All the grey areas are single-family only zoning. Just eye-balling it, I'd say 80% of the land is for low density use only, despite Vancouver having some of the world's most expensive real estate relative to incomes and rents.
This situation is perpetuated by successive city governments who owe their existence to wealthy single family home owners. Oddly, those same single family home owners would become rich if they could subdivide their properties for intensive development. I have never understood this paradox.
They are already rich by virtue of the property they own, so you would have to revise this to be "would become even more rich", which is more illuminating. These folks are already well above the "food, housing, basic needs" level of Maslow's hierarchy and are working towards self-fulfillment, part of which (to them) relies on preserving their current experience in their current home and neighborhood as it is (like living in a museum, as another commenter labeled it). They bought it for what it is, and that's what they want to preserve. It isn't about the money, it is about the experience they want to preserve. Or put in monetary terms, the market may value their home at $2m, but they put a personal value of maybe $3m or $5m on it in order to compensate for the cost of moving (people who have put down these kind of roots hate moving) AND finding an acceptable substitute or upgrade from what they currently have.
This reminds me of an episode of EconTalk, interviewing the author of the book Radical Markets, which includes new and radical ideas for how an economy could be run. One of the ideas is to allow anyone to buy a property at its set value at any time (giving a reasonable notice period, I presume). The property owner is the one who sets the value of the property. To stop property owners from gaming the system and pricing the property too high, all property owners would be required to pay a tax periodically on the value of their property. (Of course, the lower the price set, the more likely it is that the property will get bought, so the property owner can't set the price too low either.) The goal of this idea is to allow land to be used the most efficiently, the way the market is supposed to work for most goods. Of course, this idea has a lot of obvious drawbacks, but I thought it was an interesting thought to discuss.
- Podcast episode: http://www.econtalk.org/glen-weyl-on-radical-markets/
- Article from website of the book: http://radicalmarkets.com/chapters/property-is-monopoly/
Much like with third party job recruiters, there is just no possible way they won’t be subverted to disingenuously service the wishes of the wealthier party.
In addition to all this, just imagine all the horrible ways that wealthy people could inflict punitive damage on non-wealthy people. You pissed off the wrong person at work? You’re a journalist who wrote an unflattering piece about the politician? So you come home to find some consortium bought out the home you love, no traceable links back to the person who inflicted it on you, and the money involved was a pittance to them but a life-long nest egg for you that you desperately don’t want to have to convert into the purchase of a different home.
Every field or area of interest has this going on to some extent (e.g. techies wondering why others don't love configuring/tweaking tech as much as they do), I believe its called the false consensus effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consensus_effect
Same with democracy.
This sounds like the latest in a long line of political theories and ideas cooked up by people who LOVE the game of voting about things and can't understand why others don't share that love. Basically, political wankery.
You have to do lots of things in society you don't like to have it run smoothly (for you and others) in what might be considered an egalitarian effort. Whenever you don't force it, pareto and bad actors end up capitalizing on the gaps. The western nations have relied on the populace's generous nature for long enough that information technology has given people a chance to see how sub-optimal it is. You now have competition between wants and don't cares, where the don't cares have been outmaneuvered into borderline poverty and below.
This similarity leads me to believe Glen Weyl is on to something.
It's a terrible system because a billionaire could come in and scoop up thousands of people's property for pennies (assuming they set their property price low because they can't afford tax when they set it higher).
It can work.
But, to your point: why shouldn’t people pay tax on the value of their property? If they can’t afford the tax, then obviously they can’t afford the house right? Prop 13 is already effectively a Ponzi scheme— actual tax cost is paid by future investors rather than the current investor. So if I buy a house today, my tax rate is x. Tomorrow, my tax rate is still x even if the actual cost of government and my home value has increased. So tomorrow’s buyer pays their tax plus the difference between my x and the actual tax required. Tomorrow’s buyer perpetually subsidizes yesterday’s buyer.
That isn’t fair at all.
I think there is a big difference between property owners who buy a house to live there, retire, hoping it appreciates in value, and people wealthy enough to buy a 2nd or 3rd house, or even a whole block. The later, would have no qualms selling them quickly if another opportunity arose. The first category of people will be a lot more risk averse. That's also one of the reason why the wealthy get wealthier, they don't have to worry about risk, and can easier jump from opportunity to opportunity.
Politicially, the optics of this for the elderly or others on fixed incomes would be terrible. Just imagine story after story showing sobbing old person removed from the area they lived in their whole life, “ripped away from family and neighbourhood ties” etc.
This would prevent both sniping in response to changing market conditions and exploitation of people who just failed to reevaluate value.
OTOH, it's still an annoying system and politically impossible: look at the national blowup a few years ago about one town exercising eminent domain for private development. Thid essentially is delegating the power of eminent domain to be exercised arbitrarily by every individual and business.
I must be misunderstanding something, this is how any free/mixed economy works, including in Canada and US. You may make the property owner an offer at anytime, and the owner sets the price by either accepting or rejecting an offer. The problem is the buyer can't just do anything with the property (like subdivide/build apartments) due to zoning laws.
Let's take a look at the rental market in Sacramento . 2008 hits, and a single investment firm buys up 50,000 houses around the country, mostly in densely populated areas like Sacramento, and flips them into rental properties. In Sacramento county alone, they buy up 1500+ properties through a variety of subsidiary companies. (I'm suuuuure they price all their rentals competitively.)
And these guys aren't the only player in this game. Across California, as many as 25% of single family homes are being rented from institutional investors.
