Saturday, May 8, 2021
News + Politics Why are so many people homeless in SF?

Why are so many people homeless in SF?

It's our fault, for accepting a political and economic system that has utterly failed


Editors note: The SF Chronicle is leading an effort to get local news media to report on homelessness this week. We are happy to be involved — and to offer what we suspect is a very different perspective. Over the next couple of days, we will run stories from people who know what it’s like to be poor and homeless — and an analysis of how the city’s major daily paper and its columnists and editorials have covered the issue. For starters, here’s some perspective. View our full coverage here

I’m going to make a big political leap here and say that the reason there are so many homeless people on the streets of San Francisco has something to to with the reason that there are so many angry people in this country (and in Britain) who are now voting against the establishment.

There’s a strong current of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia involved (including Trump, the Brexit, and our approach to homelessness). Consider the numbers of African American and LGBT, especially transgender, people living on the streets in part because they are unable to get jobs that pay enough to cover the rent. And keep in mind that some of the complaints against homeless people originate with cisgender white people who see our neighbors living on the street as a “quality of life (for the rich) issue” (see: Ed Lee, Scott Wiener).

Most people on the streets need housing; they are victims of our city's policies
Most people on the streets need housing; they are victims of our city’s policies. This picture of Donna was taken on Division Street before the homeless sweeps earlier this year. Photo by Sana Saleem

But there’s something else going on, too (see: Bernie catching everyone by surprise – and the apparently “stubborn” homeless numbers in SF). The economic program that’s been in place in the United States and Britain for the past several decades, which seeks to limit the role of government, provide unlimited support for the private sector, and allow wealth to accumulate at the top, has utterly failed.

You can call it “neoliberalism” or call it something else, but here, as UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes, are its main characteristics:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

And that’s how we see housing and homeless policy in San Francisco.

For years, under Democratic mayors and boards of supervisors whose members call themselves Democrats, in a city that has a reputation for progressive politics, we have followed the neo-liberal line, to wit:

The private sector is the primary source of housing; in fact, anything that slows the private sector is considered bad policy and “anti-housing.” The developers, the speculators, and the real-estate industry, who see housing not as a social good but as a commodity to be sold for the highest possible profit, are allowed to determine what gets built, for whom, and where.

People who are homeless must have done something wrong with their lives. Even the rare sympathetic news media coverage focuses on drugs, mental illness, crime, job losses … there is never the suggestion that people who live on the streets are victims of a system that the political leadership either helped create or tolerates.

Neo-liberalism has failed SF.
Neo-liberalism has failed SF. These protestors stood up for housing rights.

In reality, it is not the fault of the people who live on the streets; it’s our fault for forcing human beings to live there.

City housing policy, such as it is, doesn’t determine housing policy in San Francisco. Housing policy is set by international investment capital, which might or might not fund any particular project at any particular time based on whether returns are higher somewhere else.

It’s our fault for deciding that it’s okay to let the city’s policies be driven by the private developers and the politicians they support. It’s our fault for allowing great wealth to accrue at the expense of everyone else.

It’s our fault for not managing to demand that housing in San Francisco be treated as a human right, not as a commodity.

Under President Obama, the nation agreed that everyone should have access to health care. The Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed, because it’s still based on the needs of private insurance companies, but at least, as a matter of philosophy, it recognizes that health care is a universal right, not just a private commodity, and that people who can’t afford insurance should get subsidies so that they can.

You don’t have to have a job or credit or a security deposit to sign up for Covered California. The rates are too high, but with the subsidies, they are better than what we had before. And if your income qualifies you for a subsidy, you get it – automatically. It’s your right, by law. There is no wait list for health insurance subsidies, no limits on how many people can apply.

Again: We would be better off with single-payer, of course. We would be better off under this system with price caps. But we have made the statement as a society that everyone has a right to health care.

Not housing.

Housing is a critical element in the physical and mental health of human beings. But there is no website where you can sign up and be guaranteed, that same day, an affordable place to live. We haven’t made that a priority.

The wait list for public housing is long. The lottery for affordable housing allocates a limited supply to meet an extensive demand. You can’t get even an unaffordable apartment without sterling credit, a high-paying job and as much as $10,000 cash on hand for first and last month and security.

The private sector builds no affordable housing unless it is forced to – and even then, never enough even to meet the demand it creates. We are falling further behind every day. And the solution, we are told by the mayor and by the Chronicle and by so many others, is to simply do more of the same.

The idea that more private development – even huge amounts of new development, enough to transform much of San Francisco into mid-town Manhattan – will ever create housing for the current homeless population is worse than insane. It’s disgusting, because it allows political leaders to avoid talking seriously about the problem.

