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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Listen, Yimby!

What if your market-based model is destined to fail? An open letter from someone who is not a Nimby

Dear Yimbytown folks:

Welcome to the Bay Area, where housing and land-use debates are at the heart of almost all local politics. You’re going to hear a lot about those politics at this week’s conference, and a lot about the people who get disparaged as opponents of new housing.

Your ally Randy Shaw described them as activists who

support suburban sprawl, enjoy subjecting working people to long commutes, and who think preserving gas stations is more important than allowing kids to grow up in vibrant cities.

I am not any of those things. But I have some perspectives on the housing market and development policies that might be worth considering. Because we all say we want the same thing – more affordable housing for the workforce in the communities where we live.

This isn't about stopping housing; it's about stopping displacement
This isn’t about stopping housing; it’s about stopping displacement

For starters, there are things I think we agree on. It’s insane for cities like Cupertino and Mountainview to allow commercial office space for tens of thousands of workers (which brings those communities tax revenue) without building any housing at all.

And if we stipulate that San Francisco’s housing crisis – and the crisis of urban housing in the United States – is unfair to working-class people, terrible for local economies, and damaging to communities … I agree.

We also agree, I think, that it’s unfair to landlords to take advantage of these soaring housing markets to jack up rents and toss out tenants. (One of the leading groups in your Yimbytown is the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, which says it advocates for the interests of renters.)

Where we seem to part company has nothing to do with what gets called “Nimbyism” and everything to do with what appear to be dramatic differences in how we look at and understand local housing markets.

Before you talk at your conference about the Nimbys, please (please) take a moment and read this piece.

In theory, if the Nimbys would just get out of the way, Econ 101 would work, and the Magic of the Market would solve the problem, as private developers simply built to meet the need. That hasn’t happened in SF in at least half a century.

Why? Because the market is what the more advanced textbooks would call “irregular.” Developers build not to meet the market demand but to meet the demands of their investors. In San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s, it was highrise office space, not housing, that brought the highest returns to investors (often the newly deregulated Savings and Loans, that were speculating wildly in real estate, ultimately causing a huge crash that costs the US taxpayers more than $100 billion).

In those days, no housing got built. I was here; I was watching. It wasn’t Nimbys who stopped housing construction in SF; it was investment capital.

In fact, the people who are now called Nimbys were begging the city to force office developers to build housing. I sat through the meetings, followed the debate. The developers fought the idea all the way.

Today, investment capital gets higher returns with luxury condos. So that’s what is getting built. It’s not Nimbys, or Mayor Lee, or zoning policy that is driving the gold rush of housing for the very rich: It’s international speculative capital.

You can quiet all the Nimbys, stop all neighborhood opposition to development, let the builders go crazy – and still, nobody right now is going to build housing for the working class and middle class without government action and subsidies. The private market isn’t interested in that kind of housing.


I have told the Yimby folks many times that if I really thought building tens of thousands of more housing units in San Francisco would bring down prices dramatically – to the point where the people who work here could afford to live here – without any existing residents being displaced in the process, I’d support it. I’d also demand that the developers and the wealthy, including the tech companies that are driving the demand, pay the many millions of dollars it would cost to provide the additional transportation, schools, police and fire, parks, and other infrastructure that would be necessary to accommodate that growth; growth should pay for growth, or cities become impoverished and unlivable.

But it’s not going to work. It can’t work; the facts on the ground are just too clear.

In classical economics, the stuff they taught me in college, increasing the supply of a commodity tends to drive down prices. If supermarkets are flooded with rice, and there’s more rice than you can sell at $5 a bag, you have to cut the price to $4 a bag, or $3 a bag, until people decide to buy rice instead of wheat and the market “clears.”


But when it comes to housing in a dense city, there’s a different story.

When the current market forces, driven not by planning or Nimbys or Yimbys but by the availability of capital, build housing in San Francisco, they tend to drive up prices.

That’s backwards, right? If there’s more housing, it should be cheaper; everyone knows that.

In fact, at the high end, we’ve seen some truth to the old rules: When there’s an oversupply of luxury condos, the prices stabilize; instead of renting for $5,000 a month or selling for $1.2 million, they wind up renting for $4,500 a month, or selling for $1 million.

But those prices never come down to, say, $1,500 a month for a two-bedroom unit, and they never will. Not until land values drop to the point where it costs less than $500,000 to build a housing unit. In fact, if housing prices dropped to the level where most working San Franciscans could afford to enter the private market, developers would stop building, because the capital would dry up. There’s more money to be made investing in places where the return is higher.

I am told by the Yimby that building more housing for rich people will take the pressure off the existing housing stock, which again sounds perfect — in theory. In fact, building more market-rate housing has, in many cases, the effect of driving up land values, of making other housing more expensive and leading to displacement.

Let’s look, for example, at a project that critics call the Monster in the Mission, a proposal for 209 market-rate units next to the BART station at 16th and Mission. If you haven’t spent much time in San Francisco, take a ride over and check out the Mission; it’s a 20-minute BART ride from downtown Oakland. The area around 16th, despite serious gentrification, is still a wonderful neighborhood – and there are a considerable number of low-income people living in relatively low-cost housing in the area.

The Monster term isn’t about the size of the development – it’s about the impact the project would have on the neighborhood.

There is little dispute that putting a development that would add at least 300 wealthy residents to a low-income area will have a dramatic impact. The residents will be seeking higher-end amenities, and that will drive up commercial rents so that many of the old, family-owned, community business that cater to a lower-income clientele will be forced out.

Even Yimbytown folks I’ve talked to agree that it will also drive up housing prices; as the neighborhood “improves,” landlords will find they can get more rent for what were once less-desirable apartments. That will lead to more evictions.

In the end, what will happen is simple: The price of land in the area will increase. Future housing developers will have to pay more, and thus charge more. The addition of more housing won’t bring down costs; it will drive costs up.

This isn’t an unusual phenomenon in San Francisco.

The Yimby argument that I’ve heard is, in general, that eventually, the markets will “clear;” that we may see some gentrification at first as a lot more housing comes in, but in ten years, prices will work their way down.

I don’t see how that can happen, when development in most of the parts of town where there is room for development will see property values rise as more market-rate housing is built. There are parts of the city that are against any new density, especially on the west side, where some areas still feature low-density detached single-family houses. But in many areas, the issue really isn’t density (North Beach, one of the best neighborhoods in the city, is also one of the densest.)

The issue is whether the people who live here now get to stay. And the current Yimby model generally ignores that question. Until you address that problem, you are going to have a very hard time getting political traction in cities like San Francisco.


This is a city under enormous pressure, brought on by a tech boom that the current residents never asked for. That pressure has spread to Oakland, where you are meeting.

People who have lived here for decades, in some cases for generations, are being forced out by people who have more money. It’s no surprise that there is a lot of anger.

Your solution is to let the private market build more housing – at every level. Even if that worked in the long term, which the reality of urban economics in San Francisco defies, in the short term it would mean even more displacement.

The Yimby folks have been almost entirely absent from the battles for better rent control, for anti-displacement measures, and for protecting existing vulnerable communities. I have never seen a Yimby person at a protest against an Ellis Act eviction, or against the brutal gentrification and displacement in this city. I haven’t seen Yimby money and efforts go into land trusts, social housing, or other models that get housing out of the private sector. Those, I believe, are the only models that have a chance of working.

Instead, your movement has sided with politicians who oppose efforts to protect existing residents from displacement.


San Francisco has always been a city of immigrants, and we have always welcomed them. But it’s fair to ask people who are moving here – particularly if they are coming here for high-paid jobs – to have some respect for the existing communities. I think one of the central rules of housing and planning policy ought to be this: If you live somewhere, you get to stay, even if someone else with more money wants your place.

That means, I think, that you have to look at two issues. One is what I will call the “demand side,” which is almost entirely lost in the discussion of the lack of housing “supply.” San Francisco has created far more jobs in the past few years than there are current residents; that’s a recipe for problems – and it’s not the result of the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Political policies in the Bay Area have sought to attract tech firms and their workers – without accounting for where they will live.

There’s this love of growth, as if economic growth were the Holy Grail – and it’s not. If we grew a little more slowly, with a little less disruption, we might all be better off. That might mean approving less office space, and encouraging some tech companies to set up shop in other cities, where there is less of a jobs-housing imbalance.

(And let’s not forget that SF’s own studies show that more market-rate housing creates a demand for more affordable housing, at a level the city can’t possibly keep up with.)

The other is this belief that the market will solve our problems, and that housing should be a private commodity, built and bought and sold for profit. That leads to people buying housing not to live in it but as a place to park cash; I have not yet heard the Yimbytown people supporting the idea of a tax on vacant apartments.

Nor have I heard one Yimby activist say that housing should be taken out of the private sector. You are, as far as I can tell, a market-driven movement – and housing, like health care, is one of the many areas where the US market has utterly failed us.

