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News + PoliticsHas Mayor Lee been good for tenants?

Has Mayor Lee been good for tenants?

Shouldn’t he take some responsibility for the impacts of the boom he is so proud of?

The mayor's supporters say he's great on tenant issues. True?
The mayor’s supporters say he’s great on tenant issues. True?

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 13, 2015 — There’s plenty to say about Randy Shaw’s piece today extolling the great pro-tenant record of Mayor Ed Lee. The mayor, for example, didn’t sign the roommate provisions of the Eviction 2.0 legislation, which would have demonstrated support. He allowed it to become law without his signature. I am told by insiders that he would have preferred to veto it, but was worried about the impacts a high-profile anti-tenant move would have had on the fall election, particularly on Sup. Julie Christensen.

Oh, and the mayor has also been the city’s chief executive during the worst eviction and displacement crisis since World War II, and hasn’t done much about it. He told me about a year ago that he saw no local solutions to the crisis, that “all roads lead to Sacramento,” where he was pushing for changes in the Ellis Act – something that everyone agreed was a long shot.

Did the Eviction 2.0 legislation come out of the Mayor’s Office? No – it came from the progressives on the Board of Supervisors.

In fact, most of the mayor’s housing policies rely on the magic of the free market, which has never worked in this city.

He not only failed to support Prop. F, he never did anything to control the displacement caused by Airbnb, at one point telling people that it was a local company and shouldn’t be discouraged.

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He worked with Sup. David Chiu (and Airbnb lobbyists) on legislation that allows more than 5,000 housing units to be illegally rented as hotels every night – because the enforcement provisions that his own Planning Dept. said were needed would have harmed Airbnb’s bottom line.

But let’s take a step even further back. The mayor is really proud of his record of attracting tech companies to San Francisco and brags about the jobs he’s helped create. But the impact of those jobs has been astonishing – wholesale destruction of neighborhoods.

He points out that some of the progressive supervisors – Jane Kim and Eric Mar – also supported the Twitter tax break. I think if you asked them today whether they would like to have that vote back, they might pause to reflect. The mayor has not.

Here’s the more interesting point: Shaw says that everyone has supported the economic side of the boom

Some blame Lee for the economic boom that has caused housing prices to skyrocket. But I didn’t hear any progressive supervisors arguing the city should tell tech companies, hospitals, and other new businesses to not operate in San Francisco.

Maybe no supervisors have said that. It’s hard for an elected official to be “anti-business.” The hospitals, by the way, are not the ones driving up the rent – most hospital employees don’t make big money. (Yes, brain surgeons do, but not the people who cook the food, make the beds, clean the floors … even the nurses don’t make enough to compete for housing in this market.)

The tech companies are driving up the rent. Basically, they see high housing costs as just a small price of doing business, and they’ll pay their talent whatever it takes to live in SF.

The supervisors may not be saying that we accepted too much too fast, that the city has been too welcoming to tech companies …. But I’ve said that. And I think it’s true.

There are two sides to the housing boom – the supply side (the mayor wants to build more housing) and the demand side (the tech boom is putting pressure on the existing housing stock). What’s wrong with talking about both? What’s wrong with saying that we have grown too much too fast, that we made the city too attractive to tech without first stabilizing existing vulnerable communities?

What’s wrong with saying that most San Franciscans are worse off under the boom than they were before?

Growth – uncontrolled growth without prior planning and mitigations – is not always good. This is one of the sources of the current crisis. And it’s a reason that the mayor is in part responsible.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

96 COMMENTS

  1. The 1920s to 1950s are part of ‘always’, meaning it was not always more expensive to live in the Bay Area.

    It has, however, been more expensive since the 1960s, meaning every migrant to the area since then excluded a prospective, somewhat-less-attractive occupant from a home.

  2. The 1980s are …. wait for it … LATER than the 1960s, so both statements hold true. You are picking at nits once your premise has been demolished.

    Go take your economic water pistol somewhere else where your booster pimping might be convincing.

  3. With or without sleazebags on their board, public pension funds are not prohibited from direct real estate investment.

  4. Not always, no: it was cheaper to rent in the Bay Area than in the country as a whole from the 1920s to the 1950s.

  5. It was always more expensive to live here than anywhere else, but as demand increased, things got more expensive, and that relative differences increased by several fold. As demand ebbed, so did prices for a while.

    Demand is quite fluid and flexible while the ability of housing production to respond to that demand is quite brittle and slow.

  6. There’s abt $20B, or 2/3 of that amt, sequestered in City employee pensions.

    Now, if ‘greedy developers’ are making obscene profits, and killing San Francisco, maybe the City’s employees could get in on some of the action.