So now, let's give these guys the ability to buy any property they want, whenever they want, so long as they can come up with the cash for it. How will this play out?
a. They'll have far easier access to capital than you or I or any other unfortunate shmuck in this scenario, which means they'll be able to buy properties at much lower interest rates, lowering their overall cost to purchase.
b. They can then set the price to whatever they want for their market niche. They might rent the properties, set them up as vacation properties, or sell them back to upper-class buyers for a tidy profit. Or, heck, just let them lay vacant and wait for the market to creep upward, as is happening right now with foreign real estate investors all over the place. 
c. They'll have the ability to set higher prices because, for them, the increased tax costs will be covered by their increased profit margins, and they'll have the resources to find or purchase any tax code loopholes that will improve the situation even more for them. They'll also have an incentive to artificially inflate their property values because it'll make their portfolio look that much richer, which'll make it easier to secure even more investment, to buy even more property with.
d. Meanwhile, everyone who doesn't have a ton of money in the bank and a stellar line of credit gets kicked out of their house and forced into one of two situations: dense, expensive urban housing, or cheaper rural housing in economically depressed areas. In either case, these losers' purchasing power just evaporates.
e. The few people left deluded enough to believe they might not be poor someday have the lovely option of buying into this mess through companies like https://fundrise.com/. Of course, they're contributing to the problem by collectively giving lots of extra cash to the very people that are artificially inflating housing markets, but hey, at least you get 1 or 2% compounding out of it.
f. It at some point the peasants start getting noisy, they'll just contact their buddies at one of the three media conglomerates in the country and run some segments on how un-American it is to "redistribute" money (notably: it's only un-American if you're redistributing from the rich to the poor), and everyone getting screwed in this scenario will be convinced that they should feel proud to be screwed so hard.
This is one of the worst applications of "let the free market sort it all out" I've heard in a while.
"The solution was simple. I offer to exchange everything I own for everything you own. If you refuse, you have admitted that you are richer than I am, and so you get to do the liturgy that was to be imposed on me."
Related is an the idea for eminent domain reform, where instead of compelling a sale, the government could usurp an arm's-length sale in progress, taking the property, paying the owner the agreed-upon sale price, and paying the disappointed buyer a percentage of the sale price, plus any actual costs incurred by failure to take possession of the property. That would likely feed the property-flipper industry, where an eminent domain seizure counts as an instant flip.
Their counter-argument is to start with markets where there is not so much personal emotion wrapped up in the price setting and valuation, such as broadcast spectrum rights. Then you could work out the logistical details of how it would work, people would get comfortable with it, and then years or decades later you expand it to housing.
Part of their proposal relies on a huge mental shift in how we think about housing and property rights, to treat it as a shared public good rather than something any individual owns. That's the kicker, which realistically would take a few generations as the mental model shift required probably exceeds the capacity for change in anyone over the age of 40.
That sounds horrible and very much impossible by definition. The “exact” value of my house where I spent my entire adulthood/childhood is “not for sale”
I keep hearing abouy this market efficiency but never came across a quantifiable measurement of this efficiency. Could you please point me to some literature where they say “oh this market is 70% efficient and that market is 90% because …”? How do you put “exact value” to this efficiency stuff?
Having to pack everything and look for new place to live just because some asshole decided he wants your living place now must be real pleasure.
See, when I am with small baby and kid has friends and I have deadlines in work, I don't want to have to move nor be suddenly force to pay much higher tax then flexible single dude who can leave easily.
We already have a system where you can offer any property owner any amount to sell, the idea that the government should come in and shape the market in such a way that people are charged for emotional attachments and compelled to sell at a specific price is ugly. It seems wrong to shape human behavior in that way (especially for a spurious benefit) and it seems like it mistakes efficiency towards a goal for the goal itself.
It's like some of the comment seen for the Ontario election. I got my dental insurance through my work, so fuck the other guys, I don't want to pay more taxes.
There seems to be a general lack of empathy when these issues are discussed - if the people who live there find think something is important but I personally don't care about it, then the people who live there are just selfish NIMBY types.
Just about no one would want to see their rent go up year by year either. These interests should be balanced by the market, and now legislation is tilting the table in favor of people who want everything to stay the same way it has been.
What about Paris or Stockholm? There are reasons why people love traveling and walking European cities, but nobody in their right mind would travel around San Jose on foot.
Five-story multi-use apartment buildings aren't a blight, and neither are working public transportation systems.
I can't understand why so many people are excited to live in an industrial park/parking lot, but to each their own, I guess.
It’s such bullshit.
Now admittedly, I'm being somewhat of a hypocrite here. I am best described as a marginal homeowner in beautiful San Francisco. I bought a home in a somewhat so-so part of town that was surprisingly affordable, relative speaking, for what we got. And we could afford it, we measured where we were looking, and balanced our expenses including taxes, and made good decisions. But that was more than a decade ago and times have changed over the past few years. Our little neighborhood is on an uptick and getting much more expensive. While that has brought some advantages (lower crime, better shopping)... it means if I were to try and buy my home at today's market rates, I simply couldn't do it. And if the taxes on my place had kept up "with inflation" in local home prices, I'd have to sell. Sure, I'd have a handsome capital gain... much of which I would also have to pay in taxes (the community has needs after all), before having to likely move out of the Bay Area, but... progress. I'm also older... damn near 50! Which means I'm not at the bottom of my earning potential, but at the top.
So I'm with you. It's completely unfair that those newcomers should come here and bear the brunt of higher taxes, of course, they should also not think that they can count on stability in tax rates. The community has needs, and you know, progress.
1) Home owners would new favor development to keep supply high, prices stable, and taxes stable. Who wants to pay more taxes for the same thing? No one. With Prop 13, you get that guaranteed. But everyone else gets fucked. As far as your concerned, who cares?
2) Even though prices would still inevitably rise, it would force those that can't keep up with the increasing taxes to sell, increasing supply and holding down prices.
Second, you're conflating issues. Being in favor of Prop 13 is not the same as being against new development. These issues are not the same. Truth is, my neighborhood is one of the few seeing a lot of new development... it's one of the green areas on the map and pretty much all of this development is multi-story/high density housing. I don't necessarily oppose this (I would if it were due to government community redevelopment efforts, special handouts, etc). There would probably be more development if the city was managed more like I would like to see it managed. I am absolutely against the vast majority of regulatory constraint on new development.
This is a disingenuous characterization of the problem at hand. Its not a question of newcomers getting your single family home from you, its of you selling your home which will likely be redeveloped into higher density housing for a lot more people. And you wouldn't be "fucked": yes you would lose your beautiful single family residence, but more people would be able to afford living in the community in which they are a part of, but can't because of how expensive housing is.
On the contrary, by denying newcomers any housing near their workplace, you are fucking up their quality of life immensely: they cannot build equity (prices too high), are forced to commute long distances or are simply excluded from the community because of artificially high home prices, have to pay much more in taxes for services that you use. That is massively fucking a lot of people.
This isn't rocket science; it happens all the time in all major cities. Low density gets redeveloped because of changing economic and social conditions. Its how cities evolve. Prop 13 is basically stifling the growth and natural evolution of major cities in all of California, but especially SF.