So enjoy your conference and your political seminars. But understand that you are taking a single, simple approach to a problem that is immensely complex – and that some of us who disagree with you aren’t Nimbys and aren’t trying to hoard housing to make money; we aren’t the enemy. We just don’t think your approach will work. In fact, in a place like San Francisco, we fear it will do a whole lot of harm.

So maybe take a minute and listen to us. We have been on the front lines for half a century, working for an affordable city — for the rights of tenants and working-class people. We are not greedy, not against density, not against housing. We don’t want to dismiss you as developer shills; many of you sincerely think your approach will work. But many of you are also new to this issue, and some of us have been wrestling with it for a long, long time. Until you consider that you might be wrong — not in your goals but in your solutions — and join us and start helping to stop displacement instead of just demanding more market-rate housing, you aren’t going to convince us you are serious about helping the renters and working-class people of this and every other city.


  1. “I think one of the central rules of housing and planning policy ought to be this: If you live somewhere, you get to stay, even if someone else with more money wants your place.”

    What if your employer told you his central rule of employment is that he will never give you a raise even though wages and the price of living goes up? You also aren’t allowed to quit to take a better paying job with market pay. Would that be fair? That’s what you’re asking for. In that scenario eventually you wouldn’t be able to afford rent, utilities or food.

    I’ve been a real estate appraiser for over 30 years. You are basically saying that your private landlord should subsidize your rent. The landlord’s costs keep going up and up but he can never raise your rent to cover that? Property taxes go up based on appreciation every year. Eventually he’d end up going into foreclosure and losing the building if that were the case. I saw that happen after they passed Santa Monica rent control.

    You probably moved to your current rental because you could afford it. Did you ever think about the previous tenant? Based on your theory you pushed him out. You are the new tenant with more money that you now want to keep out.

    What you call “gentrification” is actually just a real estate cycle which happens all over the world. It’s not meanies who want to push out poor people for fun. Here are the cycles.

    1. Growth- When improvements are made and property demand expands.
    2. Equilibrium or Stability- When the property undergoes little change.
    3. Decline- When the property requires an increasing amount of upkeep to retain its original utility while demand slackens.
    4. Revitalization or Rehabilitation- Which may occur if the demand increases, serving to stimulate property renovation.

    The cycle is driven by economics, money. No developer is going to buy expensive land and build apartments to rent for less than market rent. They’d end up losing the building in foreclosure. Developers build to make money just like you work to make money.

    If you want to live in a nice apartment in a nice improving area, you have to pay market rent. That’s how it works and that’s how you rented your current place. Make more money or move to a cheaper area. It’s not the landlord’s job to pay your rent.

  2. Demonstrate you understand what I wrote before you suggest I learn from you something you haven’t written down yet?

  3. I got a notification about this post, and came back to read all this.

    It seems like you’re very misinformed about YIMBY, you get a lot of things just factually wrong.

    I’d be happy to sit down and chat with you, if you’d like to learn more.


  4. To identify health care as “one of the many areas where the US market has utterly failed us” is just laughable. With roughly half of all health care spending in the US coming from some level of government even before Obamacare, heavy regulation of the the health care and health insurance sectors, the federal tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance, and state and local certificate-of-need and insurance-licensing laws that prevent interstate competition in the national health insurance market (insofar as one even exists), etc., etc., in no way can the US health care system be called a free-market one.

  5. The section that I quoted is in the PDF referenced in the press release. Here’s a direct link to the PDF. (Oh, your link also goes to the same research brief PDF. We are quoting from the same research.) http://www.urbandisplacement.org/sites/default/files/images/udp_research_brief_052316.pdf

    I caution that association = correlation ≠ causation. A fuller quote from the research brief:

    > We examined the relationship between market-rate housing construction, rents, and housing cost burden (Table 1). Initial results indicate a filtering effect for units produced in the 1990s on median rents in 2013. Yet market-rate development in the 2000s is associated with higher rents, which could be expected as areas with higher rents are more lucrative places for developers to build housing. Furthermore, development in both the 1990s and 2000s is positively associated with housing cost burden for low-income households. Thus, while filtering may eventually help lower rents decades later, these units may still not be affordable to low-income households.

    I believe the best approach is encouraging market-rate production to lower rents for all income levels, and building more subsidized housing for low-income households. I think it can be both-and, not either-or.

  6. Odd, that I cannot find the words ‘comparing’ or ‘smaller’ in the linked article – care to revise your quote?

    From actual research: “Market-rate production is associated with higher housing cost burden for
    low-income households, but lower median rents in subsequent decades.”


  7. @FunnyBecauseItsTrue,

    I completely agree with you. We need more dense housing not more large square foot housing. the question is why are the market incentives not delivering more low SqFt dense housing and an actual surplus of high square foot luxury housing.

    The disparity between the ideal economic use of resources for high density low sqft housing and the market actuality of high SqFt spacious housing is a measure of the inefficiency in the market. We have a demonstrated market failure to correctly distribute resources to the purpose for which society needs them most. So the free market solution can work, but it requires changing market incentives to make it function more efficiently.

    Basically we need greatly expanded use of market price correction and profit correction incentives to make the market function efficiently to solve the housing affordabilty problem. There’s a lot of funny things about housing that involve different markets and how they interact. n The regulation or business practices determine how institutional defined markets like housing or housing construction evolve and function, but like any evolving social business political norm it can fit the need of the people or the need of the money markets involved in housing such as transporation markets and stock markets and housing markets and construction markets.

  8. I’ve said worse. But if a comment is meant to be that categorical, then it is in the same vein as the knee jerk opposition to Redmond that you mention. I’ve noticed the far majority of commenters here call Redmond ‘Tim,’ and often speak if we’ve known him for long period of our lives. It is what it is.

    Efforts to keep building accountability in check are getting creamed in the legislation right now. There have been no variances for the condos on Divisadero you’ve mentioned. Developers didn’t need them – the legislation was amended.

  9. I call them trolls because they are here to refute Redmond, et al. every step of the way, week in and week out, with the same tired points: build till you choke, rent control bad, progressives stupid and/or evil. They are not here to get news or gain insights. It’s a pernicious form of lobbying, that is, trolling.

  10. Land for homes is limited and so are roads for driving on


    To increase people throughput and decrease commute times in an area, build higher density transit systems than cars, like trains. Completing your housing to transit analogy, single family homes are like SUVs and denser multi family buildings are like trains, we need more trains and less cars. The land may be limited, but we can find more efficient uses for it than cars (trains) or single family homes (multi-family dwellings).

  11. The majority of these people believe the rhetoric they are putting forth. Each one is towing their own little piece of the line. To call them ‘trolls’ is preempting what you claim is their own method of operation. You’re way too smart for that.

    One thing I am clearer on is that the NIMBY group has some serious organizational power. I hadn’t clicked on the embedded link when I first read the article, and I didn’t realize they actually had a convention. Not only that, I just saw that they were quoted in the NYTimes. They have quickly emerged as a powerful lobby group that is extremely adept at mobilizing their agenda.


  12. related idea. “some of us aren’t nimby’s, we just don’t think the proper way to reduce the commute time is by building more SUV’s”

    Why anyone would think building more cars would reduce commute times is a mystery, but so is a mystery also, why people think reducing the cost of housing construction will reduce the cost of housing. Land for homes is limited and so are roads for driving on. building bigger cars and more cars doesn’t help reduce commute times and building more larger houses far away from offices people need to work at doesn’t help reduce housing prices.

  13. Hey I like Jane Kim and think she’s done a lot of good for my local neighborhood and stood by the renter class. Can you say anything about the good politicians in SF or would naming them just expose them as targets for the profit seeking class of people?

  14. That news is as old as the crust on your underwear Touch of Stupid. How does it pertain to this discussion exactly?

  15. Developers frequently opt not to build on site “affordable” by paying fees. Duh. It’s the easiest most common developer dodge on the books. Ever heard of Ed Lee’s ridiculously named Affordable Density Bonus Program which has morphed into the even more absurdly named HOMESF? Both are giveaways to market rate developers, and like “Citizens United” its name does the opposite of what is implied: it gives a bonus to developers and crumbs and ashes to San Franciscans who need affordable housing. Another example of intentionally misleading names is the Astroturf group called the RFK Dem Club, which Ron Conway started and funded; they were forced by the Kennedy family to change their name thankfully, and now go by United Democratic Club. The deliberate spreading of disinformation by Barfbots and Yimbots is wierd; that they think no one paying attention is stupid.

  16. Care to back your claim up with a citation or some data? No? Didn’t think so. The YIMBot/BARFbot argument that anyone who questions development on steroids is a privileged white rich person/property owner doesn’t bare out. It’s through the looking glass.

  17. Sigh. How does my knowledge of SF’s development approval process reveal a disconnect from SF’s reality?

    Yes, I live in SF. I rent. I care about these issues. Do you?