The US spends 17 percent of its GDP on health care. San Francisco spends about 3 percent of its budget on housing and homeless services. We’d spend a lot less on homeless services if we spent more on housing.

But a neo-liberal set of solutions that rely on the private sector to solve the problem are never going make a dent. We can see that from the numbers: Since 1996, the city has approved 51,000 units of private housing construction. The homeless count has stayed about the same.

Before the ACA was passed, when Washington would do nothing about universal health care, San Francisco stepped up as a city and, with the leadership of then-Sup Tom Ammiano, did its own version. HealthySF wasn’t perfect, either, but it started with the idea that we could do here what the feds and the state refused to do, and find a way to pay for it.

AffordableSF would start with the notion that housing, like health care, is a human right, that it should not be based on ability to pay, and that any system that doesn’t cover everyone isn’t a success.

How much social housing – that is, housing that is not controlled by the private sector – could SF build in ten years if we said, as a matter of policy, that every homeless person had the legal right to a place to live? How much could we do if we decided that the great wealth in the city should be taxed to help pay for it (instead of giving tax breaks to big companies that create more of the problem)? What if all of the money we spend on policing and sometimes shooting homeless people went to building housing?

And what if, like heath care, our rule for housing and new development was “first, do no harm?”

I had a conversation with a local developer recently who complained that asking for 25 percent affordable housing would doom most new projects. Okay, I said: If you can’t build it with that much affordable, maybe you shouldn’t built it at all.

He was horrified, but I explained that anything below 30 percent affordability actually makes the crisis worse. And none of that new housing does anything for most of the homeless people.


Why are there so many people homeless in this city? Why has nothing seemed to work?

The stories you are going to be reading this week are going to make the problem sound really complicated. And yes: there are issue with mental health and substance abuse among many people on the streets. The complete collapse in federal housing money that started with Ronald Reagan and has continued ever sense (no, the Democrats didn’t restore that money) has made the problem harder for cities.

But the main reason there were so few homeless people before the 1980s, when the nation formally began to adopt trickle-down economics (Republicans) and neo-liberalism (Democrats), is that poor people could afford a place to live.

Check out this amazing piece by Steve Talbot, from 1982.

In San Francisco, if you were on SSI because of mental illness or physical disability in 1980, you got around $600 a month. Rent was about $100-$150.  With food stamps, you could stay off the streets and even live a decent life.

Now, the same person might get $700 a month SSI. Rent is $1,200 a month for a cheap room. The city used to give people welfare – actual cash money. So did the state. Those went away under neo-liberal policies in Sacramento (GAIN) and in SF (Care Not Cash). Bill Clinton did welfare reform.

I knew a lot of people when I arrived here in 1981 who had all sorts of issues that today would make them homeless. Back then, the government gave them enough money to stay inside. We, as a city and a society, thought that was important.

In the 1980s, city planning changed, as my generation and those that followed gave up on the suburbs and moved to cities. That created a mass gentrification wave as young professionals moved into “hip” neighborhoods. The city could have responded then, by starting to take housing out of the private market. But the neo-liberal Mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed effective rent control (a measure passed 7-4 at the board, one vote short of an override, that would have kept rent controls on vacant apartments, in essence using regulation to turn private housing into permanently affordable housing). Then the state Legislature, with neo-liberal Willie Brown in charge, outlawed that approach.

Of course, the SFBARFers will ask: Why didn’t we build more housing in the 1980s? But I was here, and I can tell you that we tried: The left, the progressives, begged and cajoled and organized to demand that office developers build housing for the new workers they were bringing to town. But no: Investment capital ruled city planning then, as it does now, and the quick money was in offices, so the private sector would build no housing.


So: We don’t give people enough money to pay the rent. We don’t regulate the rent effectively. We have utterly failed to do what needed to be done – buy up and take off the market as much housing as possible and build as much social housing as we can.

We spend a pittance on building housing that might work, and give zoning favors to developers who build housing that doesn’t.

We live in a news media climate, even here in SF (thanks, Chuck Nevius) that promotes the neo-liberal line that people without a place to live must have done something wrong – they are “losers” — which empowers politicians to continue with policies that protect the wealthy and fail everyone else.

The Chron’s first story has this:

The city remains home to sprawling tent cities, junkies squatting on blankets shooting heroin, and all manner of anguished, destitute people and beggars holding out hands.

The message is that homeless people are different from the rest of us, that it must be their fault that they squat on blankets (huh?) and hold out hands. They are The Other, to be feared, and shunned, and patronized.

We have created this situation. And now we do a special project with hundreds of stories that ask why, oh why, are there are so many homeless people on the streets. Go figure.

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.