Today, there's no good argument for it. "I moved here a few years earlier than you did" is not a sound basis for different levels of taxation. If you want to protect elderly owner-occupiers from being priced out of their long-time homes, you can accomplish that goal with other measures.
So far, I have heard that Prop 13 was really about landlords and corporations (different comment in this thread) and now it's about racism. In my neighborhood, disproportionately long term minorities would be effected more under your proposal of dismantling Prop 13 and landlords and corporations don't rent out of charity... they'd raise rents to cover taxes so ultimately renters cover that cost anyway. I wonder what other boogeymen and tropes we're going to trot out to rationalize opposition to Prop 13 rather than get to the heart of the matter.
It's very easy to speak out against something and to rally both emotion and self-righteous indignation against someone you oppose... but much harder to convince someone that what you stand for is right.
Tell you what; I'll join you in the cry to demolish Prop 13... but only is so far as it means paying for the infrastructural costs that a property tax might be construed to be proper to fund. So we take the operating costs of fire, police, sewer, water, roads... you get the gist, for the year passed and only their existing programs, add an amount the equal to the annual rate of inflation, and the charge me for the coming year my pro rata share of those costs on a square footage basis... which is more reflective of what my household consumes than its market value, arguably you could also put a head count in there, too. If you wanted to expand essential services, do that via automatic existing program expansion/retraction based on changes in population or a vote of the property owners that fund them. If you want to include renters in that vote, fine, but then measures like rent control or other protection of those renters from the financial reality they vote on the property owners is out: no skin in the game, no voice.
No? Then tell us really why you want this and really what you stand for.
So if I'm against Proposition 13 I must have some sinister motive I'm unwilling to admit to?
I've stated clearly that if your goal is to protect elderly owner-occupiers, there are plenty of ways to do it that aren't Proposition 13.
And your proposal is basically the "last year's budget locks in next year's" model that's known to cause all sorts of perverse incentives in organizations that use it, both in the public and the private sector. So that doesn't really seem like a good fit. Plus, it feels motivated by the sort of "I want the services but don't want to pay taxes to get them" mentality that so often causes trouble.
And seeing as how increased overhead (in the form of taxes) gets passed on to renters, your assertion that renters don't have "skin in the game" is factually false.
Do you actually have anything to offer? Perhaps you should tell us what you really stand for, hm?
Prop 13 benefits landlords and corporations, it was a hand out to business interests wrapped up in a feel-good message about the elderly.
> And if the taxes on my place had kept up "with inflation" in local home prices, I'd have to sell.
The alternative framing of the issue yields less sympathy: "My home is worth so much now that I had to pay the new occupant tax rate, I'd be forced to sell it for an absurd amount of money."
Theoretically, if it came to the point where folks consider leaving town, they'd at least vote for pro-build politicians to alleviate rents / home appreciation.
Of course, as a high income renter, I obviously prefer a 'build your way out.' And as a new construction apartment unit occupant, it's not myself I'm volunteering to evict to upzone.
It should be fair to everyone and not discriminate. So make the tax rate equal for the person who has been there and the person who just bought a house. Otherwise you are making it harder for one of those groups to be able to own a home in that neighborhood for the sake of making it easier for the other group, in which case your sarcastic quip applies back to you.
Classic example: https://twitter.com/nextdoorsv/status/927583483186225152
Every moderately sophisticated creature protects its territory from inundation by outsiders.
These individual vs societal beliefs aren't constants. They're vehemently reflective of an individual's very current situation.
But it's a slightly worse deal for these homeowners because a potential developer could tell them "hey, why don't you sell to us while prices are high? Once we're done building, prices will fall"
I'm not defending what these homeowners are doing, but I disagreed with the notion that they're not behaving rationally. IMO, they are.
i'd argue it's irrational to be so blatantly selfish because it ignores community members, creates bad feelings and ultimately, creates enemies. considering that, homeowners would be better off accepting some level of infill in their neighborhoods.
The more important question is why we should settle for policy based on the economic rationality of people whose interests hurt society? Should we cave to the Koch Brothers too?
Like this former Mayor of a Silicon Valley city who opposes building housing because it will never drop prices down to the rent he used to pay... in 1978.
The dental plan at work is factored into your compensation.
Stealing more money from taxpayers to pay for others is not a solution.
Your comment is a non-sequitor.
Here's the official zoning map showing the absolute domination of single-family zones: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/gis/webplots/smallzonema...
And an article with commentary on how much of Seattle is zoned for single-family home only: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/amid-seatt...
Something needs to give.
Because there's no insurance for drops in property values and most home owners have the vast majority of their wealth tied up in a single asset they are rationally terrified of any change which might increase the variance of property values, even if it means a higher expected value.
https://www.dartmouth.edu/~wfischel/Papers/00-04.PDF is a good read
Is this a problem, and is it feasible to fix it?
Somehow, prior to 1970, housing was a home and not an investment. I'm not entirely sure what happened to change it.
It's not just zoning though.
There is also California's infamous Proposition 13 and other market distorting tax breaks. Prop 13 limited real estate tax increases to 2% annually, which is far less than the property appreciation rate for San Francisco in recent times. If you sell out and want to move to another single-family home in the region you may have substantially higher taxes. See the following article for a discussion of prop 13 effects, tweaks on prop 13, as well as other tax breaks.
No matter how you cut it the incentives are politically hard to unwind.
It doesn't matter how much you upzone SFH areas when you have tens of thousands of new people coming to your metro every year, it will never be enough.
All you have to do is build more than 10s of thousands of apartments.
This really isn't that hard. Just pick a small 1 square mile area in a singular section of your city and say "THIS is the high density zone. Anyone can build any amount of 20-30 story buildings."
And then you simply keep zone laws the same in all the other "low" density areas.
Everyone wins. The new people who are moving to a city get their apartments, and the suburban people can keep their yards.
What's stopping the process is (a) rent-controlled tenants occupying buildings built before the time rent control no longer applies, and (b) prop 13. Both give people very strong incentives not to move.
It's because you assume their motive is greed, and then try to interpret the reality of the situation to justify your original assumption. Assigning greed as a motive is a result of a simple projection "They have something I want, they won't let me have it, I am a good person, therefore they are greedy."
If you think their motives might be to continue living in their homes, to not have their neighborhoods packed with traffic or the sun blotted out by hideous condo boxes, their problems with large multi-unit developments built without regard to adequate parking might make complete sense.