  18. CW: your comments reveal a puzzling disconnect from the day to day reality of our affordable housing crisis here in SF. Do you actually live in San Francisco?

  19. > There are so many of these new developments that it’s silly to argue the city has gummed up construction at every stage.

    And yet it’s true. Look, I’m not making an unverifiable claim here. The development approval process in SF is famously long and difficult compared to comparable cities. Things that don’t require any permits or approval in other cities require permits and approval here. Requests that are by-right in other cities are discretionary here. Development that would be easily approved in other cities gets rejected by the Planning Department here. Projects that would be shovel-ready in other cities have to go through additional rounds of neighborhood comment, environmental review, appeals to the BoS, etc, here. Impacts of development that are considered unimportant in other cities are considered deal-breakers here. Whether or not you think all those additions to the process are good, it remains true that they exist here and not most other places.

    You may find it counterintuitive, given the recent mini-boom of construction, but the “scads” of new development went through that process, and wouldn’t have had to in most comparable cities.

    Enjoy the day! It is indeed beautiful out.

  20. The point was there are more services for those who live in the area improving the quality of life for those who can afford to live there. And the jobs now did not exist before. It may be true that baristas make too little to live in the City. But without gentrification there would be no baristas. One benefit of more service jobs is providing employment for those already there which allows them to remain in the neighborhood or the City longer.

    The Chronicle did a survey of Valencia street restaurant workers. They found the 65% lived in San Francisco. For the average SF worker 38% live in the City. They also found that the higher paid workers were more likely to commute.

    That is consistent with census data. Higher-wage workers are more likely to commute. However, that data is for individual workers not the household. Many service workers are the secondary wage workers, or live in households with other wage earners. From the photos in the article the restaurant workers appeared to young and/or non-White. That is typical. These are traditionally student/immigrant jobs that are a means to some other end.

    I have talked to restaurant and small business owners in other parts of the Bay Area. The labor shortage is not only in SF. It is also a primary concern in areas with more affordable housing. There was an article in the Press Democrat where higher end restaurants in Healdsburg are paying their workers well above average to retain them. The restaurant business is a tough one. Most don’t make it. But there are middle and low-end restaurants that do make it given the right formula.

  21. I’d buy your argument if there weren’t scads of enormous new projects that weren’t here a few years ago. Giant, hulking condos casting new shadows all over town, like the big boxes on Henry Adams and Brannan streets. There are so many of these new developments that it’s silly to argue the city has gummed up construction at every stage.

    I prefer the term “real estate trolls” to “YIMBYs” since it’s hard to believe all these commenters have a backyard in SF. They’re as ridiculous as the NRA. Any kind of setback, like community objection or zoning, is attacked with the kind of venom and propaganda usually reserved for gun worshippers.

    Real estate trolls couch their language in social concern, but it’s transparently about bottom line. All other issues, like displacement, PDR job loss, preservation, open space, retaining neighborhood character, increased traffic, quality of life, etc., is ignored or twisted.

    You’re welcome to the last word, but I’m finished with this particular webpage. Too nice a day to sit around.

  22. @Cosmic wonderfull,

    What’s your basis for doubting it the hyper political PR manipulation of the government by the construction industry in favor industry profits would be less in san francsico fhan anywhere else? did you wake up and have some sudden realization that because there was so much land and property speculation profit in SF that the property holder and speculators profit motive wouild somehow compel them to be less manipulative of the goverment system? Get real, business has been lobbying government to get special favoritism written into law since forever. The burden of proof is on you to explain why profit interests wouldn’t work harder to manipulate and distort government where the profits are greatest (here in SF).

    As far as specific instances,I don’t keep a list with links and this isn’t my main topic of disucussion so I can only go off my memory of big events. The “speculator tax” proposal a few years back would have assessed a tax on speculators in SF that turned a property over quickly and are just extracting rent profits without adding value to the property or the city. That “anti-speculator” ballot measure got killed by a bunch of money from construction and speculator PR. the construction and land speculator interests paid for a flood of fake news and fake PR and mislead the voters about the ballot measure and won the right to profit legally of speculation that costs everyone else in SF higher rent and does not civic good.

  23. I think we’re better off keeping the discussion relevant to local SF. If you want to read another article or start another discussion for coastal america, go ahead, but it’s not a topic I’m interested in.

  24. The record reflects that the most developer friendly of our supervisors (Breed, Farrell, Safai, Tang and Cohen) all received thousands of dollars worth of donations from developers, venture capitalists and the real estate industry. This is well documented information because of sunshine laws.

  25. The record is crystal clear: BARFers and YIMBYs DO NOT support tenants rights or rent control? In what universe do you live?

  26. “Along Valencia there are more retail and food service jobs” but none of those jobs provide a wage that can sustain the current astronomical rents. Try again. If you don’t have affordable, sustainable housing, you have an unstable local economy and workforce. Witness the shuttering of many high and middle and low end restaurants. It’s a combination of both high commercial rents and high residential rents so many potential workers cannot live here because they cannot afford the rents. This reality is gutting businesses. Talk to any small business person or restaurant owner; it is their primary concern.

  27. Why? Jobs(professional working population) = Increased tax receipts = More City patronage employees at higher salaries. And yes, the City was desperate to reverse reduced budgets, layoffs, and deferred maintenance/renovation after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.

  28. So how can those lower and middle class people sell their “accumulated wealth” to new lower and middle class people? They can’t. So the next generation of lower and middle class people have to buy their “cheap” property somewhere else if your scheme is to be a sustainable reality. Like maybe Crescent City, Eureka, or Shelter Cove? People who bought there 25 years ago haven’t accumulated much while having the joys of living in economically depressed areas. And home ownership isn’t a magic goldmine. Have you heard about the 2007 foreclosure epidemic where many lower and middle class people in coastal California lost their homes(and any equity)?
    And BTW if a lower or middle class person does receive a substantial “pass on of wealth” from a relative, guess what? They have just left being lower or middle class(as far as assets) and are just wealthy folks. Fundamentally your scheme assumes ever higher housing prices and an ever increasing pool of ever more wealthy people wanting to buy them. You’re advocating for housing as financial speculation not as shelter.

  29. Bullshit. You know how many people, particularly on the west side, have owned their homes for 15+ years? In some neighborhoods it exceeds 50%. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are plenty of middle class homeowners in San Francisco. And I said “coastal California.” That means the entire coast.

  30. > Their seems to be a lot of laws and government policy that was written or thwarted by and for speculator and construction development favored profits here.

    Such as what? What’s your basis for believing this? As I said above — and you’ll find ample evidence of this — the development approval process is much harder and longer and costlier here than most comparable places. How, specifically, is SF more favorable in its laws and policies to developers and landlords than any other city is to theirs?

  31. Prop 13 is one of the most prescient and valuable things in the history of California governance. It’s benefits are equally distributed to each & every single property owner, at the time of a sale. What happens in the interim is irrelevant. You buy property today, you will benefit.

  32. lower and middle class people in SF are renters, not property owners. Your whole argument falls apart.

  33. well you make a good point about the two groups not seeing eye to eye. The problem, and I study this kind of problem, is that they each have much different interpretations of how things work (aka worldviews).

    Construction advocates see only one problem and that’s the problem of how to increase profits for construction companies and real estate speculators. Renters see only one problem and that’s the problem of how they’re going to afford rent. So both groups have their own unique ideas on how to solve “their personal problems”, but neither group will understand or respect the problems of the other because they are not problems for them and their group.

  34. I think any city set upon by legislation that favors office construction and de-funds housing construction has this problem you’re describing. The regulations you object to are a result of the housing crisis, not the cause of it. Long ago voters tried to rein in speculator profits that cost the community while enriching outsiders and the speculators used their profits to buy government sanctions for their profiteering. Renters lost that war, but they can still fight little battles to try and survive and that’s all that’s left. If you fix the real estate profiteering and speculation profits drop, then the whole problem goes away and so does the need for so much regulation of the construction approval process.

  35. You mention “it’s one of the more tennat-favored cities in america” but you forget to mention it’s “one of the most real estate speculator favored cities in america” too. Their seems to be a lot of laws and government policy that was written by and for speculator and construction development favored profits here.

    So lets ask how does SF balance compare to other major cities in terms of real estate profiteering? and lets review the principle that public protection laws are enacted when economic practices are proven to be harmful to the public and citizens. There’s a reason there are so many renter protection laws trying to stop gap the problem caused by the perverse incentives of the distorted housing market that was gerry rigged by the construction industry and land speculators with their profits and government connections.

  36. Except that paying his dues isn’t paying the money to the poor people or the people who need it. Paying his dues is just increasing excess profiteering opportunities and profits to the construction industry and real estate speculators. So he’s actually paying those who exploit him, not paying his dues to the people he’s made vulnerable to exploitation.

  37. “Restrictive zoning”: how? All cities have some zoning regulations. How’s SF so restrictive?

