San Francisco’s Housing Dilemma

Market St. heading Northeast towards downtown San Francisco.

Most people from the Bay Area are likely familiar with the absurdly high rent and house prices in San Francisco. And in recent years prices have only been getting worse, pushing out large numbers of San Francisco’s lower-income residents. Currently, the median rent in the city is $1,463 a month, the highest in the country among large cities. Much of the blame for skyrocketing rents has fallen on the large influx of wealthy residents to the city, many in the booming tech industry centered in nearby Silicon Valley. While I share some of the anti-gentrification sentiment and hope that the city can remain naturally economically diverse, there’s also another side to why rent in San Francisco is so expensive: There’s simply not enough (vertical) space on which to add new housing. The City, known for it’s iconic skyline and views of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean has extremely strict zoning regulations restricting high-rise apartment developments, as is pointed out in this article in Business Insider. The city restricts most buildings outside of downtown to a height of 40 ft., and many don’t even reach that high. Naturally this has restricted the number of housing units available in the city, thus keeping supply stagnant while demand had increased dramatically, and is thus now driving up prices. Even still, the city has preferred to subsidize low-income housing instead of changing zoning regulations to increase supply. This is in part because these views are worth quite a lot to the city’s residents, and having spent a fair amount of time in the city myself, I certainly would not want to see it cast in the shadow of massive high-rises akin to the likes of Manhattan. Ideally, the city could try to find a middle-ground as far as allowing space for new moderate-income housing developments, especially considering the fact that the vast majority of recent housing developments in the city have been primarily for high-earners. To be honest, I’m not really sure what would be worse, a prohibitively expensive San Francisco, or an affordable one without its iconic views. Hopefully neither fully turns into reality.

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