Vancouver has many layered issues. I'm no fan of building more apartments only to have them sit empty 90+% of the time. Much/most of Vancouver's current multi-unit capacity is underused either as second homes or as investment vehicles. Building more will make current owners rich, but I say we shouldn't do than until we are better-utilizing current stock.
The percentage of single-family homes that are either empty or under some form of construction amazes me. I walk through neighborhoods I grew up in that are now practically empty but for carpenter's pickup trucks. These are no longer residential neighborhoods. They are industrial zones where workers commute in to 'mine' real estate.
Which is why we have elected officials run cities rather than property developers. The goal is not to make a profit today. The long term goal is a pleasant city with happy residents. Look at the Spanish neighbourhoods that were overbuilt only to be abandoned when the bubble burst. Think gentrification is bad? When an underused building looses its value it becomes blighted, saddling the city with all sorts of social problems.
I've heard some cities thinking about imposing a supplemental tax on unoccupied housing. It would help a lot, not just in skyscrapers but also in low-density areas where slumlords let their houses rot waiting for the land values to rise.
But unfortunately, the same people who would get hit by this tax are the most solid part of the tax base. Real estate taxes are a huge part of many cities revenue. Increasing them is never popular.
British Colombia already has an "unoccupied home" tax. Of course Canadians who bought a vacation home in BC are getting the shaft. 2% of the home's value for a foreigner.
I wish there was some way to make more real to people the long term benefits of their short term pain.
That is fueled mostly by unbridled foreign investment.
> Oddly, those same single family home owners would become rich if they could subdivide their properties for intensive development. I have never understood this paradox.
Could that be because they actually live there; it's their home? They aren't foreign speculators sitting on empty property, only thinking about how to make a profit.
Downtown Vancouver Nimby'ing is so bad that public transit has been stymied to the point where neither of our major universities has a dedicated metro option to reach them and the city has a total of 3 1/2 different transit lines that leave most of the metro area without coverage.
Vancouver has rather low wages; so why are people coming here at all? Basically just the mild climate and nature and greed fueled by the real estate boom.
Take away the real estate boom, and I think most of the problem will take care of itself.
If the world were to lose an interest in Vancouver and people moved away, that would be great; for that, I'm willing to take a loss on my property value; it would be worth it.
What's a hundred grand or two, if it makes all the greedy people go away, and allows the place to be livable once again by people like, oh, school teachers. (Who wants their kids instructed by someone who is stressed out, living hand to mouth?)
I hope this market crashes and all the greedy scum lose their money. I'm willing to go down with them; I have the income to weather it. Those who don't can go back wherever the heck they came from and go back to doing whatever it was before they thought they would gamble on Vancouver at the expense of the long time locals.
I look forward to going a little bit out of town and finding free picnic tables, low crowds on popular hikes, easy to get camp ground spots and so on.
We should re-start the stock exchange; if someone wants to gamble in Vancouver, and the River Rock Casino isn't enough, give them pump and dump mining stocks, and keep them out of housing.
This is all such an epic waste.
We should focus on high density housing around transit hubs and then build more transit hubs. We should focus on livability of the high density housing.
There was a measure on the ballot in the south bay where a major builder wanted to rezone an area for more housing. That part was good since it was not zoned for open space but rather industrial. But then they wanted to remove all ordinances for livability. That was wrong and the measure was correctly defeated.
Part of the problem is with the planning department, part was with NIMBYs, but part is with the builders. There are only a few builders who are capable of high density housing and they want to play hard ball.
I couldn't agree more!
Why should those hubs only be inside, south and east of SF, but not north of it?
At some point something has got to give. Building more apartment buildings and decreasing the amount of "open space" to accommodate more housing makes sense.
Building anything in the open space in Marin is nonsense and would create an enormous commute problem as well as harm the environment -- both directly and with secondary effects of increased commute emissions.
Go to Paris. SF needs Parisian-level density. This means six-story buildings, a few on each block. That's easily 10x the density of single-family homes, which if you spend any time in western SF, dominate the landscape.
All that space for lawns, garages, 3rd and 4th bedrooms, basements, etc. really adds up.
The choice isn't between lower Manhattan and the Outer Sunset, it's between that or Paris. Paris is just fine.
Also, incidentally, SF condo prices aren't even that bad relative to prevailing wages. It's just that everyone's so hung up on having a SFR (actual house), and the clickbait media loves talking about SFR prices to get pageviews.
2. Even if that is true, it's not as bad as it looks. There are many, many couples here with incomes in the 200-300k range, as almost all families are two-income, even with kids. Considering a condo costs 4x what many families earn, it's not far out of line with other places in the US.
The reality is that SF is a primo job market, in terms of variety of positions, type of work, and tons of high-income options. If you're part of a dual-degree couple where both people want serious careers, the argument rapidly becomes, where else would we go? It's a lifestyle choice; if you want that kind of access, it's going to cost a lot, but you need to work your ass off, BOTH of you, pay a ton for housing. If you want a slower quality of life, less noise, or want to be a one-income family, probably better to live somewhere else.
I actually don't have much of a problem with this. It's like this in every country, though I'll grant the regulatory climate in SF does make it somewhat self-inflicted.
High density living is by far the most efficient way to use land.
For every apartment building that is made, that is 100 LESS urban sprawl creating suburban houses that we need.
High density living frees up massive amounts of space that could instead be used for all the awesome things that people love.
(Disclaimer: I live in New York.)
You want cheap housing? Come to the Midwest. You want an ultra high paying job? Stay in Silicon Valley/Seattle etc.
It's like the model complaining that she's too skinny for her jeans.
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” -- Jack London
That doesn't make sense because I want to live there and I can't afford to live there unless we do that.
You just described my impression of what Marin County already is. No exaggeration. The thing about Marin is that all the sprawl and strip malls are hidden behind trees and hills, but aside from the Federal park lands it's really no different than most of Alameda County or San Mateo County.
That said, Marin is Marin. I'm a homeowner in SF and I absolutely support increased development here. What Marin does or doesn't do is irrelevant to whether SF needs to densify.