    “neighborhood vetoes”: there’s no such thing. Neighborhoods and their representatives can argue against this or that project, but they have no legal power to override city decisions.

    “Mafia-style government”: whew!

    “a ‘taste’ (1-3% of total building cost) of every project”: that’s called a tax. That doesn’t explain why costs have gone up 300% in the last 20 years.

    “There’s a reason cost per square foot is higher in the Bay Area…”: it’s because there are lots of people here who are willing to pay such prices, unlike other places. They are here because they are paid 6-figure salaries to be here, or else they are investors heating up the market.

  38. To be fair to Tim, you can’t solve a systemic problem with personally generosity, but you can solve a systemic problem by personally speaking out as a beneficiary of the systemic problem and explaining how it privileges you’re class and group.

    A hypocrite is better than an unrepentant sinner. Tim might be fairly called a hypocrite because he doesn’t take a loss for the cause like a true believer, but on the other hand taking the loss personally would just be a drop in the bucket and would just enable the fianancial land speculators and profiteers to more easily take profits from him. Tim isn’t important enough to change all of the profiteers all by his example, so being an example isn’t a good solution for him personally to solve the problem everyone has to deal with.

  39. @snapsMcKenzie,

    Yes, there is a reason RENTAL costs in the bay area are so high, but what your describing are the effects on the profits of construction companies and not the cause of the housing shortage.

    The cause of the housing shortage as has been pointed out repeatedly is that we have too many offices where people have to commute to get work and not enough housing near the newly constructed offices to house the new immigrant employees that profit the new immigrant companies in their newly construct offices that used to be land available for housing.

    Also our mass transit could be upgraded and provided as a free city service to help solve the problems of high rental costs, but that would not help the profits of the construction industry, so mass transit gets killed politically by housing construction profit oriented PR. Remember these housing construction companies are not in it for the moral generosity and make their decisions only based on profit. The companies that profit from housing construction and high prices in the bay area are correct is their understanding that better mass transit would lower the profits of housing construction and housing speculation business.

  40. Again, I’m suggesting a comparison that looks outward. Every city has some balance between landlords and tenants. What I’m asking is, how does SF’s balance compare to other major cities?

    Can you think of a major American city that is less accepting of landlord- and developer-favored legislation?

    Can you think of a major American city that has stronger tenants’ rights laws and organizations? (Other than maybe Oakland and Berkeley?)

    It’s okay if the answers are no; many/most YIMBYs support strong tenants’ rights too! But let’s be clear on where we live now: it’s one of the more tenant-favoring cities in America.

  41. @Gneiss,

    So make financial and legal incentive make the rich neighborhoods more dense to keep a wonderful urban environment for poor people? Why not a higher percent tax on all real estate based on square footage of usable space, that gets a yearly discount of $1000 for every person living on the land paid to the people living on the land (not the speculators or land owners) and paid for fairly and equally by the general tax increase on all land inside the city limits. So every property owners taxes will go up as a percent, but dense housing construction will get a per person “occupied and used for housing” refund/discount of a fixed dollar amount paid directly to the occupant for passing through to the land owner as rent. Then a rich neighborhood with low density will have to pay appropriately for it’s privilege.

    ps. If you do this right, you could get the vacant lots awaiting construction rented to the homeless for camps in a way that makes the construction company a profit and gives the homeless a chance to survive too.

  42. So you’re saying SF has seen more development recently than it did before, when it had less. I agree. You seem to dislike the development. I disagree.

    None of that either supports (or disproves) your initial argument, which was that SF has a rubber stamp approval process. Again, compared to other major cities, the approval process for most/all of that new development was longer, more demanding, more capricious, and ultimately costlier than equivalent development would have been in just about any other major American city.

    The fact that there has been more development recently doesn’t mean it was too much. (And applying the same logic to my own point: the fact that the approval process is demanding here doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too demanding.) My issue is that it’s problematic when the YIMBYs and the NIMBYs look at the same approval process and one side says “this is a long and demanding process” and the other side says “this is a rubber stamp.” We should at least compare our status quo to other similarly situated cities and ask, where are we compared to them? Going through that process allows us to be honest about the causes and effects of past and future policies.

    So: yes, the last few years have seen more development than SF saw in the years before that. No, none of it was rubber stamped by SF Planning or the Supervisors or really anyone.

    And, back to the original point: SF’s policies have been more “progressive” than just about any other major U.S. city for entire time Tim has been living and writing here. Whether or not you support continued “progressive” policies, or even more “progressive” policies, the fact is that they have been progressive so far.

  43. “compared to what”?

    San francisco has been too accepting of landlords and developer favored legislation that rig he market for their profits compared to how accepting San francisco has been of rigging the markets for the good of the city citizens. San francisco does have a lot of regulations about housing, but most most of it is not for the benefit of the public, it’s for the benefits of special construction and housing construction and the affluent quality of life. Also, there’s more speculation and profiteering off of the renters here in san francisco than anywhere else, so it would make sense that the city needs more protection from speculation and profiteering off renters here than anywhere else.

  44. Well, maybe YIMBY’s were pushing tenant protections because they already had the land for building on and wanted to make the property they owned for the new housing units they offer a scarce commodity. So they weren’t pushing “Tennant protections” they were pushing “construction housing profit protections” that served a secondary benefit of protecting tenants too. YIMBY’s are just as happy or happier with taking property off the market to build a park as a method of increasing construction revenues. Tennant protection advocacy of some specific types in specific situations is part of how housing construction companies can gain a monopoly locally on the remaining available housing construction profits.

  45. There’s a lot of ways this could increase housing construction. I you have rent control and renter protection than you can’t just evict 100 people from your building who have to move to another state or location in order to sell to the higher priced market demand. so by reserving housing units for the people who live their and preventing their evitiction and gentrification, then you increase the unmet demand for housing construction which increases the profits for housing construction building companies.

    from a housing construction advocacy perspective, ensuring strong rent control ensures a strong demand for new housing which ensures larger profits for housing speculators which are making the ROI analysis on weather to build a site or not. Building new luxury housing in the middle of a poor neighborhood full of rent control units will make the company more money than building a new luxury housing complex in the middle of a bunch of other luxury housing complex that will all compete for the local demand for housing. When speculators look for good investments, they look for a free open parcel of land they can sell to the most wealthy stuck in the middle of a bunch of rent controlled neighborhood homes so anyone new wanting to move into the neighborhood will have no choice but to buy the new luxury higher priced homes no matter how much the rent is because the construction company has a semi-monopoly on new housing available for rent.

  46. Restrictive zoning and neighborhood vetoes, to begin with. High per-project fees. Mafia-style government that asks for a “taste” (1-3% of total building cost) of every project. There’s a reason cost per square foot is higher in the Bay Area than almost anywhere else in the county – and it’s not because materials are difficult to ship here.

  47. You said “There is evidence in my mind – as sprawl has grown in the Bay, commutes have gotten longer.”

    It is logical that as housing was built outside the City more people who work in the City had longer (more distance) commutes. But then employers also moved out of the City where workers lived. As it is today, workers in Concord, a city that has a larger supply of more affordable housing, make longer commutes than San Francisco workers. There does not seem to be a relationship between living farther from work and housing prices.

    What I have noticed is that as the economy grew, there were more cars on the road, and the commutes got longer (more time) traveling the same distance. During the recession it took sometimes half the time to travel the same distance.

  48. “The housing regulations put in place by progressives from the 60s through the 90s have led us directly to where we are today.”

    How? What’s your evidence? The city wasn’t the cheapest, but affordable, until the dot-com boom. I’ve lived it. Prices doubled within a few years, because rich newcomers were outbidding everyone else, not because there was no housing.

  49. Andy,

    “At every opportunity, progressives have protected wealthy neighborhoods’ prerogative to keep people out through downzoning, local control, fear mongering about ‘manhattanization’, etc.”: I’ve been reading Tim Redmond and the SFBG since 1988, back when no one had imagined what’s going on now. The SFBG has consistently called for more low-income housing, and consistently decried NIMBYs—in that word—rich folks who wouldn’t tolerate in their midst any low income housing, halfway housing, anything that smacks of poverty. That exclusion is what progressives, including activists like Tim and bystanders like myself, have been opposing then and oppose now. Except now we have the fight about inclusionary housing in large projects, with developers pissing and moaning that the entirely inadequate percentages foisted upon them are too much. Were was Trauss, where was YIMBY, when inclusionary housing percentages have been fought for before the BOS and the Planning Commission, in general regulations and for individual projects? All I ever hear from those more visible quarters is a knee-jerk build-baby-build, and support of every large project, as is.