  1. So if housing, food, water, clothes, are all human rights that I should get for free, then I’ll work long enough to buy a ipad and just sit on my ass and browse the web all day and let the bleeding heart liberal support me. I mean really, this is the land of the free, not a communism party. I’m all for charities and non-profits but don’t blame working Americans for those incapable of supporting themselves. 200 years ago you either worked or died.

  2. I don’t know who you are but after having just now read all of your comments from a yr. ago onward, I must say, I’m mightily impressed with your depth of knowledge and understanding of the corrupt and unfortunate system that the majority of us have been faced with for many yrs. now and have no control over. It’s evident that you have a brilliant mind and I greatly appreciate the fact that you do not condescend to those less knowledgeable of the facts as you present them.

    I’ll now have to be checking in with 48hills on the regular in the hope of finding another of your posts.

    Many blessings to you maddog49!

  3. Global firms bueaucracy is guilty” we can’t say why? Unfortunately is unfair not only San Francisco “economic” policies of America widening is there social resolution? Novement in California many cities have on ballots to repeal renters rights fight of BOMA to overturn them!

  4. ALL they get “paid” is, at most, around $75 a month, and if able, they have to work for that (and report to a worker monthly. Miss that appointment, and they are cut off.

  5. Cut the homeless budget in half: it’s bloated and only feeds the problem. And rezone The Mission, because the current 2-3 story buildings between 16th and 24th Streets is outdated. That stretch of Mission should be rezoned to allow high-rise affordable housing, given the proximity to public transit. Too many NIMBY’s shooting new development down and keeping the rental market artificially high.

  6. If you followed the Rules Committee today you know that there is no final plan approved. They are all still being amended. Hold our breath and wait till the Supervisors finalize a plan. And while you are at it you may want to check on the latest reports re: the existing housing that is empty and the trend toward flipping entitled properties rather than building them now. Who is holding up production? Who is wasting our time?

  7. So can we at least agree that someone admits moving here, homeless, from somewhere else, should not qualify you for a free ‘home’ here?

    As for the rest, comes down to methodologies. I’m of the opinion that that number is somewhat high. Staying for a few weeks in a motel doesn’t really qualify you as a ‘resident’, although it probably qualifies as a “yes”. While the “5 yr” hurdle is high, I suspect such a measure would gather less than 10% positive response.

  8. Are you being purposely obtuse? 71 percent of the homeless in SF were living in a house or apartment in SF before they became homeless.

  9. According to the 2015 San Francisco Homeless Count 71 percent lived in the city before they lost housing. Only 10 percent came from outside the state and the remaining 19 percent came from elsewhere in California.

  10. Did you read the article?
    “But the main reason there were so few homeless people before the 1980s, when the nation formally began to adopt trickle-down economics (Republicans) and neo-liberalism (Democrats), is that poor people could afford a place to live.”

  11. Correction. “in the 80’s” — are you for real?
    I’m no fan of Reagan, but your narrative is way off.

    Starting with Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. in the early 60’s (a democratic and Jerry’s dad), California started closing down the state mental hospitals — reducing the number of patients from 37,500 tp 22,000 when Reagan assumed the Governorship.

    Then during Reagan’s tenure, the democratically-controlled legislature voted to continue the closing — Reagan signed on as well — and then the closing continued onward under Jerry Brown’s first period in office in the 70’s.

    Today there are about 5000 patients in state mental hospitals — while our population has more than doubled; from about 18 million in the 60’s to about 38 million today.

    With regard to the closing of California’s state mental hospitals the democrats are just as — if not more so — responsible.

  12. Ronald Reagan created homelessness in CA by closing the mental hospitals in the 80’s. Before that there was little homelessness in SF. It was very rare. Mental illness in American VETS home from wars since VietNam , Iraq, Afghanistan and abused grown up “children” who can’t cope and Nevada shipping theres to us are a large part of the problem as is GOOD WEATHER and a very tolerant generous attitude that is known nationally.

  13. I was treated to a rousing NIMBY speech against this senior housing project by the rector of the very progressive church who’s garden would be shaded several hours a day from the that proposed building.

  14. It’s how you define “roof”. I agree that in return for our very generous benefits we, the people of San Francisco graciously give away, we should be restrict these to other San Franciscans. And, 30 days in the county jail really doesn’t qualify you. More like the 5 continuous years proposed below.

  15. TIM REDMOND EPILOGUE — Where do you get the idea that the federal government has been seeking to limit the role of government?

    Today we live under bills like the Patriot Act, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley and the Affordable Care Act that didn’t exist when Bill Clinton was elected in president 1992. The Department of Homeland Security didn’t exist back then, either. Before Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, there was no Department of Energy or Department of Education. The federal government is MUCH BIGGER than it was several decades ago.