    Maybe the rest could come from crowd/cloud sourcing. 30% returns, anyone???

  7. Actually, that was the case in the 70s as well. Rooms instead of apts.

    I was told that, previously, it was illegal for non-related persons to occupy a single apt. Whether the law was changed, or judicially altered, a la Serano, it opened the flood gates for hippies and gays to begin renting apts and upping the asking rents, due to having several income-earners, vs the old family-with-a-single-wager earner model.

    And since i’ve been here (’72), housing has always been expensive if you didn’t have the Do Re Mi.

  8. California was and is building elsewhere, because San Francisco won’t let it. If San Francisco had added units along with the state in proportion to its population in the 2000s, it would have built 35,000 units; if in proportion to its GDP, at least 80,000. Instead, it barely added 20,000.

    Repeating the same false claim in the face of all the evidence is really tiresome. The dedicated civil servants at the BEA and the Census provide excellent data.

  9. There is a shortage of capital to build in San Francisco to the levels you suggest. Where are the hundreds of billions that would power building out your upzonings?

  10. It is clear evidence that there is more demand to live here than there is housing. Housing production should be tied to a comprehensive plan that balances housing production against a wide range of other considerations.

    But don’t labor under any illusions that incremental additions to supply will have any decrease in price. As this market crests as it appears to be doing, you will have a very difficult time convincing voters to approve additions to supply as housing prices are falling. Best of luck selling that to new homeowners who are going to quickly find themselves under water not to mention to existing homeowners.

  11. There are 14 million units in California. From 2000 to 2010, the state added not 60 or 600 thousand, but 2.2 million. The 10-year average of Private Residential Fixed Investment in GDP is $560 billion. There is no shortage of capital.

    If there were a shortage of capital to build housing, how did California add over two million housing units in ten years?

  12. San Francisco has always had high demand relative to the rest of the state and nation. During the 1980s and into the 1990s before the dot.com boom, people began to rent rooms instead of apartments as the population began to slowly grow. Once that strategy had been exhausted by stoked demand, then we began to see skyrocketing housing prices.

  13. So called “progressives” who constantly tout the mantra of “tolerance” doesn’t want anybody moving into San Francisco who does not tout the progressive party line or share their views. That’s what this is all about. Its raising hypocrisy to a new art form.

  14. Cities change. I know Redmond and the so called “progressives” would like to keep San Francisco as a museum that never, ever changes but that is just not realistic.

  15. By all means feel free to quote any study which more appropriately represents the situation – otherwise I’ll stick with the data that exists over your overwrought anecdotes.

  16. San Jose metro gets 16% GDP from Information (a rough measure, but still), up from 6% in 2001; SeaTac gets 14%, up from 12%. SF looks like NYC at a modest 8%, both up from 7%.

  17. I did not move to the metro area, I moved to San Francisco after the 1980s tech bubble was collapsing and as the quake further tamped demand when there was little competition for “undesirable” housing.

  18. The issue is that you are pissing on our legs and telling us that it is raining even though you know full well the difference between piss and rainwater.

  19. Metro area vacancies in 1986 were 3.3%, comparable to current rates, high only compared to the late ’90s tech bubble. When vacancies are low, every migrant excludes a prospective tenant.

  20. The issue is the request to explain what is progressive about opposing additional homes for San Franciscans. The mooted response was that new homes might go to non-residential uses.

    The data show ever fewer homes going to ‘non-residential’ uses.

  21. Except when the City was in an economic downturn and demand was otherwise crimped. There was not a stampede or competition to rent the SFH where I landed in the 1980s.

    Now is like now, other times in the past or in the future are not like now, they are like the past or the future.

  22. Hooey. In a city where occupancy rates are never low, every migrant excludes a prospective, somewhat-less-attractive tenant.

  23. I did not demand that the City accommodate my migration here a priori by constructing a special home for me. Nobody was evicted to house me. I got here during a relative lull in population.

    Egan’s numbers are several years old now. Housing prices have increased at double digit percentages since as demand has skyrocketed. It would take significantly more housing than Egan predicted years ago, perhaps 1/3 more, to sate increased demand.

  24. Right, size is key. 30,000 units are an 8% intervention. The Twitter tax break is a 0.01% intervention.

    8% is significant. 0.01% is not significant.

  25. Don’t change the subject. The issue here is whether incremental interventions to a massive economic system have any material impact on those systems.

    I agree with you that the answer is no, both in the regional and local economy as well as the regional and local housing market.

    When you’re right, you’re right.