    Slow growth and low density are a different issue. Quality of life is not a NIMBY issue. Open spaces, views, and hassle-free transportation are public resources belonging to people from all walks of life. For 150 years SF has been a model for a successful and vibrant city, with mostly 2-3 story building heights. But now higher density is presented as either an absolute improvement to city life, or as the price we have to pay for affordability. Neither of these has convincing empirical evidence to back it up, and plenty of counterexamples.
    As a non-NIMBY progressive, let me tell you that I would tolerate losing the views from my home, and would tolerate ugly boxes in the Mission, if I knew that these would assure a city affordable to a wide variety of people. I have not been convinced that they will. OTOH, I’ll be damned if I agree to give up one inch of greenery or views just because Facebook feels like adding 10,000 to their Bay Area staff, or because some investors figured a bunch of condos above everyone else would be a good place to park a few hundred million bucks.

  50. Oh, please, condos have shot skyward above and beyond zoning limits like crazy with exemptions. Our streets have darkened in the shadows of and around Market Street, SOMA, the Mission, Mission Bay, the Potrero foothills, and soon beautiful areas like the Divisadero strip and Forest Hills. Is it any wonder that when one of these goes before the voters, like 8 Washington, it gets shot down?

  51. What you call “rubber-stamp approval for development” in SF is in fact one of the longer and more demanding approval processes for development of any major city. And if you think it should be longer and more difficult, that’s fine I guess. But I want us to be clear about how we characterize the status quo. If you’re calling SF’s development approval process a rubber stamp, I wonder: is there a major city with a development approval process that you think is appropriately tuned? Put another way: SF’s is a rubber stamp compared to what?

  52. Thanks, Tim, for this paragraph:

    “The Yimby folks have been almost entirely absent from the battles for better rent control, for anti-displacement measures, and for protecting existing vulnerable communities. I have never seen a Yimby person at a protest against an Ellis Act eviction, or against the brutal gentrification and displacement in this city. I haven’t seen Yimby money and efforts go into land trusts, social housing, or other models that get housing out of the private sector. Those, I believe, are the only models that have a chance of working.”

    The real estate trolls have no end of prescriptions for the working poor. They tell us how much better off we’ll be without rent control, and how selfish we are for not caring about untold, unnamed residents who will arrive in the future. A few more comments down the chain and they resort to name-calling and class-based insults. Any thinking person can see right through their so-called concern.

  53. It’s “insane” not to see that rubber-stamp approval for development by City Hall during the period you describe—and its attendant speculation—has brought us to this state. And yet, talk to any blue-collar or service industry worker living in SF and they’ll tell you they’re here by the grace of rent control. That’s a progressive win for many thousands of San Franciscans.

    As one drives down streets packed with sparkling new mausolea, with streets choked with Ubers and Lyfts, a San Franciscan (real estate trolls don’t count) must ask at what point is saying yes to more development reached its reasonable, sane limit.

  54. Enriching himself doesn’t have to be the motive. The problem is that Tim’s secure housing situation is a position of privilege that others don’t have, and it allows him to ask for things (like purity of funding AKA government owned) that are unreasonable to those without that privilege.

  55. This is the part that pains me most, Tim, because you and your critics (I’m one of them) are so far apart on even assessment of where we’ve been living that it seems impossible we’ll be able to learn from history together and say what worked and what went wrong. As you can see above, several commenters have called you out and said San Francisco has been implementing your progressive policies for years and they have failed. You’re saying here that the last 35 to 50 years has seen your political opponents in charge, and they’re the ones who have failed.

    I know you genuinely want more socialized, non-private, “progressive” solutions for housing implemented, and that you think policy of the last few decades has been far too market-oriented. That’s fine. But it’s only fair that you acknowledge that San Francisco’s housing policies these past few decades have been the most regulated and the most “progressive” of just about any city in the country.

    If we put every city or county in America on one big Left-Right spectrum with regard to housing policy (with what you call progressive on the left) San Francisco might be the leftmost city/county on the whole thing (unless you put Berkeley or Oakland a little further left). At a minimum it’s in the left-most 5%. It’s insane to pretend San Francisco is the way it is because of some sort of libertarian idealists run amok with Ayn Rand as mayor. San Francisco isn’t and hasn’t been that. It’s not Houston. By most any measure, it’s not even as capitalist or market-run or libertarian as the average American city.

    So when you complain that San Francisco has been too accepting of landlords and developers and market forces, one has to ask: compared to what?

  56. Speaking from Washington State, the ‘rebellion’ initiated by CA’s Prop 13 washed over our state as well and continues to do so. We have suffered through a series of anti-tax initiatives by the infamous Tim Eyman; hatred of government is his ideology.

  57. It did actually end the scourge of people being forced to sell their homes to pay their property taxes. It’s ensured people can stay in their homes for long periods of time without being worried about being bankrupted by property taxes as well.

  58. What is your answer to the fact that between 1975 and 1978 property taxes were increasing in coastal California at a rate of between 200-250%? Do you consider tax increases that double every year to be sustainable? Let me put this in concrete numbers. If I pay $12,000 a year in property taxes today and the situation of the 70s were repeated, next year I’d pay $24,000 and the year after I’d pay $48,000, the year after I’d pay $98,000. Property owners were screaming for relief during that time and the legislature refused to act, therefore opening the door to the sledgehammer of Prop 13. And while Prop 13 seems to be unpopular in this comment forum, it’s not at all unpopular statewide. Which is why there’s NEVER been a serious attempt to repeal Prop 13 and return to the days of property taxes that double every year. I’m all for refining Prop 13 but we are never, EVER going back to the days of 3% property taxes that are reassessed every year.

  59. I agree with Tim and think Shaw (and others) are engaging in the worst kind of click-bait advocacy.

    Newsflash: SF’s greatest single source of revenue is tourism income. And people don’t come to SF to look at glass office towers and ugly apartment buildings on every block. It would be nice to think we could revert to a WWII-era economy of shipbuilding and light manufacturing, but that’s not happening. Someone, somewhere, has to pay for this utopia on the bay. Bear in mind the reasons that people like it before you kill it off.

  60. Well, it actually did save grandma. That said, I agree with most of what you wrote, except for creating a right wing cudgel. The sponsors were anti-tax zealots but not smart enough to think of a plan like that.

  61. Prop 13 was sold as a way to save Grandma but that was always a scam. If elderly people had problems with escalating property taxes it would have been simple to provide a means tested relief program to help them. The point of Prop 13 was to create a right wing cudgel that would convert people to their cause by making it financially and politically impossible to oppose it over time, and they were successful with that. Now, 40 years later, it’s a major contributing factor in income inequality.

  62. Isn’t it curious that the YIMBYs always tell progressives that we need to consider that we might be wrong? In the meantime, they push an agenda that can only be disproved after irreversible, disastrous consequences. We are the ones who apply the precautionary principle while they cry, “Build, Build, Build and we’ll sort it out later.” Haven’t we had enough of that?

  63. “thousands of cities in both the US and around the world have demonstrated that the most effective way to address housing affordability is to ensure that there is adequate housing supply to meet residential demand in a timely way.”

    Thousands? Do you have a list? And how many of these cities outside the U.S. are in countries with significantly lower gini indices (measure of inequity) than the U.S.?

  64. Evaluating the carbon footprint of a single municipality in an urban agglomeration (Bay Area) is not good science. See, and. Increasing density in the core cities does not fix the problem because growth and sprawl continue and because larger agglomerations are not more efficient.

    In fact, the single most “impactful thing” we could do is to breed less.

  65. You need to argue the facts. Demeaning someone is not an argument. It suggests that the person doing the name calling does not have a valid argument.

  66. I believe the average low-income person in the US has more living space than the average middle-class person in Germany. The Soviet Union had a housing model but they could tell you where you could live and work and how much space you could have. I would not like to be assigned to a studio in Fresno.

  67. For some the quality of life in the Mission is improving. Along Valencia there are more retail and food service jobs.

  68. Due to the restrictive housing policies he has been advocating for for the last 30 years. He is more than culpable for these Nimby policies and meteoric price increases. Just like he is trying call out the “evils” of free market supply while using these supply restrictions to greedily enrich himself at the expense of anyone else that wants to live there. His cognitive dissonance is astounding.

  69. California is “full”? The population of this state was 12 million when I was born here. Now it is about 35 million. What was the threshold (number) at which California became “full”?
    Would you propose that all the carpetbaggers, Tim R, and others, go back where they came from? To the states that are not “full”?
    Joan Didion: California’s Golden Age is always 10 years before you arrived here, whether by birth or other means.

  70. It’s “point” is to try to discredit Tim’s opinion because his humble home increased in value over the past 2 decades.

  71. I am a native native and my California roots are continuous back to 1920s.

    My point wasn’t that prop 13 is good law. My point is that “accusing” someone of having low taxes because of prop 13, a law that one can’t choose to ignore is ridiculous.

    Using that logic, anyone who has a home that has appreciated in value and pays their property tax bill (under prop 13) is a hypocrite if the write an opinion about housing issues in San Francisco that don’t conform to your own.