    Politicians LUST for power. Smaller government means LESS power for THEM and MORE power for US. The presidential candidate who wanted this was RON PAUL in 2012. He scared the hell out of the Republican Party by trying to force it to practice its stated ideology of less government. The reason the Republicans failed is that they DON’T PRACTICE having less government and more freedom for ordinary people.

  16. TIM REDMOND CONT’D — Efforts to create more housing for the homeless are certainly good-hearted. The cruel truth is that these are band-aids. The underlying economy is corrupt. Yet, our president preens shamelessly about how successful the economy is supposed to be, while millions continue to suffer.

    I foresee an EXPLOSION of homelessness, especially in coastal California. There is nothing to stop the price of housing from climbing further. [We should assume the government won’t seize vast numbers of speculator-owned vacant homes because this would cause fear and capital flight that would grind the economy to a halt.]
    Interest rates must go UP to bring the price of housing down. Because the “Brexit” is driving down stock markets all over the world, the Fed might actually stimulate the economy even more by buying more Treasury securities. This could dump another trillion of “newly printed” money on the economy. Many 2 bedroom condos and apartments already house TWO FAMILIES. The next step down after sharing a home is ILLEGAL CAMPING.

    But then, interest rates can’t return to historical normal levels because the National Debt is TOO HIGH for the federal government to make the interest payments. The price of housing is not coming down. Worse yet, the cost of building housing for the homeless shall rise SHARPLY as the Fed further devalues the dollar.

  17. TIM REDMOND — You and Kevin Fagan are promoting the popular, but highly INACCURATE description of free market capitalism. What you see is POLITICAL FAVORITISM granted to some businesses by the federal government and the Federal Reserve Bank.

    For instance, when the Fed did its QE3 program (late 2012 to early 2015), it purchased mortgage securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that contained defaulted mortgages; and U.S. Treasury securities. With over $2 trillion extra dollars dumped on the economy, the stock market and housing market both skyrocketed. President Obama hailed this as ECONOMIC RECOVERY. However, poor people don’t own stocks or luxury homes. I hope YOU did not cheer for the stock/home surge because this CONTRADICTS 2011 Occupy Wall Street sentiment.

    The cost of doing business went UP, as did the cost of living. However, the Labor Dept’s Consumer Price Index repudiates the increases. Some TV economists dare to accuse those of us complaining about rising prices as having “bad attitude.”

    This is NOT free market capitalism! The free market is not a troll hiding under a bridge. The free market is not a fat cat smoking a cigar on the 50th floor, sneering at the public on the street below. The free market comprises YOU and ME and everybody who sells something, buys something or makes something to be sold. WE ARE THE FREE MARKET!

    When housing is too expensive, market forces should drive prices back DOWN. Instead, all that extra money from the Fed, in the hands of speculators, keep driving prices higher and higher. And you know what? If the government SUBSIDIZES housing ostensibly to help the poor, prices shall climb even higher. Prices must come DOWN. Of course, any home owner who paid the ultra-high price shall LOSE enormous amounts of money, but this is how the free market (you and me, etc.) rebalances the out-of-balance prices. The fact that people are getting hurt under the status quo and that other people shall get hurt if there is a correction reveals that the Fed’s plan for “economic recovery” is actually a DEATH TRAP.

    In a truly free market (where you and I, etc., control the prices), the cost of housing could never get as out of whack as it is now, and keep rising. Big government is not your friend, Tim. It merely seduces you.

  18. It’s more community groups and neighborhood associations that tend to block a lot of these projects. SF, more than most cities, leans towards a govern-by-consensus model where it’s easy for neighbors to veto a lot of these projects. Here’s just one example of an affordable senior housing development that’s being blocked because homeowners are concerned about their view changing I doubt these people are against the idea of more affordable senior housing, but they prioritize their own self interest more.

  19. invite bums to SF with benefits and they’ll come. That’s OK with the homeless advocacy functionaries who feed from the same taxpayer trough.

  20. <.

  21. Total rubbish. Very few of the homeless have ever lived within SF paying their way like most residents do. I am in favor of only helping homeless that lived here at least 5 straight years where they sustained themselves w/o assistance. If you had this filter maybe 10% would qualify.

  22. This crude and biased “analysis” totally ignores factors such as weather and very liberal programs and policies that set SF up as a magnet for homeless people.

  23. Tent encampments take up public space. For that reason, if someone is in a tent blocking the sidewalk (as opposed to a sleeping bag in a doorway), the City ought to start charging them RENT.

    No rent, no tent.

  24. Its also the yuppies who benefit the most from Vacancy Control, where a newly vacant apt is rent at the old rate. If your a prop owner and you have a studio apt that rents for $500/, are you going to rent it to some strange homeless guy, some poor working-class schmuck with a wife and two kids, or are you going to rent it to some tech bro who is likely to not use the utilities or create wear-n-tear?

