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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why can't the Twitter IPO winners live in Stockton?

Pretty much everyone agrees that the Twitter IPO is going to drive up housing prices in San Francisco to even more atrocious levels. Gabriel Metcalf, the director of SPUR, thinks the solution is to build at least 5,000 units of new housing a year (although the city's planning director seems to agree with me that building vast new housing developments might not do anything for affordability.)

It's an interesting question, and we'll be talking about it at a special forum Nov. 7 sponsored by the San Francisco Progressive Media Center, Urban IDEA, the SF Information Clearinghouse and San Francisco Magazine. We'll have a debate on the central issue: Can we build our way out of this housing crisis? It's at 6 pm at the LGBT Center.

It features Doug Engmann, who runs Engmann Options; Calvin Welch, from the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse, Michael Yarne, of Build Inc., Tim Colen, from the Housing Action Coalition, Farhad Manjo, a writer at San Francisco Magazine, and Christina Olague, Past Planning Commission President. Fernando Marti, from the Council of Community Housing Organizations, will moderate. 

I'm not on the panel, so I get to put out my idea right now. I think we have to find ways to regulate our way out, by treating housing as a public utility. If we could do that -- in essence, bar evictions for anything but just cause and extend rent controls to vacant apartment -- we could protect the vulnerable populations in the city, protect the character and diversity that makes San Francisco such a world-class city.

And what would happen to the Twitter millionaires? Well, a lot of them couldn't live here.

There aren't enough vacant rental units in this city for all the newcomers attracted by tech jobs (jobs in SF, but also on the Peninsula.)  So for a while, until somebody voluntarily moved or a new unit was built, they'd have to live ... on the Peninsula. Or in the East Bay. Or in Stockton, where the longtime San Franciscans who are getting evicted are winding up.

In other words, the long-time residents, who have already put in the time and energy to build community, get to stay here. The recent arrivals, no matter how much money they make, have to live outside of town, somewhere else, for a while. 

It's the reverse of current policy: Now, the newcomers with money get to force existing residents to live far out of town, in a place that isn't as exciting or fun as SF. Under my theory, money doesn't allow you to force out an existing resident. So you wait your turn.

Sure, if you want to offer an existing homeowner some insane amount of cash to sell you their place, you can do that. Because if I own a home and I don't want to sell, I don't have to. And if developers want to build new units for the new arrivals, that's great. Do it. Let the tech workers who just got here live in the sterile towers downtown. Just as long as they don't force anyone else out of the Mission.

That has to be the starting point for any housing discussion. The people who are here now get to stay if they want to. After that, we can talk about development.


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