Has San Francisco SOULed Out?: Who really is to blame for SF’s Cultural Shift pt 1

Programmed-to-chase-likes

It has become grossly apparent that the once, vibrantly raw streets of San Francisco, full of oddballs and eccentrics, is slowly being replaced with a hollow shell of architecture and “economically confident”. But is it all due to the “techies? ” I wonder as they stare soulessly at their Twitters and Twats, awaiting for their rectangular white chariots to take them to “campus,” where the food is bottomless, where no buttock is left un-heated, and the internet works in every crevice. Yes, every crevice.  I would know. I was somehow deemed “Googly enough” and hired to be on the Google Glasshole Team last year. I was an impostor who walked among them for 5  months. At heart I was an Indie film-maker and San Francisco native trying to finish a film and make ends meet, but I was doing what I needed to do so I wouldn’t get priced out of the very city I grew up in. I did not last half of my contract.

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Who is to blame?

You may have heard the rumors that San Francisco’s soul has taken a sabbatical in Oakland, but is her absence really due to the reasons you think? Yes, Google and Twitter may pay these well-fed working stiffs enough to afford a significant chunk of their income towards market rate rents, but are they the root of the issue or also victims like us? Mass media is quick to cover Google bus protests, while economic theories tells an opposing story. What most people don’t realize is that it is the residents and policymakers of SF who support legacy zoning restrictions, block new construction and eviction of residents that may in fact be slowly smothering the city’s soul. Who are these people to blame? We are. We have become our own worst enemy, and we don’t even know it.

A Neighborhood without Neighbors

The same people who are quick to complain about the affordability of the city, are the same ones who will oppose any new construction that may obstruct their view or for the ever-so-ironic fear of changing the “character of the city”. The amount of red tape we’ve erected is being woven in a blanket, suffocating us into a “Hipster-pocalypse” nightmare.

After all, what is a neighborhood without your neighbors? San Francisco is a boom town. Always has been. Many of us can trace our history back to one of San Francisco’s peak moments of prosperity. To attack the tech workers arriving in the current boom is to attack our own identity. Tech companies are as much of San Francisco’s identities as gay rights or Bush man. Plus, the tech sector only makes up 8% of the wealth. They are not the enemy, and in fact create 5 non-­tech jobs for every 1 tech position.

It’s time we took a step back and educated ourselves as voters about basic economics so that we don’t continue to suffer from the unintended consequences of well meaning but shortsighted policies. Learning about and supporting solutions that both keep us in our homes and accommodate newcomers drawn by the same charm that brought us here, will help keep San Francisco diverse, affordable, and soulful.

The Rent Control Fallacy

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I grew up in the old Italian neighborhood of North beach. I think I learned the words“rent control” before I muttered the words “mom.” When I got older and started researching this issue, I was stunned to find out that 93% of economists agree that rent control is a significant contributor to our housing crisis. I didn’t want to believe it. It felt so counter intuitive, since most of us have always been taught that it is rent control that keeps us in our homes. However, in every market in which rent control has been introduced, it has led to a decrease in the quantity and quality of housing available.

We grew up thinking all landlords were rich, greedy slumlords who never “wanted” to fix anything. Whereas landlords also stereotyped SF renters as squatting complainers. The system, as it is, breeds distrust and contempt. Even right now, there are 36,000 vacant residences in San Francisco that could be homes to people, but because  laws are so biased towards renters, landlords have no incentive to rent them out. These same landlords receiving large rent checks monthly have every incentive to prevent new housing since it results in less competition, allowing them to increase rents with each new tenant without earning a greater rent by investing in improving their properties.

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Meanwhile, renters fortunate enough to have rent control have permanently checked out of the housing market, oblivious to how San Francisco’s housing market is evolving … OR not evolving. Most remain willfully ignorant of the fact that they might outgrow their tiny studio or communal living. that they might want to start a family, its far too late; because how exactly does one reconcile moving out of their $700 a month room to a $3500 two bedroom with enough room for themselves and one kid? God forbid you want two kids.

When you check out of the housing market, you’re effectively reducing the demand for additional housing that would prompt changes in zoning and more construction. Had most of us renters been back in the market every couple of years, we would have demanded changes decades ago that would have allowed us to grow with the city.

Out of all my childhood friends, I’m one of very few who have managed to stay in San Francisco and thrive here. When I tell people I’m a native, they say “A unicorn! I heard you exist, but haven’t actually seen any myself– until today. “ In fact, San Francisco has the lowest number of kids per capita of any city in the United States.