    Poor people don’t get vacancy controlled apts – rich people do.

    But there’s this ethos out there that if some control is good, more control is better and tight-is-right. Kinda like the Post Office: when mail was a necessity, there was only one First Class stamp; now that mail is all but forgotten, you can get the most beautiful variety of philately you’d ever imagine. But hardly anyone uses stamps anymore.

  25. Any of them! The latest round of trying to appease the rich baby boomer gentry represented by 48hills was to split it into 2 parts, the 100% affordable bonus of 3 stories and the 30% affordable bonus of 2 stories. Please support both so we can build more units that our homeless neighbors can afford.

  26. The answer to that question is for every non native to the city to explain the homelessness in their hometowns.What is their city doing about it? and if there is not a homeless problem in their hometowns why? San Francisco caters to the mentally ill and drug/alcohol addicts. The city feeds them, houses them, let’s them do basically whatever they want. People come here because SF lets them.

  27. Growing up in the 60’s & 70’s, the only homeless people I ever saw were the winos and hobos who lived that life by choice. But things changed in the late 80’s after support for middle and lower class Americans was slashed and everything started going to the top one percent. The homeless epidemic was created by a group of people who care more about themselves than they do for the nation as a whole.

  28. This is almost a deja vu except for the
    volunteer army. Anther missing element so far is an honest aware
    mainstream media. Watching the pundits’ reaction to Brexit was very
    informative. They really don’t appear to have a clue. Is it because they
    are among the 1%, or are the corporate owners trying to hide from the
    truth as long as they can while they cover their Brexit losses and
    figure out how to cover their assets in November.

    concern over November elections is starting to wake a lot of people up.
    The time has come to solve this problem and if that may take a voters’

    local press has decided to take this one on. Thankfully, Tim is
    starting at the top by taking on policies and priorities of our local
    authorities who can’t agree on a solution yet. It doesn’t take a genius
    to know the problem is the economy, the effect globalization is having
    on society, and the corporatization of governments like San Francisco.

  29. Which Affordable Housing Bonus Program are you referring to? There must be at least four of them by now. You will have to e more specific.

  30. Perhaps they’re not truly “progressive”?

    — that they’re trapped by obfuscating ideological categories and are more accurately understood as “reactionaries”.

    — that they prefer to engage in dismissive, ad hominem attacks rather than question their own narrow, divisive, cynical thinking.

  31. Good job, Tim. The native-advertising-supported Hearsticle and it’s local clones working on this houseless reporting project are mostly wealth-serving and pathological, stigmatizing poor people for the effects of social-structural ills. It is a relief from techno-neoliberalism as usual to read your stuff. I have to throw some gasoline on the fire though and comment that historically too-strong rent control is partially responsible for the mess, choking off options for the poor who have to move a lot, unlike yuppies with rent controlled pads who stay for decades. See:

  32. Sorry, man, you just sound like a cult leader dishing out obfuscation. Don’t preach progressive values on on the same page you slam progressives. Bye.

  33. No — housing developers, enlightened development policies (ones that encourage housing creation rather than penalize it) and those are are truly progressively-minded, working via democratic processes, are natural allies in the noble endeavor to expeditiously and cost-effectively create the necessary amounts of housing to meet demand so that all can enjoy good quality housing according to their means — all without wasteful taxpayer subsidies.

    This would ensure an economically sustainable urban housing market in reasonable proximity — via public transit, biking and/or walking — to economic opportunity (i.e. “jobs”) — thereby ensuring environmental sustainability as well as social sustainability (i.e., “diversity”.)

    And such a responsible, grown-up, forward-looking, ideology-free, problem-solving, good-faith, dollars-and-cents, morality-and-judgement-free approach could also be utilized to make certain that all who are suffering from homelessness are provided with supportive accommodation so that they no longer have to live on the streets and –with assistance conquer their demons (e.g, chemical dependencies, chronic illnesses, etc.)– perhaps one day, also contribute positively to society.

  34. I find the term cisgender sexist and offensive. I have a very nice penis and I have no plans to change it.

  35. How are you counting residence? Are you doing what that study that came out a few months ago and including the incarcerated?

  36. Homeless or more correctly, “Travellers” come here because they know that in San Francisco they can get paid by the City (no questions asked EBT Card, lots of “victims” social services, etc) to lay on the sidewalk and get high all day.

  37. I guess if Tim arrived around the same time, he might not have have noticed that the more the City attempted to provide, the more it felt as if we’d become a destination for an increasing street population. We can’t solve the entire nations homeless crises, and I didn’t think we did a great job attending to the needs of the poverty stricken anyway – Tim’s right though, we did used to give cash!

    Everyone leaves out the part that the City had more SRO’s an areas nobody bothered you in.