    You’re only wrong when you start arguing with yourself.

  26. Short term rentals in San Francisco may have reduced available housing stock by 0.1% to 0.3%. Reducing vacancies meanwhile has increased occupied units by 3% to 4%.

    It would seem past time to build places to live for the San Franciscans who have been crowding into formerly vacant units.

  27. Thanks for avoiding the actual question. At which point did you become a San Franciscan ? I believe Egans review of the situation actually showed that most of the people moving into these new units actually moved from existing housing in the city, which by your logic also makes them San Franciscans

  28. The value of ‘built housing’ is closer to 1x GDP than 10x GDP.

    Minimal investments have minimal outcomes. Building 20- or 30,000 new units in San Francisco would not be minimal, it would represent a five- to eight-percent change.

  29. The issue is not housing finance relative to local government, it is housing finance relative to the magnitude of the value of existing built housing.

    The issue is local government economic spending relative to the local economy, not local government economic spending relative to the magnitude of local housing stock.

    Stop confounding issues, you’ve essentially stipulated that given the magnitude of existing systems, economy and by extension housing, interventions at a pittance will have no impact on the larger system.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U43Ate3Itjs

  30. Nonsense. New homes built in San Francisco might go to San Franciscans, they might go to other non-residential uses such as a pieds-a-terre or short term rentals.

    Similarly, anyone from anywhere can apply to live in one of CCHO’s “affordable” construction buildings, there are no guarantees that housing challenged San Franciscans will be able to access any new units constructed.

    Do you ever tire of being wrong?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U43Ate3Itjs

  31. The City budget is tiny relative to the local economy, housing finance capital is tiny, probably at a similar difference in order of magnitude, relative to the built environment of housing.

    Thanks for making my point that building our way to housing affordability via market rate luxury construction is like trying to divert a fire hose with a water pistol.

  32. $50,000 puts you in the top the top 0.31% richest people in the world by income. http://www.globalrichlist.com/

    Spoiled rotten Americans screaming and bitching about having to move from one extraordinarily wealthy city to a slightly less but still wealthy city.

  33. The city budget is tiny; housing finance is not. Any claim there is or has been too little capital to build homes in San Francisco is controverted by literally every data point that can be measured.

    What metric suggests otherwise?

  34. New homes in San Francisco are by definition ‘additional homes for San Franciscans.’ Anyone who lives in San Francisco is a San Franciscan.

  35. These homes are not for San Franciscans, they are for hypothetical San Franciscans. Kindly use the subjunctive tense to refer to that which has not yet which might or might nor happen.

  36. Good, good to see you making progress. Now given the magnitude of San Francisco’s and the Bay Area’s housing stock and given the magnitude of investment capital available to build new housing, don’t you think that your housing at any costs build baby build program will meet with the same level of success as Mayor Lee’s economic stimulus program given the disparities in orders of magnitude of existing conditions versus interventions?

  37. A city mayor doesn’t control the economy, especially not an economy as large as San Francisco’s. Metro GDP, including the East Bay, is larger than Ireland and Hungary combined.

    Politicians do like their ribbon cutting, though.

  38. So, the well-bridled capitalism of social democrats who built an economic system good for the many is amusing.

    What alternative economic system would solve the problems in the US and world economy, not to mention in San Francisco?

  39. Silly? Politicians have tried to recreate Silicon Valley since it got the name in the 1970s. For forty years, they failed. Ed Lee is just lucky.

    Building housing and infrastructure is something we can still do. Lee should have worked harder to do so from the first, but so should Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan, Brown and Newsom.

    It seems unfair flunk Lee when he did no worse than anyone else.

  40. Post hoc. SF-Oakland-Hayward GDP is over $400 billion. The Twitter tax subsidy has been maybe $0.01 billion total for all companies.

    What policies of Lee’s move the needle on a $400 billion GDP?

  41. No neighborhoods have been destroyed, though more than a few have been created from scratch. But other than that, this is one of the more reasonable columns Tim has penned. Thanks for acknowledging that there is both a supply *and* a demand problem.

  42. Oh shut up. I never implied that there’s anything wrong with Salinas. A quick look in Zillow reveals multiple homes/condos to purchase under $300k, which is drastically lower than SF and much of the Bay Area and that is what I focused upon – the price difference. Any normal person understands what I wrote.

  43. Is that what this is about? Having to move to Salinas? Salinas, while not high in your own regard, is beautiful and extremely affluent compared to 95% of this planet.

  44. Are you seriously going to suggest that any town in the Bay Area would be more amenable to allowing housing construction if it was done by Twitter or Zynga? Because, in fact, some companies (e.g. Google) have tried doing exactly that, and were shot down.