How bad is it?

Francisco, in all its 7 x 7 miles of glory, is the home to a mere 839,336 San Franciscans, yet is the most expensive city in the United States. Right now, there are 372,560 rental units in the city. Out of those, 172,000 are rent controlled.

According to US Census bureau, the median  household income in SF in 2013 was $74,922 ­ that is $23,551 greater than the US median household income!. Most tech workers are not even that much better off than the median, having arrived in the city in the past decade when rent was already sky high. If you earn under the median income and pay a rent controlled since 1995 $800 month for your one bedroom, you’re economically not much better off than a tech worker earning $101k and paying a 2014 market rate $2250 a month (or 26% of your gross salary) for a 1-bedroom.

The Future of SF Housing

Despite the fact that the cost of living in San Francisco will most likely continue to increase for the foreseeable future, the projections suggest that newcomers will continue to move to San Francisco. Yet, only an average of 1,500 new housing units per year were created over the past decade, despite a population growth of 75,000 people. In the next 25 years, San Francisco is projected to be home to another 150,000 residents and by 2032 we are projected to hit a million people. So I ask you, what kind of people will make up this city if only a specific socio-­economic status and demographic can afford to remain here? With an already alarmingly fast rate of rent increases in the city, how can these newcomers hope to afford to live in the city? And what will happen to those who already called SF home?Will we continue to let San Francisco sell our soul to the highest bidder or will we finally put down the misguided picket signs aimed at the tech companies, and start pointing them to the real culprits? Ourselves.

Coming soon: Part 2: “5 Soul-utions to the Housing Crisis” 

Statistical data sources:

Population/Labor Stats: 
 
 
 
 
 
San Francisco Housing Stats:
 
 
 
 
Home Prices:

 
Tech Job stat:  Enrico Moretti, a UC Berkeley economics professor who wrote “The New Geography of Jobs”

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About the author

Alexandra Liss - Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

Alexandra Liss is a unicorn aka a San Francisco native, Entrepreneur Whisperer, Sharing Economy Evangelist, Vagenius. Co-author of www.ItsaShareableLife.com, Videographer for hire www.BrandbarSF.com, Director of www.OneCouchataTime.com.
  • Heather S.

    Rent control doesn’t work. Anyone lucky enough to get a rent controlled apartment just rents it to a techie for 2k more than they pay, then bitches about all the techies.

  • Daniel Hooper

    Where does one find an $800 a month one-bedroom in San Francisco? Last time I check, the cheapest one-bedroom was going for closer to $2000 a month.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    The only 1 bedroom for $800 you will see is a rent-controlled apartment that someone has been living in 10+ years – which is what the article is referring to. You are correct, a market rate median 1-bedroom is above $2k: http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2013/05/23/mapping_the_average_rental_rate_of_a_one_and_two_bedroom_in_san_francisco.php

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Good point – How do you think Airbnb and subletting has contributed to this madness?

  • Melissa Tan

    I’d love to see some links to the data points used in this.

  • http://brokeassstuart.com Broke-Ass Stuart – Editor In Cheap

    There’s a link at the bottom of the post.

  • David

    Awesome piece! Glad to see someone writing about the real reason for the rent spike. SF needs to densify! Manhattan has 4x as many people per sq mile. And while building more housing, we also need to get a respectable subway system. It’s crazy that you basically need to own a car in so many parts of the city.

    You _can_ find places for as cheap as $800. I have a friend living in a 4-bedroom place in Noe Valley paying that little. Her landlord just doesn’t care or notice, which also means the place hasn’t been maintained in ~20yrs. They occasionally have a roommate move out, which is when they post to Craigslist and then sift through the 40+ responses that arrive immediately.

  • K

    So here’s your actual bullshit 93% stat: In 1992, 93% of American and Canadian economists surveyed agreed with the statement “A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”

    SF has no such thing–currently vacant apartments can be rented out at full market rate. There is absolutely no limit or regulation on the rent a landlord charges for a vacant apartment. And, indeed, despite what you’re implying here, our vacancy rates are the 6th lowest in the country.

    Prop 13 was passed with similar claims to what you’re making here–claims that lower property taxes would mean lower rents for everyone. Guess what happened? Landlords pocketed those property tax savings and rents rose *faster* than before.