  38. “It’s our fault for not managing to demand that housing in San Francisco be treated as a human right, not as a commodity.”

    San Francisco does not have the resources, and never will, to provide free/practically free housing to everyone that wants it. I really don’t get you Tim…

    Say, just for the sake of argument, that there was enough political support in the city to attempt to provide housing for everyone. How do we do this? Most of the land in the city is privately owned. Do we purchase all the land in the city for a 800 billion dollars and treat it all as social housing? Do we succeed from the united states and nationalize all private property?

  39. Everyone keeps saying progressives are blocking housing developments but no one can explain how. I don’t believe that one political party who has not been in control of the government can have enough influence to prevent development. It’s a lot of baloney

  40. <.

  41. The homeless “have been displaced by chronic under production in housing”? And here I thought it was mental illness, stagnating wages, eviction, job loss, family deaths, catastrophic health crises, and other well-documented causes. Damn that chronic under-production!

  42. Ah, so it’s regulation that causes homelessness…not to mention a roadblock for “the ability for private developers to build the kind of housing they would like to.” Wow, homeless and developers, natural allies in the noble fight against democracy.

  43. No doubt that racism was a factor in the Brexit vote, just as it is in support for Trump. But so are stagnant working and middle class incomes that have accompanied globalism. Trump attacks from the right, Sanders from the left.

    My point is that neoliberal Laissez-Faire Economics, where the free market is the answer to all questions, is increasingly under attack, a point that was made in Tim’s column. Discontent with neoliberal Laissez-Faire Economics does not imply racism.

  44. So where is our bleak future headed? the most cogent insight i’ve seen comes from, ironically (or perhaps not so surprisingly), commercial science fiction. find, stream and watch this two-part Deep Space 9 episode “Past Tense” from 1995:

    “The crew of the Defiant is thrown back in time to 2024 on Earth. The United States of America has attempted to solve the problem of homelessness by erecting “Sanctuary Districts” where unemployed and/or mentally ill persons are placed in makeshift ghettos.”

    the episode setting is actually San Francisco (a frequent locale for the Star Trek franchise), and the Sanctuary District is a movie set that somewhat approximates the Tenderloin. the plot is far fetched of course, but the only part that doesn’t make some sense is its optimistic end. it’s worth watching.

    you think this is beyond the realm of possibility?

    … of President Trump?

  45. Brexit may not happen in fact I think it won’t . Nothing will happen until a newly elected UK government invokes Article 50, and if they elect government officials who state that they will not invoke this article then there is no Brexit. If Britain were to leave the EU the country would probably go from being a leading financial, cultural, and industrial center to a backwards third world island.
    The other EU leaders are all pissed off, but they will get over it. It gives them reason to have more summits where they all embrace each other and eat caviar. Germany buys the caviar.

  46. homelessness is indeed a consequence of market capitalism, or neo-libralism if you want to call it that. but it is only an inevitable consequence if a society allows its nation’s wealth to become concentrated passively within an elite upper class instead of being used productively to meet the basic needs of all and invested for the long term benefit of all. and beginning in 1980 with Reagan, that is exactly what has happened in America. now 35 years later, it is happening worse than ever, and the consequences are right here, right now. on the sidewalks. and in the prisons too (America’s most extensive and by far most expensive “public housing”).

    San Francisco is not a city state, and we can never end homeless here unless and until it is ended throughout the nation. and today there is no realistic hope at all that will happen – ever. the power of the elite, the “right”, based on greed and reinforced by fear and resentment, is in control. all it needs to do is roadblock or stalemate any significant change in national priorities, and it is very good at that. and if it gets the upper hand …

    so it’s time to give up hope of “ending homelessness”. the best we can do now is to help the transitionally homeless recover and provide compassionate harm reduction for the long term homeless. plus moderate/mitigate the bad consequences for the rest of us.

    but that would mean admitting America has failed. which the Chronicle and politicians can’t bring themselves to do.

    so … we’re all fucked.

  47. The homeless rate in SF is roughly about the same as the homeless rate in NYC. Part of the issue is that homelessness is SF is much more visible owing to a couple of issues:

    1 – SF has much less shelter space than NYC. This could be in part because SF didn’t prioritize shelters because the weather doesn’t mean that sleeping outside is a public health emergency in the same way it is in NYC. Without people LITERALLY dying in the streets, politicians won’t care about making sure people have a roof over their heads

    2 – The culture of dog ownership among the homeless means that even if there is shelter space available, the homeless cannot stay their because shelters don’t allow pets.

    That aside, since the main issue is about housing: San Franciscans don’t want more housing. They would rather have the population remain the same with a transient homeless population than the population to expand while creating enough affordable space for currently homeless people to live in.