  45. A city mayor doesn’t control the economy any more than the weather.

    Ed Lee has promoted a wide range of pro-cyclical economic policies that as his administration stated were intended to goose the economy. The economy acted as if it had been goosed. Post hoc ergo propter hoc or causality?

  46. Can someone please explain to me what is progressive about opposing additional homes for San Franciscans? Leaving out the notion that there are those who deserve to be here and those that dont, what exactly is progressive about the slow/no growth policies in SF that have lead us to where we are today.

  47. It’s really silly to assert that a mayor has no control over the local economy. Mayors all across the country scramble to draw lucrative businesses and Lee was no different. Once you’ve got a critical mass, say, infotech companies, it builds on itself and draws more and more of the same. This is what happend in SF and the city wasn’t prepared for it with housing or infrastructure and a lot of people have been displaced. Grading Lee on someone who protected the people and character of SF, particularly its tenants, I’d give him an F.

  48. Philanthropy…. its just not in the spreadsheets of the big companies, or their vocabulary, and in terms of housing, its what is needed currently…

  49. Met-Life built Parkmerced, why should the tech industry not help pay for something besides gadgets and aps?

  50. No he does not control the economy but he does have a spine somewhere, and if taxes business and development adequately and equitably, we would have not only decent housing even built by companies, but schools, transit, and public amenities that would put Europe to shame, instead, we have public amenities falling apart. Its called “premature-capitulation” as noted by Nato Green and it stinks of the prior urban renewals that affected the lower income brackets but not the top of the pyramid…

  51. Cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug.

    Thing is, housing shocks are not new. The poster child for handling a housing shortage remains post-WWI ‘Red’ Vienna, which elected a Socialist city government. Said lefty-pinko social democrats responded by taxing luxury housing and using that revenue to help build over 60,000 new units. The city remains its country’s largest landlord, and rents are reasonable to this day.

    ..but people who speak German don’t advance the dialog.

  52. “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”― Mark Twain

    I forgot you’re the troll who gets their panties in a twist when ‘salty language’ is used. Like, a school marm troll? Whatever. As Mark Twain advised, I’m done with you.

  53. Link 1 is a Salty comment concluding, ‘[s]o [redacted] your little graph,’ in response to YTD-August notice data. Much like full-year data below, the numbers are what the numbers are.

    Link 2 responds to Salty’s assertion that, ‘[i]f you look at that chart with an educated and critical eye, it supports [his] view.’:

    Let’s look at the data with an educated and critical eye.

    From 1988 to 1997, population change and permits in the metro area balanced. Rent hikes over that period averaged 3%.

    From 1997 to 2001, permits fell far short of population increases, to the tune of around 4,000 units per year. Rents? Up 8%.

    From 2002 to 2006, permits were far higher than needed. The five-year average rent increase in 2007? 1%.

    From 2010 to 2014, permits fell short of population growth by around 11,000 units per year, and here we are.

    Fact and information along with logic and reasoning can be seen as viruses passed from one mind to the next, yes.

    Whom fact and logic threaten is an exercise for the reader.

  54. The ignorant trolls like you and Sam that dominate most comments sections here. I realize it stretches the definition of the word ‘people’ but it’s more concise.

  55. I wasn’t referring to you…the article that we are commenting on is one of many telling the readers about how terrible Ed Lee is and how he is largely responsible for the economic conditions affecting everybody who lives within 150 miles of San Francisco.

    It does a disservice by asking people to focus on a bogeyman instead of examining their place and opportunities in the ecosystem where they live.

  56. Where in my post do I “scapegoat” Lee? Landlords are the problem. We need city-wide rent control for residences and businesses.

  57. You’re an idiot – you give up basic understanding of language to make a snarky point? Laughable.

    Perhaps I should’ve made the finer point for you that capitalism needs significant reigning in in this country in order to be good for society as a whole. I forget sometimes that the vocal libertarian troll minority here is too dense to understand anything less than explicitly spelled out for them. And even then, you people will feign ignorance rather than face reality.

  58. Right, that’s what makes it such a very good thing that unbridled capitalism doesn’t exist anywhere, except maybe in Somalia.

    As for Tim’s post, it contains a lot of facts. They just happen mostly to be false.

  59. The blind pursuit of growth at any cost is what’s driving a lot of the problems in the US and world economy, not just San Francisco. Unbridled capitalism is a terrible economic system for the many, only truly desirable for the very few.