There's a unique history in Marin surrounding open space and conservation, including the Marincello development and the actual creation of "national recreation areas." If you're interested, I'd encourage you to check out "Rebels With a Cause" ... there really is something special in Marin on this issue. http://rebelsdocumentary.org
That said, I totally agree that SF needs more density :)
How would people living north of the Golden Gate commute to their jobs in SF? The only option is driving across the bridge, which already has horrendous traffic during commuting hours. That doesn't work as a solution. Building denser housing in San Francisco itself, close enough to workplaces or transit that people don't need to drive to work, is the real solution.
It is a waste. People want to work in San Francisco and live nearby. The government should be concerned about making that possible... because whatever the environmental impact, it can't be worse than the 3 hour commutes in a single-occupant vehicle that people have today.
Maps were drawn for BART in Marin showing stations in Sausalito, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Santa Venetia with a possible extension to Ignacio. A 1956 poll found 87.7 percent of Marin residents wanted BART in the county.
Dreams of BART in Marin took another hit when San Mateo County pulled out of the plan, saying costs were too high. Additionally, San Mateo County had Southern Pacific commuter trains - which later morphed into Caltrain - to meet local demands.
With San Mateo out, the tax base to support the BART plan was significantly weakened. Marin's small population would not provide much tax base to support the project with San Mateo County no longer in the plan.
BART officials also worried that Marin voters - faced with conflicting bridge studies - might vote against the plan believing they might never see service.
"There was a big concern that Marin might vote it down and if that happened that could have killed the entire proposal," Dyble said, noting votes from all the BART counties were tallied as one.
With those concerns, BART directors asked the Marin County Board of Supervisors to vote the county out of the system.
"There is one significant difference - (San Mateo) withdrew voluntarily," Supervisor Peter Behr said at the time Marin withdrew in May 1962. "We are withdrawing involuntarily and upon request."
After that vote, Marin tried to get back in before the November election, but BART officials rejected the idea and the county was locked out of the system, Dyble said.
Without BART, the bridge district later started bus and ferry service to serve Marin commuters.
It was the 1960's... so I'd probably say "vetoed by Racists"
Despite California's stereotyped liberal/progressive values, the 1960's also saw Prop 14 "allow property owners and landlords to turn away colored people" winning 65% support.
I don't want to argue against this.
I want to point out that people can't even imagine building new bridges or tunnels anymore!
The GG bridge was built in 3 years in the thirties. Today we have enormously better technology and are vastly richer. Why can't we build 2 bridges and 3 tunnels the next 10 years?
Why clear-cut and destroy wilderness instead of building vertically? Expanding the metro region just increases commuting times and removes and recreational value the wilderness provides.
Not sure why people would want suburban waste lands instead of denser metro areas.
Imagining a Sci-fi scenario. Elon Musk has Tesla develop an autonomous hovercraft ferry, which only requires ramps into the water to be built to allow operations. Access to and from Marin becomes several times easier, causing its population and development to rapidly increase.
Me: "Man I wish BART went up here."
Marin landlord: "Nope. We don't want those people here."
How about having them in the east and north bay? How about large vessels operating as gated communities, with integral ferry docks?
Getting into, or especially through SF from Marin is a nightmare.
But that would require giving a damn about the local situation. A large segment of single-family-home owners in Vancouver - foreign and local - see the house and plot as an abstract asset, not something you can live in, let alone part of the strange thing they're calling a "neighbourhood". There are 4 empty houses on my street in the West Side alone. Telling the owners they can profit from rezoning probably sounds like telling them they can make more money if they fold their bond certificates into paper cranes. </rant>
There isn't unlimited demand. Just a few large apartment buildings could soak up most of the demand and then prices would go down across the board.
So essentially, you want to ban your neighbors from being able to sell for upzoning but not you. But your neighbors won't let you do that either, so everyone agrees to ban everything.
If you want fiber internet, a number of local shops, medical facilities, “third places”, communal pools, libraries, schools at walkable distance, that’s not how you get them.
And since when do suburbs not have walkable schools?
For schools, in my experience (outside of the US if it matters) primary to middle school are easy to have close. High-school is tougher to get in the neighborhood, university will usually mean moving far far away.
Except if you live in a megacity, where you’ll have better chances to get top level universities at commutable distance.
The definition of "harming you" in CA is far more inclusive than it is on the east coast and that is reflected in the local laws that restrict what people can do on their own property.
That's obviously not how it works though. By voting and electing people who want to change the status quo, they can tell people what to do with their property.
(edited for typos)
That's a false equivalence. People moving in aren't telling people in San Francisco what to do with their property. There is a mutual transaction (between a developer in San Francisco that wants to build say a high-rise apartment and people who want to rent it), that is being blocked by NIMBYs who have no property interest in the land on which the apartment would sit.
> By voting and electing people who want to change the status quo, they can tell people what to do with their property.
Only because Euclid was wrongly decided: http://oldurbanist.blogspot.com/2011/11/ever-since-euclid.ht....
And if building a high rise damages the value of an adjacent property with no compensation, that's a taking, no?
Not to mention that many, many people (including me) disagree with that notion, and the US is hardly wanting for 'burbclaves, if you like that sort of thing. Dense urban housing, on the other hand, is a relative rarity.
I think SFR neighborhoods do tend to be better on average, than renter-dominated ones. Alameda (city next to Oakland) is instructive. Walk across the bridge from Oakland to Alameda, it's like you're stepping into a different world: the streets are cleaner, people drive with more civility, it really is noticeably nicer.
Condos are a bit of a wildcard. They can be better in theory but most probably aren't. As someone on my HOA board, I put a lot of time into making sure my condo is a good place to live. (328 units, 1000+ residents). Just yesterday, we invited Monkeybrains over for a chat about getting fiber in the building. We'll do it soon.
I think it's just that the challenges are different. In a SFR neighborhood, you get a lot of very invested people, which is good but also can be bad (NIMBY). Apartments people don't care as much. Condos have "ownership" but also governance problems; they can be the best when run well, but horrible when they aren't, which seems depressingly common
It's really not an easy issue. It seems like objectively there are benefits to high density. But it's more expensive (to individuals, if not society as a whole), louder, more polluted, etc. It's easy to understand why plenty of people want to live in their own little castle, and it's also easy to understand why they would vote to preserve the status quo.
I used to live in American suburbia; it was full of vagrants. I had to call the police on several occasions.
> your own little bit of green space
Meh. I used to loath cutting the grass. Now I'm in quick walking distance to several large very green parks.