  • http://www.thetenssf.com The Tens

    This post deserves an article rebutting a lot of what is claimed, but to touch on a couple of things: The average rent for a 1-bedroom in 1995 was no where close to $800. In 1999, the closest year to 1995 that I could quickly find data for, the average rent for a 1-bedroom was $1,604. http://www.sfrb.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1869 Although rent prices increased dramatically in the late 1990s, they did not double. Even splitting the difference, a 1-bedroom rent controlled apartment rented for $1,200 in 1995 would be subject to an over 31% increase in allowable banked increases. This would make that person’s rent $1,579 today, assuming there were no capital improvement pass-throughs, which would increase that rent even further.

    Also, the claim “”That puts the average San Franciscan in the 70th percentile nationwide” would be true if the average San Franciscan made $74,000, but she is using HOUSEHOLD income to determine that. The median San Francisco household would be somewhere in the low to mid-60s percentile. And yet, she uses median household income to figure the rent for a ONE BEDROOM.

    Additionally, an estimated 23% of San Franciscans live at or below the poverty line (http://www.sfgate.com/business/bottomline/article/State-Bay-Area-poverty-from-sobering-perspective-4858389.php)

    Regarding this nonsensical claim: “The same people who are quick to complain about the affordability of the city, are the same ones who will oppose any new construction… I’ll just let the writer’s words do the talking: “A unicorn! I heard you exist, but haven’t actually seen any.” Her claim is oft-repeated by hardcore pro-development mouthpieces, but as someone who works with many who fight for housing justice, I don’t know any who oppose new construction without good reason and don’t know any who don’t support the construction of affordable housing in general. Sorry whoever’s luxury skyrise didn’t get built on the waterfront, but that wasn’t progressives who led that battle.

  • anadromy

    The end rent control chorus gets a little louder. I’m sorry but it’s a naive libertarian fantasy (though putting those three words together in any context is redundant, IMO). These lines, in particular, are particularly pie-in-the-sky:

    “When you check out of the housing market, you’re effectively reducing the demand for additional housing that would prompt changes in zoning and more construction. Had most of us renters been back in the market every couple of years, we would have demanded changes decades ago that would have allowed us to grow with the city.”

    Translation: people should be booted out of their homes by greedy landlords so that (magically) more housing would be constructed and (magically) zoning laws would be changed. Give me a break. To use the blogger atrios’s construction, you’re calling for this:

    1) end rent control
    2) massive displacement of stable renters
    3) ????
    4) more housing for everyone!

  • anadromy

    Also, Broke-Ass: that little census link does not even come close to cutting it. There are all sorts of dodgy figures stated as fact but lacking any sourcing / citation whatsoever in this piece.

  • http://www.whatsupsf.com bassguitarhero

    What would happen if rent control ended? Here’s a quick example:

    Say you have 10 apartments, 5 are rented at market rate of $1,000/mo and 5 are rented at rent controlled rates of $500/mo for an average rent of $750/mo.

    Now you get rid of rent control, the rent controlled tenants are evicted and the apartments are re-rented out at market rate of $1,000/mo. What happens to the average rent?

    The only way to lower the market rate for rent is to create more supply than there is demand. In the middle of an affordable housing crisis, ending rent control would do nothing about demand, nor does it create more supply. Apartments would simply turn over to market rate with new tenants.

    In other words, what Alexandra is arguing for is not ending rent control to attack the housing crisis, but rather for ending rent control to remove tenant protections so her friends at Google can displace more tenants.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    That was not my point. at. all. Never did I suggest ending rent control in a midst of a Housing Crisis. In no way am I trying to protect my corporate-ladder-climbing Google “friends” for whom I worked with for 5 horrific months… What I did realize from taking that god awful wifi-ed bus FOUR hours a day, is that no one is winning in this market. NO ONE. I’m just a filmmaker and SF native who is trying to make it in this city instead of getting priced out of my own stomping grounds like most everyone I grew up with… I am one of the few folks commenting on this issue who actually grew up here — shaped by its history, flavor, and eccentricities are rooted in me, so when I suggest that we need to re-look the rental control situation, its because solid research and economists are all saying the same thing. Its counter intuitive, I know more than anyone – but we need look beyond the mass media over-coverage of google protests or to our friend’s facebook status updates as our compass for who to be angry at now. I know you are angry. I am angry. My own mother got priced out after 30+years- Its just not right… I understand this is a very emotion-driven, frustrating, and complex issue, so I expected some heated responses — but dang, does no one read anymore? Cause my words have gotten twisted into sentences I didn’t even say. So let me clarify: The entire purpose of Part One to this article is to encourage us, the voters, the residents, the SOUL of this legendary city, to start thinking beyond ourselves and to seek out the statistics/economics behind what really causes a crisis, so we can work towards actual solutions. Protesting google buses is not going to solve anything, but encourage misinformation and misplaced blame. We need to tackle these deep-rooted issues by coming at it and facing the hard truth about what contributes to our Housing situation. Its going to take multi-faceted solutions — and an open mind… Check out part 2, for “5 Solutions to the Housing Crisis”

