Housing affordability in San Francisco: can we talk about solutions?

27bits-san-fran-tmagArticleresponse to: “Making San Francisco Accessible to More Than the Tech Elite
by Claire Cain Miller and Erica Goode, New York Times, November 26, 2013.

(note: as of 0400 27 Nov, comment unapproved, though later comments have been).

The problems San Francisco has with housing costs aren’t new, unique to SF, or reducible to anything so simple as the tech boom. There are a lot of accusations and rhetoric flying around, but I really wish we might give more attention to the people and organizations who’ve have been carefully studying the highly complex SF land-use/housing situation for decades, and proposing well-thought-through solutions.

I’d particularly recommend the work of non-profit SPUR (formerly San Francisco Planning & Urban Research; I’m a member), which dates to 1910. They do excellent events and publications examining urban affairs in the Bay Area.

SPUR’s “A Housing Strategy for San Francisco” (2nd ed. 2006) gathered some of their key reports/recommendations on housing affordability:

  1. Zoning for more housing.
  2. Rethinking parking requirements.
  3. Improving the permit approval process.
  4. Housing above retail.
  5. Secondary units. (also known as “in-laws” or Accessory Dwelling Units).

(to get these, go to http://www.spur.org/publications, search on “Reports” for these and more).

Progress on affordability, and almost any urban issue, requires considering many factors, in this case zoning, permitting processes, building standards, construction methods, financing practices; the thicket of federal, state & local laws; etc. Finger pointing and reductive narratives like “tech elites vs. others” don’t get us far.


Tim McCormick
Palo Alto @tmccormick tjm.org