“San Francisco’s economy is moving in the right direction,” Mayor Ed Lee told the Examiner last week. “My economic development and job creation policies are setting San Francisco on a path toward economic recovery.”
The normally modest mayor is making a rather sweeping statement there — the US economy is improving in general, and I don’t think the mayor can take credit for all of it. But he’s absolutely correct that he’s promoted policies that are aimed at bringing more tech companies in to San Francisco, and over the next few years, they will no doubt create a lot of high-paid jobs for people with specific skills that require a high degree of training and education.
Is that “the right direction” for the city? I lived here the last time that San Francisco was part of a tech boom, and I’m not so sure.
See, bringing all sorts of new wealth into town sounds good on the surface, and for some people — particularly real-estate speculators, landlords and purveyors of high-end services — it is. But in a city that has limited space and nearly unlimited demand for housing, lots of new rich people and lots of high-paid people looking for places to live puts pressure on the existing residents, particularly the poor and the working class. It screws the middle class, too — if you’re a teacher or a nurse and you want to buy a house in San Francisco during a boom, you’re S.O.L. You can barely afford to rent — and if you’re already renting, you’re constantly at risk of losing your home, and your ability to live in this city, because your landlord can make more money kicking you out and selling the place as a tenancy in common to someone with more money.
There’s no way to build enough new affordable rental housing, or housing that middle-class families can buy, to keep up with the demand. It’s impossible. Developers won’t do that — there’s too much money to be made in high-end housing for anyone in the private marketplace to waste time on anything else.
The only way to preserve the middle class in the upcoming boom that Lee is promoting is to aggressively protect existing rental housing stock — which means preventing condo conversions and TICs and the stuff that gets promoted as “middle-class housing.” The only way to prevent massive displacement of people and existing businesses is to regulate space in the city more tightly than anyone has ever done — which will, by its nature, make it harder for the newcomers and new millionaires to find places to live.
That’s the tradeoff. That’s the fact that Lee and his allies don’t seem to want to grasp