  • http://brokeassstuart.com Broke-Ass Stuart – Editor In Cheap

    Hey The Tens -

    If you write a respectful rebuttal argument, I’ll publish that as well.

  • 10 year resident

    Rent control is the ONLY reason we were able to have a kid in the city. Otherwise we would have been priced out. The anti rent control aspect of this article feels poorly researched to me. I agree with the commenter that said the “93% of economists agree” is bullshit. This is a complex macroeconomic question and applying simplistic microeconomics is faulty logic. You can’t know it’s effects without knowing the demand curve (there’s some economics for ya) and it’s enjoy rely possible that demand is so strong that everything would shoot up to 3500 or whatever. Sf style rent control does not absolutely fix pricing. It rewards long term residency. And that is important for building communities and raising families in a town where few can afford to buy.

  • Bob Koelle

    “It felt so counter intuitive, since most of us have always been taught that it is rent control that keeps us in our homes.”

    From anybody living outside of NYC or SF looking in, nothing about this is counter-intuitive. Sell a commodity at artificially low prices, and the supply disappears.

    Meanwhile, is anybody going to object to the raging personal insults in her first paragraph? Are her points about soulless tech workers simply accepted as dogma? Cry of the future: “I never said these people should be assaulted!”

  • http://brokeassstuart.com Broke-Ass Stuart – Editor In Cheap

    You don’t have to agree with everything Alexandra says, but there’s no reason to be nasty. Personally I’m in favor of rent control, but I was interested in seeing the conversation that would happen on this site surrounding this article, especially since my politics are well known as progressive.

    That said, if someone wants to write a *respectful* rebuttal please do so and I’ll publish it as well.

    But stop being dicks people.

  • http://www.whatsupsf.com bassguitarhero

    The issue in San Francisco is astoundingly simple: On the one hand you have people who sit on buses for four hours a day to go to mountain view, work for one of the largest corporations in the world and make a lot of money so they can live comfortably. On the other hand, you have people who have chosen jobs that pay less so that they can live and work in the community they love.

    When people talk about “the soul of this great city,” what are they referring to? The art, the culture, the community, the amazing weird wild and wacky things that can *only* happen in San Francisco because of the spaces, places and community that the people here foster. But let’s be honest – San Francisco didn’t create the community, the community created San Francisco.

    That is what people mean they talk about “the soul of this great city.” And at the end of the day, the people who value living and working in their community are the ones being pushed out by the people who commute out of the city to make large amounts of money. Clarion Alley wasn’t painted by people who only participate in San Francisco on nights and weekends – it was built by people who live and breathe San Francisco first and worry about their paychecks second.

    Six months ago I wrote a piece on medium.com about the upcoming battle over rent control: https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/9e9fc91f4b92 What I said in the piece was that as the tech bubble reaches its zenith, tech workers will set their sights on rent control. Why? Because they’re frustrated that not even $100k paychecks can get them whatever they want when renters have legal protections. Alexandra’s article sums that up perfectly.

    I’m not anti-tech worker, I program myself and have a number of friends who work for different tech companies. Tech is not destroying San Francisco – rampant consumption of culture and public spaces by people who have no connection to their community is what’s destroying San Francisco. Tech just happens to be the vehicle that allows people to make the money they need to displace others. It’s a foot in the door, but the real problem is that 500,000 people want to come here and live and party in a “boutique city” and make a ton of money but not contribute anything to the community or city itself.

    The problem isn’t being able to order a pizza on your phone but the elevation of instant gratification over interaction and community. When you have a generation of people whose idea of dating is “swipe left on this person’s face to bang them, swipe right to get another potential bangbuddy” or whose idea of getting a haircut is selecting a hairstyle on a phone so they don’t have to talk to their barber, or, who move into a neighborhood, spent 16 hours a day on a bus or on a campus in another city, and never get to know anybody in their neighborhood or even their building because they only come home to sleep or wait for an Uber to go somewhere else and party, that’s why you see the community suffer.