    Furthermore, even though prop 13 is poorly written, I had a relative who was being taxed out of her home in Huntington Beach. The assessed value kept increasing in all of Orange County and her property taxes soared to be more than her mortgage payments.

    Her only option was to sell the family home and move the family to Bakersfield or fight for some type of relief, which she got with prop 13.

    I do believe that people shouldn’t be taxed out of their homes, but I also believe that prop 13 goes too far and certainly never should have been extended to businesses. I think ‘means testing’ or something should be reviewed as a change.

    And there is always someone who says “look, Tim’s house is expensive and that invalidates his opinion” which is a red herring.

  72. Are you new to California? Prop 13 has become a feudal regime that confers all the benefits to the wealthy and charges more to the young and lower income. To assert that this or any issue is unfit for critique is something we see in Texas, not California.

  73. Proposition 13 is a California state law not a SF one. You can say this about every property owner (commercial and residential) in the state. What is your point?

  74. Ridiculous statement. Someone bought a home a long time ago and it increased in value so that make them a hypocrite? Someone who bought a home long ago and because of prop 13, their property taxes are low and that make them a hypocrite?

    Go back to Stupid, Texas. They like your type of assessment there.

  75. We have Twelve Dollar Drinks in the Mission now, not to mention the Four Dollar Toast. Even if you have affordable rent, you can’t afford to go out so the local shops are closing and the quality of life as we knew it is deteriorating.

  76. There is evidence in my mind – as sprawl has grown in the Bay, commutes have gotten longer.

  77. “Zoning and other rules can lower property values, which is what SF needs.” The ownership of property in coastal California is pretty much the only way lower and middle class people have left of both accumulating wealth and passing some of that on to their families – and your solution is to shut that last avenue off by lowering their property values. I have never heard anything more absurd and thoughtlessly cruel in my life.

  78. Gee, comparing neighborhoods in a city with entire cities? That’s brilliant. Oh, and just where are the jobs being created? In Pacific Heights or Mountain View? Never mind.

    And if we want super high density builds, we have to have the infrastructure to allow them. That would mean tearing out wide swaths in those neighborhoods. Market Street, Van Ness, parts of the Alemany corridor and other parts of the city provide ample opportunity to keep developers and urban planners busy for the next 20 years.

    The episodic variance type of urban planning we have now is a joke. Our city is a mess, a muddle of densities with no infrastructure improvements, with no strict rules given as a condition of permit to build. Hell, many of the new builds have vacant retail because the rents are so high but the building’s occupants can’t find a laundry or dry cleaner, or even a convenience food store. Does anyone think that as a condition of permit, a specified percent of retail must be dedicated to services that people actually need?

    Oh, and new, market-rate housing always displaces people in poor neighborhoods. It’s not always immediate.

  79. We have a housing affordability crisis right now, right here, in 2017 San Francisco, USA.

    Yes, and this is all theoretical to Tim, Calvin, Peter Cohen etc as they bought their properties long ago and don’t have to live with the reality of crushing housing costs. For them, this isn’t a fight about where they can raise a family or find meaningful work, its a fight about principles, and how things ought to be.

    I can guarantee Tim wouldn’t be content waiting for kingdom come to get his social housing unit if his situation was tenuous.

    That being said I still strongly support broad based social housing and believe that any lasting equitable solution will need a large expansion of social housing in the SFBA.

  80. I don’t have a bias against newcomers – I have a bias against political movements based on ignorance and their clumsy attempts to find a group to blame/slur to simplify things, out of their false understanding of the past and (IMO) somewhat shortsighted hopes for the future. But I love the new element in SF as much as I miss the old element. Will look for link and post back.

  81. Not angry — just calling out your bullshit post and seeing where you’d take it. Nowhereville.

  82. I agree that simple blame schemes are not productive. My side does this when they call everyone who disagrees with them a NIMBY. In many cases, this labeling is simplistic and unfair.

    Let me suggest to you, though, that you may have your own simple blame scheme, which is a bias against newcomers. That 25 year old who came here just a few years ago was me in the early 90s (and Tim Redmond a few years before that). I want newcomers to SF to feel that this is their home as much as I do now.

    I’d appreciate it if you’d send me links to your writings on Reddit. Of course I don’t think that 80% of what I believe is based on misinformation and false premises. But if I’m wrong, I want to know about it.

  83. It matters because 80% of “YIMBY” logic seems to be based on misinformation and false premises. I have posted on Reddit a lot about the question you’re asking, cannot recap it all here. But in short, CA is full, we’re out of water, and traffic is worse than it’s ever been. And the core assertion of “YIMBY”-ers is that the Bay Area has opposed all development, which is utter crap – nobody wanted to develop here in the 90’s/00’s and yet *tons* of housing was added in this period in other parts of the Bay. People believe what they want to believe, and want someone to blame. I don’t buy some 25 year old who moved here in 2012 with strong opinions about what everyone did wrong – sorry – I have just been around too long to accept simple blame schemes.

  84. Your views on capitalism and market forces are well known, Tim. I think they are wrong, but let’s assume for the moment they’re right. Regardless, the sheer quantity of electoral, legal, and cultural barriers San Francisco would have to overcome to implement a German-style housing policy here is staggering. It would take decades, in a best-case scenario, and even then there’d no guarantee of political, legal or economic success. You know this because you’ve been fighting, and (by your own admission) losing, this struggle for decades already.

    Meanwhile, thousands of cities in both the US and around the world have demonstrated that the most effective way to address housing affordability is to ensure that there is adequate housing supply to meet residential demand in a timely way. It doesn’t matter who provides that supply — private developers or public agencies — if the goal is to make housing affordable and minimize displacement, timely creation of sufficient housing supply is what matters most.

    We have a housing affordability crisis right now, right here, in 2017 San Francisco, USA. Regardless whether we like it or not, we live in a market-oriented culture. You can loathe it, or resist it, but it’s a deeply rooted social-political reality — and no amount of Tim Redmond blog posts will change that in our lifetimes. Pointing to Germany as a model for housing is as ridiculous as Mao Zedong getting people in Hubei to use the farming techniques that worked in Dazhai. You know how that went.

    So what we end up with here in SF is a situation where you, and Welsh, and Eberling are holding housing supply hostage until you get the glorious revolution that will deliver your ideologically preferred outcome. It’s just not working.

    And you say YIMBYS have delusional fantasies. Listen to yourself, and take a very hard look in the mirror.

  85. Tim, if this is what you think that YIMBYs believe, then you haven’t talked to enough of them. Most would say that more MR housing is necessary but not sufficient to address the housing crisis that we’re facing. Most would fully support a greater investment in social housing, and recognize (and envy) the success of this model in other countries. I encourage you to stop by YIMBYtown this weekend and engage some of the people there. You might be pleasantly surprised.

  86. San Francisco has one of the lowest carbon footprints per capita in the US. If we want to slow global climate change, we should be welcoming as many people as possible into an urban lifestyle, it is actually the most impactful thing we can do.

  87. So between now and the indeterminate time in the future, where should all the tech workers migrating here move? I’m a tech worker and I’ve been here for 5 years, do I count as a resident yet? Do I deserve a big enough place to raise a family here? Will the government build me my unit before I’m too old to have kids?

  88. “We have been on the front lines for half a century, working for an affordable city ”
    You’ve not only utterly failed, I’d say you’re the cause.

  89. Even if you were right about YIMBYs all being newcomers (you’re not), I don’t see how that matters in this discussion. Please share with me the facts that only Bay Area natives know that give them the correct understanding of the housing situation that you believe the YIMBYs are missing.

  90. Yes, but the whole Yimby/Nimby thing has got to go. The term Nimby is used both loosely to associate people who are pro-build, and specifically to refer to the SF organization. And Nimby is no better, also skewing people towards a dogmatic outlook. I don’t give either much credence as the truth that pertains to these issues is highly relative.

  91. But I think the real issue is this: The Yimbys think the private market can solve the problem, which I believe is a delusional fantasy. I think it’s possible to more carefully plan economic development and growth (less disruption) and that we can build a movement for socialized housing, which I suspect the Yimbys see as a fantasy. My suggestion has worked in other parts of the world (Germany, for example); I don’t think that the private market is working on its own very well anywhere these days (see: healthcare).

  92. Of course, we need to account for the fact that a significant part of this city could be underwater in 40 years if the same growth-is-god policies continue, so that could be a problem.

  93. Sonja just emailed me and said that we disagree about the size of the city, she thinks it would be better off with a million people and I don’t. Not sure that’s accurate. If we could build 200K units of social housing, out of the private market, with prices set for the real (and existing) workforce, first stabilizing existing vulnerable communities to guarantee no displacement, and we paid for the infrastructure to handle that many people, I could easily accept the argument that we would be better off. I still don’t think we should worship growth as a god, but I am not against density or increased population in cities. I am against policies that drive existing residents out and impoverish the city because growth doesn’t pay for growth.

