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Housing policy in San Francisco

The tech community has been receiving a lot of backslash in San Francisco as of late. And Peter Shih’s infamous 10 things I hate about San Francisco post certainly didn’t help. But I think there’s a bigger issue than just rich tech people driving up the price of real estate.

I was reading Quartz this morning and I think they nailed it: 

“But the blame shouldn’t go to the tech companies or their employees moving to San Francisco, however despicable some might be. Blame San Francisco for being pleasant, and its policymakers for being foolish: When a lot of people are moving to your city—San Francisco the city gained 50,000 new residents between 2000 and 2012, including some 25,000 between 2010-2012 and likely more since—home prices are going to increase unless you build a lot more housing.”

I’ve talked about this idea before. But I wanted to break it down a bit more precisely.

If San Francisco, the city, gained 25,000 people between 2010-2012, let’s say that the city gained roughly 8,300 people per year. I just divided by 3. However, if you look at the rate of new housing supply, you get a 10-year average of 2,350 housing units a year (from the Quartz article) and an even lower amount according to Atlantic Cities.

Regardless, what you end up with is a pretty simple phenomenon: More people are moving to the city than new housing is being provided and that’s driving up the price of real estate. In fact, San Francisco allegedly only created 269 housing units in 2011! That’s the equivalent of only one fairly typical Toronto condo building going up (and we have hundreds under construction). No wonder there’s upward pressure on prices.

So rather than just blame the tech community for the city’s housing problems, I think there needs to be a broader look at housing policy. If you really want to help affordability, here’s one simple solution: start building.

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