    When the people getting evicted are saying things like, “I’ve lived here for 20 years, I know everybody in this neighborhood, I’ve worked the farmer’s market for a decade,” and the people moving in just commute out of the city for work and bar crawl on weekends for fun, it’s easy to see why the soul of the city is changing.

    But like I said, that isn’t “tech” – it’s the unbridled consumption of culture – a generation that’s extracted all the value of the community then displaced it – that’s changed the nature. The reason the soul of the city is changing isn’t because new people are coming here, it’s because the people here for the easy money and comfortable lifestyle don’t care to contribute to the things that gave this city soul. Blaming rent control doesn’t address that issue at all – the people who are changing the city simply don’t *care* and that’s your main issue.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    I found myself nodding to everything you wrote. You said it beautifully: “San Francisco didn’t create the community, the community created San Francisco.” Amen, BassGuitarHero *slow clap* …Now the hard part is objectively analyzing which moving parts contribute this hugely complex knot…

  • Sonia

    Rent control must be reformed. A system which subsidizes housing costs – regardless of need – is fundamentally flawed. In my building there is a tech-bus-riding tenant who pays little more than $1000/ month for a 2 bedroom apartment. He uses his extra room to work on his bike. Meanwhile we pay more than that for a single room. How can this be justified?

  • Matt

    True story: I was selling furniture on Craigslist a couple years ago, and the guy buying it freely told me it was to furnish his apartment, which he was renting out about 20 days a month on AirBnB, while he stayed at his boyfriend’s place.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Sonia, you make a really good point. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Rent control does not guarantee fair protection — and although rent control, in theory, serves a hugely important purpose – its intended use is not working. There needs to be a creative reform… but no wonder politicians shy away from trying any such reform in a city with 172,000 rent controlled units, because when someone calls it out as being a flawed system, people freak the f** — THEY were me: the very people hanging in this city by a string, living with no real security and defending a system that could Ellis Act Evict them at any moment… but until it happens to US, we stay blissfully ignorant of all the damage it does to our neighbors — and in turn, ourselves. That is precisely why I say in the article we have become our own worst enemies…. Part 2 of the article coming soon, I propose a Rental Reform solution… curious to hear your thoughts.

  • Steve Guilliams

    Alexandara, nice piece. I’m not an economist, but I’m a smarter-than-average engineer who has taken a few economics classes. Your basic premise that rent control creates disincentives to building or improving housing is true, but the 93% of economists figure doesn’t quite apply here.

    When that figure is used, it is referring more to NYC-style rent control, which is different from SF rent control in 2 critical ways.
    1) NYC has a long history of rent control mission creep, where they reset the dates of buildings to which it applies, or expand the scope. That means that developers building new housing have a legitimate concern that the housing they build today may eventually fall under rent control. SF has never expanded rent control, so in theory that concern applies less here, though I have seen proposals lately to expand the scope of rent control, which would then make this apply.
    2) NYC also has a limit on price increases when a unit is vacant–it never resets to market rate. SF does not have this aspect of rent control, so landlords and developers may lose some potential income over time to rent control, but everyone eventually moves or dies, and at that point the apartments can be leased again at market rate.

    What does all that mean? 93% is too high a number of economists who say rent control limits housing quality and quantity in San Francisco terms. How much lower should the number be? Who knows… I think rent control still has a detrimental effect on the supply of housing in SF but it isn’t as dramatic as in places like NYC with much more stringent rent control laws.

  • http://Dylans544.blogspot.com Dylan Berichon

    I live in Portland and have seen rent skyrocket in the past year.

    We have no rent control laws here, and while we don’t have prices anything like SF, it is still becoming a very expensive place to live.

    Some of this is inflation of course, but rent increase has shot up much faster than inflation has.

    I don’t know if rent control would make things better here or not. People are talking about it.

    I’ve been “House hunting” for the past few months and I can’t find anything comparable to what I had been paying.

    What is happening here is that a lot of people are being pushed into areas considered “Outer Portland” because that is where affordable rent is.