> But it's more expensive
Is it really vs the costs of maintaining a single-family home and having to own and maintain a vehicle(s) for commuting?
> louder, more polluted
The city I live in now is cleaner than the suburb that I lived in (trash cleanup is more frequent) and generally quieter.
Full disclosure: I'm living in a European city (vs. an American city)
I've never seen a vagrant within several miles of my neighborhood. It would be such a terrible place to be vagrant, with a relatively low population density and mediocre public transit. There's a reason they don't hang out in my neighborhood, they do much better in the city.
> I used to loath cutting the grass.
Yeah, I'm not a fan either. However, I pay someone about 1/8th of the HOA fee for the place in the city to have my yard kept tidy for me.
> Is it really vs the costs of maintaining a single-family home and having to own and maintain a vehicle(s) for commuting?
I don't drive a particularly expensive car, and my house is still pretty new so just the HOA fee alone for the place in the city is quite a lot more expensive.
> The city I live in now is cleaner than the suburb that I lived in (trash cleanup is more frequent) and generally quieter.
I'm guessing you lived in a very different sort of suburb than I do, based on how you describe it. I live in a residential area of a very small city ("oldest west of the Rockies" is our only real claim to fame) on the edge of a mid-size metro in a liberal state. It's very clean, low traffic, there are several parks in easy walking distance (not just my yard ;-)), the school my kids go to is about a hundred yards away, etc. I'd have to pay twice as much for half as much if I wanted to live in the city, and I'd be irritated all the time by noisy people. Maybe I am a little antisocial ;-).
other people will ride BART, which will reduce traffic for me so I can drive
In other words your friend wants development so other people will live in apartments, so he can then afford to live in a nice ranch.
(I do hear BART has better ridership now)
Not just better ... It's literally bursting at it's 1970s-designed seams.
The culture around driving vs rapid transit access has changed dramatically in the Bay Area since that time. In those days, people who couldn't afford to drive (very poor) used mass transit, which is why people of means preferred to drive. Today, people pay for the privelege of _not_ having to drive to the workplace.
There's a lot of evidence that housing near good non-car transit is in higher demand than equivalent non-transit accessible housing.
For proof you need look no further than the price/sqft for housing within a few blocks of BART stations vs farther away:
"A condominium located within a half mile of BART is worth 15 percent more than one located
more than five miles from BART, all else being equal" 
Admittedly that's a study by BART themselves, but you can see the same pattern around the price of housing near tech company shuttle stops, which has in turn attracted the ire of anti-gentrification advocates.
Anyone paying attention to house prices knows this well. 1,000 sqft. bungalows near BART stations are going for 1.5mm, while 5 or more blocks away, they're a more 'reasonable' 1.1 or 1.2. The price difference is stark and easily observable.
What kills me isn't so much the lack of apartments in single-family home areas, it's the resistance to ideal apartment development projects. 1900 4th St. in Berkeley is a perfect example: it's high density, right by Cal Train, nearly commercial/shopping, and currently a parking lot that's poorly utilized. It's the perfect example of sustainable high-density development, yet the resistance has been withering. Not to mention the exploitation of Ohlone culture and history. It's despicable.
I think you mean Amtrak, but overall point taken.
Apartments really suck for a lot of reasons: the rent goes way up every single year, forcing you to move out every year or two, because the management companies seek to maximize profit by screwing over existing renters, thinking they won't want to move. They're typically very poorly built, because they're not owned by the residents, so they're noisy. They're usually very pet-unfriendly. I could go on and on. Condos are almost always much nicer to live in, even though from the outside they look much the same. They do have their issues (crappy management at many of them, but at least in theory the mgmt is answerable to the owners and can be voted out), but there's big advantages to living in a condo over a single-family home in my experience: not needing to worry about landscaping, exterior maintenance, etc., various amenities (gym, etc.), and just convenience in general.
I don't live in SF (I live in DC), but it seems to me that what SF really needs is a lot more high-rise condos like what we have here in DC. And DC isn't nearly as "crowded" as NYC.
Only thing I really want is central AC, a modern innovation that New York has not seemed to have heard of.
I never said anything about townhouses, I'm talking about high-rise condos here. A high-rise by necessity is made of concrete and steel; you can't build a 15+ story building out of wood in most places.
You don't make a neighborhood dense by changing zoning. You make a neighborhood dense by building decent transit, and letting economics occur. The zoning changes will take care of themselves.
Ehh, people will fight tooth and nail to oppose development literally on top of public transit access. Look at the fierce opposition to MacArhtur Commons (which is getting built, thankfully!) at the MacArthur BART stop and at the opposition to any and all dense infill near the West Oakland BART stop. These are one and four stops from San Francisco, respectively...
There's always opposition, to everything. That's called "politics". But the long term trend is clear: when you build transit, density follows.
In any case, building transit (something that benefits existing residents) is a more successful long term approach than telling local voters that they're idiots for behaving rationally.
The Midwest is cheap. Albeit harder than the past, it is still possible and common in the Midwest to live a middle-class-ish lifestyle on a single income. A two bedroom apartment can be less than $500 a month. I have friends with $830/month mortgage payments on their house.
The Internet is solid in the Midwest too, unless you're actually out on a farm. In the cities you can get Gigabit up/down for $90 a month. Most places don't have Google Fiber, but other fiber companies have sprung up. The majority of my tech friends have fiber in to their walls for Internet.
It is very much a culture of YIMBY right now too. Driverless shuttles? Yeah sure. New apartment building? Yeah sure. New tech startups? Yeah sure.
Lastly, (this is a hot topic issue so I am reluctant to put it in, but it is something that comes up from my friends on the west coast) the states are red states, but the cities are blue. As an example, Omaha is blue enough that it split the electoral vote of Nebraska to Obama in the past. (NE is a state that can split its electoral vote rather than winner-takes-all.) Yes it is true that if you start driving out in to the country you will see "Trump" painted on to barns and such, but in the cities you don't.
edit: not sure why I'm downvoted as my wife lived in the midwest and it was hard for her to practice her culture. She has fond memories of the area but knows how unpractical it was for her parents. Her family had to make a monthly 1.5 hour drive into Chicago to find Indian groceries, she got picked incessantly for being the only Indian kid in school, and her parents couldn't eat out because there so few options with vegetarian food. It's just hard living in a place where so few people have a similar skin tone, religion, or culture as you which is why most Indians move out of the midwest. People make fun of the racism of the South, but I grew up in a diverse metro in the South and didn't have to deal with any of this since about 25% of my school was Asian. Obviously, Chicago and some of the other large metros are ok. I'm just pointing out that in all these threads there is this argument to "move somewhere else" but there are huge regions of the country many have to rule out because they are ethnic minorities.
