Airbnb was founded in 2008, but didn’t really start growing until 2010. San Francisco housing has been unaffordable at least since 1979, when median home prices in the San Francisco-Oakland urban area were four times median family incomes. By 2006, two years before Airbnb’s founding, they were nearly nine times family incomes.
Median Bay Area home prices are now down to seven times median family incomes. So naturally, local activists blame Airbnb for high housing prices. That’s just as dumb as blaming affordability problems on Google and other tech buses.
San Francisco Bay Area housing was affordable in 1969, when median home prices were just a little more than twice median family incomes. What happened between 1969 and 1979? Not Airbnb. Not Google. What happened was that Marin, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties all adopted urban-growth boundaries that included little or no vacant land for growth.
Some of the counties did include some urban reserves, that is, vacant land outside the boundaries that they said would be added when needed. But then California courts held that expanding an urban-growth boundary would require an environmental impact report. Since such reports cost millions of dollars, the cities and counties decided not to move boundaries unless developers were willing to pay that cost. I don’t know of any boundary changes since then.
Normally, affordable housing in the suburbs provides a safety valve that prevents housing in the central cities, such as San Francisco, from becoming too expensive. The urban-growth boundaries prevented that from happening. The growth boundaries also allowed the cities to take years to approve building permits, knowing that homebuilders and buyers had nowhere else to go.
People living in the city of San Francisco, however, don’t seem to see any of this. They don’t understand that housing prices in their neighborhoods are affected by prices in the suburbs. So, when they look for someone to blame for high rents, they focus on their immediate neighbors rather than the region as a whole. That’s convenient, but not very realistic.