  • Tommy Strange

    On every SF blog, there has yet to be any writer that has one iota book read, or even university taught ‘history’ nugget in brain. This writer says, “It’s time we took a step back and educated ourselves as voters about basic economics..”
    Indeed you should have. As in, looked into the building of affordable housing in the past 60 years in american cities. It has NEVER happened from the private flippers, speculators…oh excuse me…the developers. The only NEW housing ever built in any city that has/had jobs, for 60 years that was affordable to the working class was because it was govt mandated, massively subsidized. Even new middle class housing had to be subsidized. Where there are jobs and a decent economy. You didn’t think to look into the history of the FHA? And who and where those loans went to? The working class in every american city, actually for the past 100 years, always lived in old stock, substandard housing. Also for your ‘study economics’ comment, you of course didn’t touch on the fact that this is another massive housing bubble fueled by the Fed giving out over 12 trillion dollars in no interest loans to the too big to jail Finance companies, as is this new tech bubble. IPOs that are happening now, would not have happened in the 80′s. Due to Clinton, Bush and Obama and all their Fed chairmans and Treas. Secretaries deregulating the FIRE sector we have finance destroying an economy, destroying and ripping apart manufacturing, and bundling toxic new fangled ‘ideas’ into another casino already. And the house wins, and we lose. To make this into some bullshit rent control argument, shows your base inane stupidity. There has been literally trillions of dollars coming into the SF, London, NYC, Brooklyn markets from PE firms, Hedge Funds, Chinese capital fleeing the crackdown over their huge bubble, that could bury us, and firms like Blackstone etc that may have bought up 50% of the housing for sale in Oakland. No kidding. Do some research. For other people that would actually like to read books, rather than Wall Street Journal leads, I suggest these. Hartman’s Transformation of SF, Detroit Urban Crisis by Sugee, Crabgrass Frontier Jackson, Family Properties Satter, And the most visited non neo liberal million friedman site in the USA, go to nakedcapitalism.com. It’s written by honest economists.

  • http://www.whatsupsf.com bassguitarhero

    I wrote this for the Bold Italic a little while ago about Spike Lee’s talk on gentrification: http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/4519-spike-lee-is-mad-and-you-should-be-too

    Simply put, like with what Dylan Berichon is talking about where rent is skyrocketing even in non-rent-controlled towns, there’s a much larger trend, and what I believe is that it is the end of suburbia. After WWII we had “white flight” wherein wealthy whites abandoned the cities for enclosed suburban living.

    Sixty years later, their kids and grandkids are returning to the cities because they’re interested in the culture, community and people there. This is happening in every city, not just San Francisco, not just Portland or NYC, and it isn’t anything to do with rent control or tech but just the fact that suburban living is ultimately unsustainable and boring and people want to live closer to each other, so you’re looking at “reverse white flight” back into the cities, pushing up rents all over.

    Any conversation about reforming rent control NEEDS to include Prop 13. There’s just no other way – Prop 13 incentivizes landlords to sit on properties instead of selling or renovating, to keep their property taxes low, while the market rate for rentals continues to go up, up, up. In other words, their costs remain pegged to when they bought the place, but the value of it goes up every year.

    Rent control incentivizes tenants to make a long-term commitment to the property they’re renting by tying their rental rate to what they agreed to when they moved in. That’s meant to balance out Prop 13. If you mess with rent control without touching Prop 13, all you’ll do is lead to the eviction of everybody with long-term commitments to their community, replace them with high-paying replacements who have no commitment to their community, paying sums of money to landlords who have no incentive to maintain or upgrade their property because they make more money under the current system.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Thanks, Steve, for the insight ;-) … Its important to understand the variables and differentiate between the cities and terms (rent control vs rent stabilization, etc) … but it appears that we do ultimately agree on the bottom line: As you say “I think rent control still has a detrimental effect of the supply of housing in SF…”That is really the point I was trying to make. Every economist/expert on this issue (such as SPUR.ORG, SF’s think-tank for example) all say the same sentiment beyond that 93% statistic. I encourage all the readers to go their own research and read up on SPUR.ORG’s findings or any economist. Yet no politician dares to touch the issue because the wounds are too fresh and there are too many voters to risk misunderstandings with (as shown by the reactions to this article). Our city is only as progressive as its voters – and the voters are too enraged/scared to think rationally. Rightfully so — but the situation is only going to worsen unless we start making changes to the roots of these deep knots. Rent control is just ONE small string in the complex housing knot. It was never my purpose to suggest rent control reform is “the #1 solution.” In fact, Part 2 of my article hasn’t even come out yet where I actually propose real solutions/problems yet… That’s going to get some interesting comments, I’m sure ;-) and I’m open to hearing all of your feedback. I appreciate the dialogue and insights… I just wanted to flip the mainstream message we are being bombarded with lately, which is that all SF residents should hate evil tech doers and landlords — when really, both sides have become victims trying to save ourselves from drowning. So lets get educated and start voting for action that actually plugs the many holes in the system that are ultimately causing us all to drown.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Very interesting – thank you for your article! Absolutely, Prop 13 needs to be balanced out – In fact, in Part 2, I discuss this very issue! We need to keep long-term locals! It is a complex issue, but I look forward to hearing (especially) your take on Part 2, so we can start thinking and brainstorming towards real solutions. SPUR.org does influence the city’s policies – and we can influence SPUR.ORG!

