can’t afford a place to live and there are no public toilets. What a sick, tawdry, ugly little mind you have. You consistently name yourself after Bible verses (and then lie about that for reasons no one could possibly understand), and yet you seem to think that what Jesus preached was “hate everyone.”

    Sad, sick, pathetic. I bet you have a whole collection of MAGA wear.

  46. Gustopher says:

    @john430: Those four to a lot town homes each cost less than the single family home that was there before. Still pricey, but that’s because so much of the city is zoned for low density that it doesn’t put a dent into the housing shortage.

    I don’t know whether a market oriented solution would work well enough, but I do know that we haven’t even tried it. I’d expect it is only part of the solution, and that better transit to make outlying areas closer to the core of the city (in terms of time, not distance) is also required.

    But again, is it expropriating?