  48. Trump congratulated the UK on Brexit and you can see why. Racists in the UK are sick of Eastern European immigrants and Arab refugees pouring into the UK because of the EU rules.

    Be careful who you get into bed with.

  49. Is this a sarcastic comment or are you serious? Every major development faces delays and blockades by Tim and the progressives.
    8 Washington
    16th and Mission
    18th and Bryant
    And on and on and on

  50. A human right indeed. I’m concerned that acknowledging the truth of that is a little too sobering for a lot of the San Francisco of today.

  51. It is categorically false to claim that the private sector alone is responsible for the housing crisis in our city. Mr. Redmond is deliberately ignoring redlining, zoning, discretionary review and other government regulations that have been in place and have build a dazzling array of roadblocks for over 80 years which severely limit and constrain the ability for private developers to build the kind of housing they would like to.

    Zoning in our city does not favor developers. It favors existing landowners and existing structures over all potential uses.

  52. Thanks Tim for an alternative perspective on this. I’m writing from NYC right now. Can’t comment on their housing policy in detail but I’ve seen no tent cities and very few panhandlers.

    Interestingly, commenting on the Brexit vote, the New York Times had a column headlined: The Anger Wave That May Just Wipe Out Laissez-Faire Economics. The focus was global capitalism, but it could also apply to neoliberal economics here in SF.

  53. There’s an implicit assumption in this article that any housing that doesn’t directly contribute to the reduction in homelessness shouldn’t get built. (“If you can’t build it with that much affordable, maybe you shouldn’t built it at all.”)

    Saying housing is a human right is fine by me, but that means everyone is equally entitled to housing. What the author is saying is that everyone isn’t entitled to housing. He’s saying that the city should adopt a policy wherein housing for the not-currently homeless is held hostage unless development reduces the homeless population. “Fine,” developers will say, “see ya later.” Our limited housing stock will become even more expensive as the wealthiest gobble up a scarce resource.

    What the author is saying is, “Unless the homeless population is reduced by your development than those currently housed will face an increased risk in becoming homeless.”

    How is that “do no harm”?

    The author and folks like him would dismantle capitalism (which is fine by me), but they would replace it with feudalism.

  54. Population density of Manhattan, capitalist mega-city hell-hole : 69,467 per square mile.

    Population density of San Francisco, character filled yet world class city that could not possibly become more dense without becoming a Manhattan-like capitalist mega-city hell-hole : 17,179 per square mile.

    Population density of Paris : 55,673 per square mile.

  55. I do not have this idea fully formed, but I think part of the problem is our balance between preservation and expansion. I have to believe that all our regulations around changing existing structures, meeting the character of the city and general ability for neighbors to delay/fight construction makes it very expensive to build and increase our housing supply. We get a beautiful city with tons of preserved housing and character, but I wonder if that limits our ability to meet housing needs. Just a thought

  56. There are probably many reasons for the fact that SF is the highest priced city for rental housing in the U.S. However to prove your assertion you would have to show that there were specific housing projects which developers wanted to bid on and that the projects were halted or blocked by the progressive political parties in the city. I don’t believe that this happened to any significant extent over the last 40 years

  57. I already know why they stay here. OK, the weather might be part of it, but it still gets cold and wet here. If that was the only factor, the homeless would all move to Tucson.

    Leaving aside the odd freak incident like Gongora, I’d say that a city that spends 200 million a year on its homeless is probably a better bet for the homeless than almost any other city.

    What I understand less is why people who could afford a home in another city would instead choose to be homeless here. And there is a lot of entitlement around from people who cannot afford SF but think they somehow deserve to be here anyway. They even turn their nose down at Oakland – a few miles and minutes away, where housing costs are 40% less on average.

  58. Rents were sufficiently high in the 1970’s that the city passed rent control. That appears to indicate that the demand for homes has exceeded supply for several decades, at least.

    Most neutral observers would agree that the city hasn’t allowed enough homes to be built and that, as a result, homes are very expensive here. Where Tim defies logic is when he claims the cause of the problem is that we’ve allowed developers to build too many homes.

    So if we cannot credibly blame developers, then whom? NIMBY’s, certainly. Strict planning and zoning regulations are another. And high fees, costs and taxes complete the imperfect trifecta.

  59. That seems to be a theme by critics of this blog that somehow progressives have blocked or impeded housing development over the last several decades but I don’t see how that is even possible. There just was not as demand for housing in SF decades ago and fewer developers bid on projects.

  60. “It’s better and easier to be homeless in SF than almost anywhere else? ” oh really? Tell that to Luis Gongora (or his remains) Is being executed by a firing squad of police is easier and better?
    It’s not easy being homeless anywhere but there are larger homeless populations in Hawaii and California because of the temperate climates there. There are not many homeless people in Toronto or Minnesota because they would not make it through the winter. Why do people stay in San Francisco when they would have a better chance to find housing and employment elsewhere? I don’t know. Maybe you should talk to some of them and find out.