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Tommy, your first sentence was unnecessary, inaccurate, quite frankly dick-ish and grammatically incorrect– but your other points are quite well-taken. Hartman’s “Transformation of SF” is a great read. I will check out NakedCapitalism as well…

  • mary s

    When I moved here in 1996, I had to look long and hard to find a place to live — a boom was getting started. After several weeks, my then-husband and I found a 1.5-bedroom for $900 a month. A year later, I had to move again, and I managed to find a place I could afford alone (marriage over!). During the dotcom boom I gave up looking for a decent place in SF and moved to the east bay — it was not easy to find a decent place there, either. In 2012 I gave up the Berkeley apartment that I’d lived in for about 11 years to move in with a boyfriend — partly because the rent for his SF live-work space was going up astronomically. Our domestic experiment did not end well — I had to move out pretty quickly. So there I was, looking again. The moral of this long and not very interesting story is that it is not easy to find a place to live in San Francisco. It is a boom-bust kind of place, there is a limited amount of land, and there are all kinds of people opposing one housing measure or another for all kinds of reasons. I have come to believe that rent control is not a good long-term policy, but — sadly — I don’t know how to solve all our problems. I am looking forward to reading Part 2.

  • Hank Plante

    This is still the best piece I’ve read on this whole subject: “How the Internet Ruined San Francisco.” It was published way back in 1999 during the first Tech bubble:

    http://www.salon.com/1999/10/28/internet_2/

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Thank you for sharing, Mary…. I look to sharing some solutions and hearing your thoughts :)

  • David

    Oh just wait for the big earthquake. The city will be okay but all the newbies that have never felt an earthquake will run out of the city. Rents will go down. A new SF will be born. The cycle continues.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Been waiting for that magical earthquake since the 1989 Loma Prieta ;-)

  • Bob

    To the bleeding heart hippy (bassguitarhippy) who goes on and on about the crappy artists that collectively made San Francisco:
    News flash. SF was founded on the greed of gold and silver and has stayed true to that throughout its successive boom periods.
    The real San Franciscans are the ones paying attention to their pay checks and not the hipster mental master baiters too busy adjusting the flowers in their hair.

  • oblomov7

    I hear this argument that “rent control laws are so biased towards renters, landlords have no incentive to rent them out” and I don’t really understand it. Isn’t the rent you receive for an apartment an incentive? Rent control has been in effect in SF for quite a while, so if someone buys a rent-controlled building, they should be aware that maybe it won’t generate as much income as expected. Every investment has drawbacks, and that includes owning a rent-controlled building.
    I also wonder how landlords can afford to keep apartments vacant. I’ve often heard that there is a tax write-off for lost rental income, but I have never been able to determine if that is true.
    To The Tens: There were reasonable 1 bedroom apartments for about $800 in SF in August 1995 (when I moved to SF) – I almost rented one. I saved some of the classified apartment ads from the Chronicle for years from that era – unfortunately I recently threw them away. The large increases in rents started around 1997, which is partially why I was never able to upgrade from a studio.

  • Anna

    Repeal Rent Control or reform it: we should subsidize those who need it it, not those who don’t. It should be paid by taxes – not by private owners.

    More and more small property owners are choosing to either let the units sit vacant or to sell. If we want rental in this town we need to create some incentive for folks to be the landlords. Otherwise everyone can go live in one of the million dollar condo or get out of town! No one is going to have rent control forever – it just doesn’t work. Lets change it.