It's essentially a cultural wasteland, and tech jobs are few and far between. The startup scene there is a joke too, they suck up new college grads too stupid to realize they can work elsewhere and pay them below market.
What you really mean, is that the Bay area got the "good diversity" (rich democrats), while Kansas City got the "wrong diversity" (poor white republicans).
I think those two places are similar in that regards. They are both polarized, and are both not that diverse in term of actual ideas.
Now if you want visible diversity (whatever that means), sure the bay Area got more people from a different origin but they usually all think in exactly the same way.
Source: I lived 2 years in St Louis and 4 years in the bay area.
Edit: Forgot that I would be downvoted, since it seems to be politically incorrect to say that visible diversity (what everyone is focusing on) is different than thought diversity.
If you look outside the wealthiest parts of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, you'll find that the Bay Area is full of working and middle class Democrats, and if you focus on it's wealthiest towns, you will also find concentrations of rich Republicans (Atherton, Blackhawk, Danville, etc).
On a slightly different note, having lived in places where the ocean is easily visible for almost a decade now I now find thoroughly landlocked places kinda depressing in a way that I can’t explain. I don’t even visit beaches all that often but there’s something uplifting about being able to look at an ocean filled vista.
As someone who has lived in both the Midwest and in a liberal coastal city, I almost thought you were complaining about SF being less tolerant. My experience was that while the Midwest did not have a greater diversity of opinions, they did have greater tolerance of the diversity. The obvious example (mentioned by many on HN): The bias I've seen against Republican voters (even before Trump) here. Whereas in the Midwest, I did not see any such disdain towards voters of either party.
I suspect, though, that the experience will vary depending on the city.
I could imagine larger population centers in the area not suffering the issue as badly, but I’ve never lived in midwestern city so I have no experience to corroborate that with.
You don't think non-whites live in Detroit/Chicago?
I'd argue SF isn't that diverse, especially some neighborhoods. It's mostly rich whites and asians. African Americans got chased out long ago or forced into Bayview.
This is a bit more accurate...
Huge disclaimer: This is probably easy for me to say, as I am about as "all american" looking as they come
Education could be a lot better here.
Sorry if my straightforward comment about what I like in the Bay area came across as either an attack on the Midwest, or ignorance of the Midwest. It wasn't intended to be either.
But... This all overlooks the major draw to SF which is work. It's the center of our industry. With all that can be said about remote work, it's harder to find the right gig that way. And there is a lot to be said for the more diverse, cosmopolitan culture here.
Nodded in affirmation to everything but this. NIMBYism is everywhere. In my hometown of St. Louis, people oppose everything for the same two lame reasons every time: traffic and parking. They oppose buildings in busy areas, in blighted areas, in single-family areas, in business districts, in areas that have been contracting for five decades -- everywhere.
And the mantra is always, "but what about traffic and parking?"
1) People almost universally live close to where they grew up. Trying to get someone whose family lives in California to move to the Midwest is inherently harder than getting a Midwesterner living in SV to move back.
2) Jobs don't just shift, and they definitely don't do it quickly. There are a multitude of reasons why it is rational for companies to pay more to live in a more expensive area. What company would move across the country in order to pay more reasonable wages if it meant they lost nearly all connection to suppliers or customers or industry associations or academic/research relationships?
3) For many people, it isn't okay to just pack up and leave if you don't like it. Don't like slavery? Move north! I know that is an extreme example of the mentality, but we are still talking about the wealth and prosperity of an entire generation being swept away by the greed of another generation. Why shouldn't we fight back?
Rural is rural, I went to a local bar West of Sacramento and felt like I was in my home town in nowhere Illinois.
> Unless seeing a Trump bumper sticker ruins your day it doesn't really affect anything
No, but walking into a bar or restaurant with my girlfriend and having everyone there stare at you and treat you differently is a thing. Only saying that you're not entering some blue paradise in California.
I've lived in the Midwest my entire life, from a tiny town of 2,000 people to Chicago Illinois. I'm moving out to Portland in less than a month.
I REALLY dislike the Midwest due to it's lack of natural beauty, epidemic of poor civil engineering and city design, and hostile climate.
> If you're looking to move to the Bay area, you should also look at moving to the like Lincoln, NE or Omaha, NE or Kansas City. A lot more so if you have a family. I know that sounds strange, but....
Comparing the job market of Lincoln, Omaha, or KC to the Bay Area is very flawed. The tech-hubs are a real thing, and there are advantages to working in an office that make remote work undesirable. ( More likely to be promoted, having a social life, etc. )
Even in cities like Portland, you look around at the jobs being offered and see MOSTLY lame fintech and insurance company jobs. Additionally, you are away from the critical mass of highly educated and motivated developers. Even here in Chicago, you meet a LOT of the b-team.
> The Midwest is cheap. Albeit harder than the past, it is still possible and common in the Midwest to live a middle-class-ish lifestyle on a single income. A two bedroom apartment can be less than $500 a month.
While it's true that you can get a large house for cheaper, what are you going to do while you are in these cities? They, full stop, lack the cultural and natural vibrancy of the Bay Area. Extremely homogeneous, poorly designed cities full of insurance salesmen and hicks.
Brutal cold winters and sweltering, buggy summers. Not that you would want to go outside anyway, since most of these Midwestern cities have declined to invest in walkable infrastructure and instead more resemble disconnected buildings joined by huge highways. You will drive everywhere and none of it will be interesting or beautiful. ( To be fair, I hear Columbus has some nice infrastructure )
Not that you would have anywhere to drive to. The nature sucks. You can drive out of town and see some beautiful... corn fields. And flat land. Filled with bugs. Nobody has bothered to forge hiking trails because there's nothing to see.
> I have friends with $830/month mortgage payments on their house.
The most expensive house is the one you can't sell. And housing is not an automatically good investment like many people believe.
I know from experience, a lot of my friends who bought cheap houses regret it now that they are interested in selling and NOBODY'S BUYING.
> The Internet is solid in the Midwest too...