  61. Does anyone know if Paris is a sanctuary city like SF?

    If so, I am going to show up there and get me a summer place!!! Can’t wait!

  62. Agreed — yet the so-called Progressives — like Mr. Redmond — continue to advocate that more roadblocks be put up against the creation of new housing.
    SF’s been earnestly doing just that over the past 40+ years and look what it’s got us — a full blown housing crisis (i.e., housing shortage and skyrocketing prices.)

  63. Most of these critical comments have validity in that some places are too expensive for most people to live. On the other hand a quadrupling of housing costs in one or two years is going to leave any population shell shocked . This is just bad urban planning.
    If you look at the problem nationally it’s true that homelessness and incarceration have exploded since the 1980s . And despite this the Republican Party continues to worship and idolize the demented old bat president Reagan.

  64. “SF has a homeless problem for one reason only. It’s better and easier to be homeless in SF than almost anywhere else”

    While I think there i some truth to this, it also bewilders me that other locales are experiencing similar situations.

    KQED did a Forum show last week in Marin. And San Rafael has a per-capita homeless pop greater than SF. Also, tellingly, it was said that 70% of homeless were Marin born or resident at the time of homelessness – which is v similar to SF.

    If the problem were simply in SF, then I’d agree with the above. But it seems the problem is endemic to cities nationwide, and particularly along the west coast.

    YET, there are places that are experiencing population decline: places like Flint MI, rural KS etc. If housing is going to be a “right”, then I would suggest that existing housing be accessed in places like that before new housing is built in Maui, SF, Aspen, Manhattan and other prime locations. While a (small) segment of the homeless pop of SF might actually be capable of serving a use this City, I don’t think eating, pooping, and living in your opium fantasies are sufficient reason to claim residence here. And if residence is offered here, there needs to be some responsibilities to go along with that ‘right’. So, community service of some sort (cleaning up the parks, serving meals in shelters, offering assistance to seniors, etc) should be a part of claiming a home (like the rest of us do when we pay taxes (or to a lesser extent, rent).

    If one is going to be a burden on society, then one ought to accept responsibility for services that are proffered. If one can become a ‘useful’ member of society, contributing by their own efforts, then they are entitled to the full freedoms we all wish to enjoy. Of course, there will always be those who can’t fend for themselves. But isn’t that what hospitals are for?

    And isn’t the price of Freedom Eternal Vigilance (or in this case, effort)?

  65. Then please support the Affordable Housing Bonus Program and let’s build some homes for the homeless!

    Most of the people living on the streets used to have a roof over their head in SF, but have been displaced by chronic under production in housing. Every unit of affordable housing is one more homeless family with a place to live, and that is way more important than some views for a rich homeowner that this blog likes to defend so passionately.

  66. Exactly what I was going to say! Healthcare is a human right. Housing is a human right. Getting to live exactly where you want to live is NOT is human right. If it is, I’d like to exercise my right to live on 20th St next to Dolores Park. It’s my right!

    Until we accept this, we will continue to misallocate resources on vanity projects for progressives. Case in point is the “affordable housing” planned for the corner of 16th and South Van Ness at a cost of over $880,000 per unit. Campos gets to make a “statement” with the project, but just think how many more people we could have housed if that money was wisely spent somewhere else.

  67. Tim implies that a complaint is only valid and reasonable if it is made by someone who isn’t white and straight? Doesn’t that make him the real hater here?

  68. “It’s our fault for not managing to demand that housing in San Francisco be treated as a human right,”

    Shelter may be a basic right, but living in a highly desirable and affluent town is not. It’s not a basic human right to live in Aspen, Monaco, Geneva or Pacific Heights.

    “We don’t give people enough money to pay the rent”

    Correct. We don’t hand out unlimited amounts of money to anyone who shows up.

    “would have kept rent controls on vacant apartments”

    Vacancy control was outlawed by the state in 1996 so Feinstein’s veto is moot at this point

    “if we said, as a matter of policy, that every homeless person had the legal right to a place to live?”

    Suppose that SF actually had the will and the means to build a home for every homeless person in SF. How many more homeless people would move to SF for their free home? And that is the dilemma when SF tries to help the homeless. The more money we throw at them, the more they want to stay here and the more others are tempted to move here.

    SF has a homeless problem for one reason only. It’s better and easier to be homeless in SF than almost anywhere else, and so SF is a mecca for the homeless. The paradox is that the more we spend, the bigger the homeless problem becomes.

  69. “‘And keep in mind that some of the complaints against homeless people originate with cisgender white people”

    This is indeed a concern for many of us.

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