  60. “A city mayor doesn’t control the economy any more than the weather. ”

    Bingo. In fact, other than the shortage of housing, pretty much everything contributing to SF’s current housing-related woes is the product of state and federal policy. The mayor of SF will never be able to lower interest rates. The mayor will not be able to make San Mateo or Santa Clara counties upzone. The mayor will not be able to alter the Ellis Act, or (easily) impose property tax increases.

    The mayor has nonzero sway over only one aspect of the situation – the city’s own housing supply. And growing it is the one thing he faces resistance on, from the same activists who, for some reason, generally put very little energy into addressing any of the other issues mentioned above.

  61. Yeah but…if the closest apartment that you can afford is in Salinas can you really blame Ed Lee for your situation?

    Maybe you could ease up on the scapegoating and look internally for solutions.

  62. To get a handle, index CPI rent to state median income. Through latest (2013), Bay Area rents were 10% higher against state median incomes versus prior 25 years. This understates the problem, as rent paid is stickier than rent asked. Still, the numbers are not that stark, and it seems unlikely that a no-fault eviction rate 70% below the historical peak has led to more displacement today than the city saw in the ’90s/’00s.

    Nonetheless, rents are really high. Displacement includes exclusionary displacement, when people don’t move in because of rent. Exclusionary displacement may well be at a historic high. The answer, naturally, is to build more places to live so we exclude fewer people.

  63. Within the context of tenants, eviction data are important. But more important now is displacement. Of those being evicted in the 1990s, how many had to move to Stockton or Tracy because the could no longer afford San Francisco or the Bay Area? And how many now?

    Getting evicted and moving from Eureka Valley to NOPA is not the same has having to move to Salinas.

  64. A city mayor doesn’t control the economy any more than the weather. Lee is not some special snowflake among mayors with a mystical ability to goose a local economy.

    Not only the ravages of ‘urban renewal’ but also the no-fault evictions wave of the late-’90s/early-’00s dwarf anything happening today:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/8udjyob3ue35fm6/Eviction%20Notices%201987-201508.png?dl=0

    Sources:

    Calendar years from 1997: https://data.sfgov.org/Housing-and-Buildings/Eviction-Notices/5cei-gny5
    Fiscal years from 1987: http://www.sfrb.org/index.aspx?page=48

  65. Should Lee take responsibility for the local economic boomlet? No. A city mayor doesn’t control the economy any more than the weather. Lee is not some special snowflake among mayors with a mystical ability to goose a local economy.

    Are we in the worst eviction and displacement crisis since World War II? No. Not only the ravages of ‘urban renewal’ but also the no-fault evictions wave of the late-’90s/early-’00s dwarf anything happening today:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/8udjyob3ue35fm6/Eviction%20Notices%201987-201508.png?dl=0

    Sources:
    Calendar years from 1997: https://data.sfgov.org/Housing-and-Buildings/Eviction-Notices/5cei-gny5
    Fiscal years from 1987: http://www.sfrb.org/index.aspx?page=48

  66. Should Lee take responsibility for the local economic boomlet? No. A city mayor doesn’t control the economy any more than the weather. Lee’s ability to goose a local economy is not unique: he has, in round numbers, no responsibility for it.

    Are we in the worst eviction and displacement crisis since World War II? No. Not only the ravages of ‘urban renewal’ but also the no-fault evictions wave of the late-’90s/early-’00s dwarf anything happening today:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/67f8462ubqfnloq/Eviction%20Notices%201997-201508.png?dl=0

    Source: https://data.sfgov.org/Housing-and-Buildings/Eviction-Notices/5cei-gny5

  67. Lol SF has had uncontrolled growth! What neighborhood has experienced “wholesale destruction” ?
    The irony here is that if we actually had “uncontrolled growth” we might have less displacement now.
    Progressive SF is such a strange place. If only we had less success, things would be better. Let’s just coat everything in Amber so nothing ever changes. Why are we so provincial!

  68. So wait, Tim admits this is about supply and demand, but still doesn’t understand the solution to high prices caused by high demand?

    Right, let’s go back and time, because the $2 billion in revenue the City’s budget was able to increase by doesn’t matter at all. Tim’s right, San Francisco was fine with 9.4% unemployment. Mid-Market was also way more pleasant before.

    If only we could go back in time, and see what Tim’s solution to unemployment and blight would of been in 2011. This was after a complete decade of Progressives ruling the Board of Supervisors and solving San Francisco’s problems. How can we forgot how Aaron Peskin preserved the Pagoda Theatre and saved it from the horrors of Rite Aid.

    http://photos.cinematreasures.org/production/photos/120458/1427209026/large.jpg

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