The San Francisco Chronicle reports that San Francisco’s middle class is leaving, priced out of the housing market. Unfortunately, they got the reason for it wrong.
Click for a larger version. Flickr photo by (nz)dave.
“The trend of well-heeled and upwardly mobile young professionals moving into cities across the country, drawn by a newfound affection for the amenities of urban life, is by now well documented. It’s led to many benefits: Cities are revitalizing aging downtowns with new buildings and businesses, people are walking and using transit instead of making long commutes in polluting autos,” says the Chronicle. “But it’s also been putting pressure on housing prices for existing stock and, many argue, steering much of the new development toward the high end.”
If this were true, then only San Francisco and other “walkable” communities in the Bay Area, such as Berkeley, would be getting expensive. But the Bay Area has plenty of pedestrian-unfriendly, auto-liberated cities such as San Jose, San Ramon, and San Raphael. Guess what: housing in these cities is nearly as expensive as in San Francisco, and they are losing their lower and middle classes too.
The real problem is all the growth regulations that prevent home builders from meeting the demand for housing, particularly single-family homes with a yard. Only 17 percent of the Bay Area has been urbanized; 23 percent has been permanently protected in parks. The remaining 60 percent is private but outside of county urban-growth boundaries, most of which haven’t been significantly expanded in decades. That has made housing expensive throughout the Bay Area.
One result is a rapid decline in San Francisco’s black population. That’s why Joseph Perkins, head of the Northern California Home Building Association (who happens to be black) says that “smart growth is the new Jim Crow.”
San Francisco is a beautiful and romantic city. The Antiplanner even supports subsidies for rail transit in San Francisco (cable cars only, not light rail or BART). If it weren’t for growth-regulating rules, San Francisco would still be a little more expensive than most cities in the rest of the country, just as it was in 1969, before counties in the Bay Area started drawing urban-growth boundaries. But those who wanted to live in a walkable city could afford to move to San Francisco even if they didn’t earn $350,000 a year.