  94. My mother did and my father did not. What’s your fucking point? Neither of them migrated to SF.

  95. They don’t – they Googled a bunch of shit and read a bunch of Medium and TechCrunch essays written roughly between 2013-2017. That is the extent of their knowledge of the region, which makes sense, since most of them arrived here 2-3 years ago.

  96. The “YIMBY” mind is so constrained by tunnel vision and total lack of information & historical context that it is hard to penetrate.

  97. Tim Redmond 7/13/2017

    And I have never been one to oppose density or height.

    Tim Redmond 2/11/2010

    The battle over 555 Washington — the too-big highrise that will house 248 luxury condos that San Francisco doesn’t need

    Tim Redmond 8/30/2015 (regarding 75 Howard)

    There’s the shadow issue (the Sierra Club lays it out here).There’s the fact that it’s taller even that 8 Washington, which was called the Wall on the Waterfront.

  98. Just a reminder to all progressives that care about our city: Tim Redmond owns a 1.5 million dollar house in the city and pays ~0.4% in property taxes. Property taxes pay for lot’s of progressive things.


    “He calls for income redistribution and progressive taxation, yet overlooks a system that allows him to pay a negligible amount in tax on an asset which has quadrupled in value in under twenty years. This means less money for California to spend on schools, state parks, and, yes, affordable housing. And it means that Redmond directly benefits from San Francisco’s high-and-ever-rising property values, because so long as supply is restricted the value of his house will continue to increase with only the tiniest of corresponding increases in his tax liability.”

  99. And I have never been one to oppose density or height. (tho I think Rincon Tower is ugly, but that’s another i.ssue). I oppose displacement and the creation of a city for the rich. And I think growth should pay for growth. That doesn’t seem too radical. Around 70 percent of the homeless people in SF used to be housed here; can’t we address that problem? And can’t we agree with what I call the Hyppocratic Oath of SF housing policy: First, do no harm?

  100. IMO, the least you could do, as a token gesture, to show us you aren’t anti-housing is stop giving arch-nimby’s like Zelda Bronstein an outlet. She is _undeniably_ and _explicitly_ anti housing and she publishes op eds on 48hills with a regular cadence.

  101. Please get your history right. During the 1980s, progressives fought like hell to get housing, but Feinstein and the developers refused to pay for it and the private sector was making more money in commercial office space. In the 1990s. the progressives got Willie Brown to put redevelopment money into affordable housing — and built a lot — until Gov. Jerry Brown outlawed that. Always, always, progressives warned against “boom” economies and tried to protect tenants and affordable housing. Always, always, progressives tried to make this a welcoming city for refugees of all types.

  102. For most of the 35 years I have been working in this city, the landlords and developers have controlled local politics, not the progressives. Same in Sacramento. It’s their policies, and the policies of mayors like Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee, that have created this problem. If the progressives were in charge, we would have rent controls on vacant apartments, no Ellis Act, fair taxes on developers and landlords to pay for a major investment in social (workforce) housing — and yes, limits on new office space linked to housing. No new Apple campus until Apple and Cupertino figure out how to house the workforce. No Twitter tax break until there’s room for the new workers. Economic development based on a labor pool analysis that looks at what existing residents can do, what training they need, etc. Zoning and other rules can lower property values, which is what SF needs. But very few of the policies the progressives advocate have passed. So if you want to complain about the past 50 years, complain about the people who have been running the city — and that’s Feinstein, Brown, Newsom, Lee, Shorenstein, Conway … not me.

  103. Agreeing with Costa-Hawkins repeal is a little besides the point. YIMBYs were pushing for it to further tenant protections, which the author argues YIMBYs haven’t been doing.

  104. He doesn’t like that program. Ironically – it benefits his buddies like Calvin Wench more than anyone else, but Tim maintains a strict policy of opposing measures that carve like a scalpel when he can support the impact of a nuclear bomb instead.

  105. thats great, but I don’t have 50 more years to wait for housing to become more affordable by some giant government program (which would be awesome btw, fully supportive). People have the money lined up to build now, people have the properties lined up now, we have the political will to do this, you just need to get out of the way and stop jamming this up!

  106. Tim, maybe you aren’t aware but SF has an Inclusionary Housing Program where private developers are, by law, required to dedicate a portion of their housing units (or revenue) to affordable housing. So private development will automatically lead to more affordable housing, by default. By blocking private development, you’re also blocking the taxation revenue that would go towards non-profits and government programs that would lead to affordable housing units being more widely available.


    It’s amazing that most of these debates go on without anyone mentioning that this program exists. Seems….kind of important to know?

  107. While Tim’s side takes money from wealthy residents who oppose new housing because it’ll spoil their views. Fail to see the difference in who you take money from in this argument. Tim’s side is no more pure than the other.

  108. I agree with all you wrote except Costa-Hawkins repeal. I don’t understand how allowing local governments to extend rent control to all units, including single family homes, and impose draconian measures like vacancy control, are going to help us build more housing – at all.

  109. One thing I admire about you Tim, is your geniality. You’re always kind. I just wish you were more open-minded. The policies you’re prescribing have failed. Government is not going to take over the housing sector and allocate homes to families based on their length of residence in a community, which is something I’ve seen you propose previously. You’re being completely unrealistic. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s unlawful and would be a violation of the US and California constitutions.

  110. If AstroTurf groups like BARFSF and the YIMBYs would stop taking Ron Conway and developer $$$$ they might be credible. All that $$$ bankrupts your argument and reveals you as the corporate tools you are. Nary a single BARFbot or YIMbot attended the hearings on illegal evictions and displacement of San Franciscans. The disconnect is damning. Actions speak louder than words.

  111. “built on a myth […] vision of a past that never actually happened”

    The shortage of housing in the Bay Area has made “market-rate” and “very expensive” synonymous, but this wasn’t always the case. Ten years ago, a couple could afford to rent a 2br apartment if they earned 131% of the area median income—$96,000. Two first-year teachers can earn that. Now, between the two of them, they’d need to earn 242% of the area median income—$193,000.

    “Facts are not their friends.”

    From 2009-2015, San Francisco added 123,000 jobs, 50,000 residents, and 12,000 housing units. In 2015, the entire Bay Area added 133,000 jobs and 16,000 units of housing.

    What did you think was going to happen?

  112. Peoria, IL? Well that’s my hometown and where I was born. Have you ever been? I don’t remember any (meaning zero) of my grade school friends coming from families that would ever have been described as “affluent,” regardless of your relative comparison of cities.

    Your imaginary Peoria perspective is ludicrous, and I don’t appreciate it. As a generalization, Peorians are working class people with grit. Entitlement isn’t something we are known for by any stretch of the imagination.

  113. OK. How do you propose we make that happen? Oppose all market-rate housing until Ben Carson decides to mail us a check for a few billion dollars? What should we do in the meantime, since there’s still a shortage of all housing?

  114. Until you consider that you might be wrong — not in your goals but in your solutions — and join us and start pushing for more construction instead of just demanding more regulation, you aren’t going to convince us you are serious about helping the renters and working-class people of this and every other city.

  115. We’re launching a YIMBY Medium, and I think this would be great to add! Send me an email or twitter dm, if you’re interested.

  116. What is all this talk about how I don’t want more housing? I want a lot more housing, tens of thousands of units. I just don’t want it in the private sector. I want it to be affordable to the existing workforce.

  117. I’ve been in The Mission for 30 years. It was 30 years of watching fauxgressives like Tim and Calvin Welsh oppose new housing, combined with the obvious consequences of that silliness, that turned me into a YIMBY.

    Nevetheless, I’m always amused by the arrogance and self-congratulatory tone of so-called progressives here. That, and their total lack of accountability for the housing affordability crisis they’ve done so much to create.

    Now it’s time for Tim and Calvin to listen.

  118. It is true that housing is not affordable for people at all income levels. If you can’t afford Seacliff you must move to Tiburon. If you can’t afford Pacific Heights move to Atherton.

  119. There is no evidence that suburban sprawl or housing prices cause long commutes. Over 80% of the Bay Area jobs are outside of San Francisco; industrial sprawl? Workers in cities with lower price housing do not commute any less distance that workers in cities with higher price housing. SF housing prices may be unfair to working-class people, but not terrible for local economies are demining to communities.

    To have more working-class and middle-class in SF you need to have working-class and middle-class jobs. Those jobs have been leaving the City and are not likely to return. The City is building for the workforce. But many in the workforce may not want to live in SF.

    Increasing the supply will drive down the prices if the demand is stable. But the demand is increasing. The good economy causes high prices. The prices will come down when the economy does.

    There seems to be an assumption that if high end housing is not built, higher income people will not come. Hasn’t the Mission been gentrified without new housing?