  • RT

    It’s ridiculous that “economists say” shows up in the article and all comments by the author, yet she does not provide any links to specific studies or papers with support. “Go to SPUR and read” does not create credibility. What did YOU read to come to these conclusions? If you can share other statistics and sources, that should be included as well.

    Completely disingenuous to say “93% of” and not include that study. Don’t make your reader dig for the heart of the support for your hypothesis.

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Feel free to copy any statistic from the article and google it — and in two seconds you will find the resource you are looking for. Cheers

  • Bobby

    Respect to Alex for putting herself out there and writing about a very sensitive subject in SF.

    The scientist in me is begging for proper stats/fact checking and citation, which also caught the attention of “The Tens.” That said, we’ve got a SF native giving insight and opening up potentially productive dialogue. It’s an opportunity to voice ideas, contribute information, and shed new light on a pretty dark subject.

    To me, there’s simple economics at play for the high and rising rent prices. Whether we keep rent control or not, prices will be high for the foreseeable future.

    The more interesting question is about entitlement. Does renting a place for an extended period of time entitle you to some kind of special treatment? I’m going to just write about this for the entirety of my comment.

    There has historically been a tendency to believe that simply existing somewhere creates ownership. People tend to almost instinctively think “I was here first, it’s mine.” Looking back at evolution – “ownership” is a man made concept, one thats roots are apparent in an immediate sense when you look at animals protecting food/territory/mates. We evolve and change/push that concept to crazy limits – animals don’t accumulate wealth, whereas a person can literally “own” a country. For the most part, we have decided not to own mates anymore, although there is still an instinct to “protect what’s ours” which both men and women feel. Sometimes Capitalism is in line with our instincts – and other times it isn’t. Living in the same place for an extended period of time, sometimes even decades, makes it FEEL like it’s yours. You feel connected to that space, and you identify it as home. The problem is, according to the system we live in, that you-don’t-own-shit.

    You chose to rent instead of own… so the place is not yours, period. You could have chosen to take a loan out and buy it, but you didn’t. Maybe you couldn’t afford to buy it. You could have chosen to buy a place somewhere else – but you didn’t. You can still choose to live somewhere else… maybe even buy a place somewhere else. But you don’t want to – of course you don’t – but that doesn’t change the choice that you made however many years ago (and continued to make until now). “But who’s going to pay for my bad decisions when they begin to affect me? Somebody needs to do something about this situation I’ve gotten myself into!”

    Rent control is irrefutably unfair. Why does “10 year resident” deserve to pay less than any other family trying to make it in San Francisco? Again, the more interesting question is, knowing that it’s unfair, why do we still sympathize?

    I imagine that many people, myself included, sympathize with people who get displaced. Nobody likes to hear that “Money talks, and bullshit walks.” Who feels good about hotel chains demolishing waterfront communities in tropical destinations? Greed sucks. But somewhere along the line, someone agreed to sign on the dotted line, and they get to sit in that shit. (Something about reaping what you sow, something about a bed that you’ve made) – somewhere along the line, hundreds of thousands of people decided to rent indefinitely in San Francisco, in a system that doesn’t officially assign value to length of rental residency. So that sucks.

    However, cities do acknowledge the value created by community and culture – this is especially true here in San Francisco – and they attempt to put laws in effect to promote/protect that value. Whether rent control actually accomplishes that is another debate entirely.

    What, if any, special privileges should renters have? How are they accumulated? How could they be justified? And who has a rent control place and wants to put me on the lease? :)

  • http://www.brandbarsf.com Alexandra Liss – Couchsurfer Extraordinaire

    Very interesting points, Bob! I’m going to read this over a few times :) Thanks for sharing!

  • mmex

    A couple thoughts:

    1. We benefited from below-market rent control for several years, and now are happy house owners here in SF since 2011. People will work the system, whatever it is. It’s painful to change the status quo, but I never understood how this arbitrary system was fair. Lord knows, I’ll never be a landlord.

    2. If you can’t afford to live in Mission/Dolores there are a whole lot of areas in SF that you can look at — you don’t have to leave for Oakland. How about Excelsior, Bayview, Sunset, Bernal Heights….? When we were looking to buy we understood that some very desirable areas were simply out of our reach financially; that’s life. (And yet now we are so happy with our current neighborhood.)

    3. If the city wants to be hospitable to middle-class families make the MUNI more pleasant, efficient and convenient and improve the public schools. For our friends with kids the school issue is the number one reason they leave the city.