  120. Self promotion. “Hi. I’m Sonja Traus and i’m running for D6 supervisor.
    I make speeches about supporting tenants and renters but take money from venture capitalists, developers and luxury condo lobbyists. I have a penchant for misusing terms like “nativist” and “NIMBY.” Pay no attention to my record of failed lawsuits or my zealous followers. I’m all about “community” and “dignity” now that I want your vote.

  121. Preach! If Paris or Barcelona had enacted laws to limit height and number of dwellings in the 18th-19th centuries, you’d never have the marvelous urban streetscapes that they enjoy today. There’s no reason we can’t make the city more dense and also keep a wonderful urban environment.

  122. All this squawking and still what Tim Redmond says is true — YIMBYs never address displacement. They have no plan in place to prevent that. Their idea of sharing is for baby boomers and lower-to-true-middle-income folks to move on and give the city over to them. Then they whine that we don’t welcome them. Who would welcome the grim reaper? Who would welcome bad neighbors who have no respect for people outside their tiny little circle?

  123. YIMBYs understand the history of the region quite well. Between 2010 and 2016, the Bay Area added 500,000 jobs but only 50,000 homes. This has led to rising prices and longer commutes for people of all races and incomes. The cause is local land use policies that severely limit the construction of new housing. This is not unique to the Bay Area, which is why the YIMBYtown conference is drawing people from all over the US and Canada. If there are other facts that you think we’re missing, I’d appreciate it if you’d share them.

  124. You sound like a relic, bitter you didn’t get in when progressives like Calvin Welch and Tim did. Now it’s too late. But don’t disguise your sanctimony as righteousness, it’s really jealousy and anger at yourself and others for your bad judgment and financial mistakes in the past.

  125. RH-1 -> RH-4. Minimally disruptive, huge impact on available supply. Upzone noe valley!

  126. I’ve been reading The Guardian and now 48 Hills for 13 years, and in that time I’ve seen Tim write a variant of this essay at least one hundred times. The housing regulations put in place by progressives from the 60s through the 90s have led us directly to where we are today. Yet despite that, Tim keeps shrieking we just need to double down for it all to really work. It’s lunacy.

  127. I’m a property owner, so no – I don’t have resentment. What I do feel is dismay over how the restriction in housing growth means we can’t welcome new people to our city anymore. If we only zone for housing growth in parts of the city where poor people live then they will get displaced, as the incentives for developers are overwhelmingly concentrated in those neighborhoods. What we need to do, is open up the ability for developers to build more multi-family housing (and larger buildings) in places where wealthy already live.

  128. You have failed Tim, give it up. Residents have woken up to the fact that the Calvin Wench school of housing policy in San Francisco has failed, and that is why YIMBY was born.

  129. please name these SF neighborhoods – please explain these “gravy train of wealth generation that comes from restricting the supply of housing” – you are void of facts – just resentment

  130. agreed; very well-said; I really do not have sympathy for them – i do have great empathy for the long time residents – families who have been here for generations – who have to leave the City because of their whining that they can’t have what they want

  131. I know there is formula business restriction but can you point me to a zoning and preservation document regarding North Beach and Pacific Heights? Just curious as that is where our offices are located.

  132. Funny how in all this discussion of how Mountain View and Cupertino use zoning to restrict new housing from getting built, there’s no discussion about how zoning and “historic” preservation in wealthy neighborhoods like Pacific Heights, St. Francis Wood, North Beach and others similarly restrict housing growth in the city.

    We have plenty of neighborhoods where poor people wouldn’t get displaced if new housing was built that are currently restricted in both height and mass by neighbors who don’t want to see any interruption in the gravy train of wealth generation that comes from restricting the supply of housing.

  133. Instead of telling us that you’re not against new housing, why don’t you stop trying to block new housing.

    Yeah, I get the “Monster in the Mission” argument that market rate housing will put pressure on existing lower income neighbors. Although I’m not sure if the situation is better or worse without the shiny new housing opportunities for the higher incomes..

    But what about 8 Washington? Who was that going to displace? The people living in the $2.2 million condo next door who paid $100K to fund the opposition? And before 8 Washington there was a planned tower next to the Transamerica Pyramid. Wasn’t going to affect any low income neighbors but that didn’t stop Peskin/Tim and their friends from doing everything possible to kill it.

    You would think that if Tim truly wanted to protect low income neighborhoods that he would support housing planned for already affluent areas. But he opposed those just as vehemently.

  134. I was not making any comments about those who take issues with Yimbys generally, just Tim, Welch & Cohen. There is plenty of criticism to be foisted on yimbys, but it’s hilariously hypocritical to hear them coming from people like the three I mentioned.

  135. I know at least one nimby tech programmer who recently at bought a house at exorbitant cost, and feels that he is paying his dues and everyone else should do the same. He doesn’t want more people in the bay area, and he doesn’t want house prices to fall because that would mean being upside down on his mortgage. I imagine there are plenty of people like that.

  136. It’s a breathtakingly condescending assumption that people who take issue with YIMBYism don’t personally live with economic hardship and crushing housing cost burdens.

  137. The “YIMBY” movement (stupid fucking name) is built on a myth created by entitled white people who showed up 3-5 years ago, know nothing about the history of the region, and don’t get why they aren’t as affluent here as they were growing up in Peoria (sorry to dig on the slurring – I am really a peace & love-type person), blaming their plight on an imagined past full of ravenous “NIMBYs” (I think we can blame Tim’s Guardian for giving that unfortunate term traction), a past that never actually happened. Facts are not their friends.

  138. Sounds like Praveen Sinha is only comfortable in his
    holier-than-thou PC echo chamber.

    Alternatively, Sonja’s not afraid to “mix-it-up”.
    Accordingly, she’d make a great advocate for D6, as well as the City at large — especially with regard to much-needed housing creation.

  139. I was just reading today that in 1962 there was a group formed and organized in San Francisco to fight area codes and the renaming of telephone exchanges (example: from Market-6 (626) or Yukon-1 (981)). I think that San Franciscans like to fight more than they like to solve problems.

    And while the following statement may be somewhat true for homeowners, it is the fact for renters: each year your housing gets cheaper and cheaper; I’m not sure your continuing tenancy under these circumstances can be claimed a virtue. A body at rest will tend to stay at rest; build a wall around it and that body won’t even be able to escape.

    And Tim – you are totally ignoring construction costs in favor of villifying land prices. The construction costs alone per unit today at $500k – before the land price is added. And even a $500,000 home is not affordable to any household making less than $125k annually (and that just barely).

    100 yrs ago, 20% of Americans lived in boarding houses – at a time when >50% of the population was rural. Trying to fit the poor with 3BR units is an exercise in deluded expectations.

  140. It’s amazing to say “we’ve been fighting for an affordable city for half a century” and not have a single moment of introspection that maybe some those policies have been the ones contributing to the harm, given we live in a city that is more unaffordable than ever.

    Also YIMBYS have been speaking in favor of a vacancy tax for years (I, a nominal YIMBY, tweeted about it myself), and they were among the only folks to try and help Assemblymember Bloom push for Costa-Hawkins repeal. YIMBYs were alone in speaking for affordable housing in Forest Hills.

    Most importantly they’re the only folks that took the fight for housing to the suburbs by actually suing those suburbs.

    This article,as usual, ignores contrary evidence about the role of market-rate housing. http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/housing-costs.pdf

    Let’s be real. Not a single progressive politician has put forward a single policy that would take private housing under public control. However, YIMBYTOWN does have a discussion about community land trusts.

    YIMBYs are routinely called developer shills. Aaron Peskin tweeted an article that literally described them that way.

    The vast majority of the city lives in housing constructed by the market. I’m not saying that government doesn’t have an important (potentially larger) role to play, but to say that the market never provides housing for the low income is totally unmoored from reality. It hasn’t over the last five years, but San Francisco has basically zoned away the kind of housing that would me most affordable.

    I don’t think all progressives bad faith actors, but to try and rewrite history about what YIMBYs want or have advocated for is disingenuous and guilty of every flaw for which you accuse them.

    Progressives don’t have their hands clean in this crisis either. In order to enact the bulk of their agenda, progs coopted (probably sincerely) a slow growth agenda and restrictive zoning that has now had a disastrous impact on housing (at all income levels).

    Rich people cannot afford to live in the rich parts of town, so they move to where they can afford. This phenomenon is not new. A generation ago, it’s how Bernal and Noe gentrified. We’re watching it happen again in the Mission and Bayview. At every opportunity, progressives have protected wealthy neighborhoods’ perogative to keep people out through downzoning, local control, fear mongering about “manhattanization”, etc. Until progressives come to terms with their own complicity in this crisis they will find their ideas have increasingly less purchase with people in this city.

  141. great article, Tim; hoping people will read it without being ready to attack you at every comma –

  142. tl;dr; “some of us aren’t nimby’s, we just don’t think the proper way to address a housing shortage is with more housing”

    Instead of telling us that you’re not against new housing, why don’t you stop trying to block new housing.

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