True. You can do the job. If you don't mind working remote / find a good job in the Midwest, it is 100% viable to live there.
> Lastly, (this is a hot topic issue so I am reluctant to put it in, but it is something that comes up from my friends on the west coast) the states are red states, but the cities are blue.
Yes. This means every time you decide you want to get away from the city, you are greeted by a bunch of Trump-supporting, confederate flag waving yokels who cut the sleeves off of their shirts. Also this means that when those people want to get away from the country, guess where they go? Your city, where you have to interact with them.
Building codes make it next to impossible anywhere in the bay to affordably build.
I live in Belmont, and my gf lives on Van Ness downtown.
They need to create more housing pretty much ANYWHERE in the bay. And somewhere close to the major business areas.
When I moved here years ago to work at a startup, the cheapest housing I could find was $800 sharing a house with 10 roommates. Having 4-8 roommates it’s not uncommon.
Who is making money off this scheme?
And on an unrelated note, downtown San Francisco has turned into a writhing cess pool of filth. Homelessness, unstable/ crazy people. Rampant drug use and needles everywhere. Tents lining the streets. Prostitution. Human excrement all over the sidewalks.
The only way to avoid it is stay in your bubble and pretend is doesn’t exist.
The outside of SF, the Bay Area is composed of two groups of people:
-People who rent
-People who vote in every election/attend city council meetings at 7pm/attend city planning meetings at noon on week days
My landlord inherited their house decades ago. They rent it out and make some good cash off of it. They could sell it for $1.8m. Either way, they're doing just fine.
Other landlords I've had owned apartment complexes for decades or inherited them and they too are making out really well because their property taxes are so low.
By the way, this is one of the reasons why it's tough to get people out of their cars and commuting by bike. Many people don't feel safe cycling through those areas.
Here's what parents are telling their kids: https://twitter.com/nextdoorsv/status/999364778907914245
For example the Los Angeles DSA argues that SB827 would not have even lowered rents  and would have worsened housing for poor families. You can disagree with that, but that is absolutely not the same as it "not being good enough".
I personally think you need to build bridges not tear them down and there's a lot we can agree on when it comes to California infrastructure
But if you're going to veto everything that's imperfect, IMO you're just perpetuating and exacerbating the existing situation. I suspect SB827 will be back next year because the hyperbole (from the left BTW not both sides in this case) about Scott Wiener being a closet Republican was absurd and it took an insane degree of cherry picking of his voting record to make that case.
I read that ~54% of homeowners vote as opposed to ~28% of renters. I think the proposition to repeal Costa Hawkins is really going to bring out the vote here and the numbers are not on the side of renters. I note also that the cost of California Home Ownership is just not all that high once you get out of the major cities. I had to give a talk at UC Merced a couple months back and I was really tempted to immediately move there and buy a mcmansion for the price of a single room condo in SF.
Finally, this could have been a wonderful opportunity to put an additional proposition out there that we could all agree on. Too bad we're so busy fighting with each other while the other side of the political fence slowly assimilates power.
It was shot down by a coalition of NIMBYs
In other words, traffic exists not because of a lack of roads per se, but because people are willing to accept a given level of traffic when deciding whether to drive somewhere. In an area as beautiful and in demand as SF, will people essentially keep on immigrating until it's unattractive enough that they stop, regardless of supply?
Edit: thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies and for pointing out some of my potentially flawed assumptions. It's refreshing to have civilized exchanges of opinion on the internet every once in a while :)
As far as the roads situation, a lot of people confuse that phenomenon with induced demand, which is likely incorrect (and very hard to prove, even if it is correct). The much more likely scenarios is that because roads are underpriced (we don't make people pay their full costs for use), there will always be unmet demand. If people were paying $8-15/gallon for gas (approximately what the unsubsidized cost would be), it would be much easier to build a new road and actualize the intended effect of reducing congestion, because you wouldn't be trying to catch up to pent up subsidized demand.
That article is not immune from criticism. The first example it gives is Houston which it directly notes solved affordability through “sprawl”. It is totally invalid in an SF context where we live on the tip of a peninsula.
The second example is Tokyo. It is true that Tokyo is more liberal on building codes, but there are many other differences that go unmentioned. For example a massive, generation-defining pop of a real estate asset bubble and resulting 30 year recession. That that goes unmentioned smacks of cherry picking.
A more successful example is Vienna where the government was heavily involved in housing.
Apparently it is hard to understand, because what you're describing isn't induced demand, it's the same exact supply and demand curve working as it always has done. Induced demand is where a shift in the supply curve shifts the demand curve, not simply adjusting to a new equilibrium on the existing demand curve (as would be expected for literally everything). We can prove this quite simply: in countries where driving is priced correctly, road expansions reduce congestion. And they don't reduce congestion in countries where driving is subsidized, like ours.
> That article is not immune from criticism. The first example it gives is Houston which it directly notes solved affordability through “sprawl”. It is totally invalid in an SF context where we live on the tip of a peninsula.
You didn't get the point of the article at all if you think that's a criticism of it. The whole point was that you can attack housing affordability in tons of different ways, but they all have something in common: they increase supply to meet demand. You can do it with sprawl, you can do it with tall density, you can do it with short density, you can do it with social housing, you can do it with market rate housing, etc. It doesn't matter, supply is the key factor. There isn't a single one size fits all solution to the housing crisis, but there are plenty of different ways to realize the goal of reducing rents via increasing supply.
> For example a massive, generation-defining pop of a real estate asset bubble and resulting 30 year recession.
Tokyo's economic reality has been different from Japan as a whole, with Tokyo booming for at least 20 years now. Tokyo has been one of the fastest growing megacities in the world for those two decades, highlighting exactly how successful they've been at keeping rents flat.
> That that goes unmentioned smacks of cherry picking.
Kind of like how you point out how Houston's model could never work for San Francisco, but conveniently forget to mention Montreal's or Chicago's model while jumping directly to your preferred solution that would require the most dramatic shift in American politics that we have ever seen?
That is incorrect. You fundamentally misunderstand induced demand. You can literally google “induced demand” and see a graph showing that the demand curve does not shift.
Ie: Traffic isn't bad at 4am; building/opening more roads at 4am likely won't cause more traffic/time/etc to happen at 4am.
So what about Japan? I think the big way they 'solved' this problem was by going through a 30 year recession. I don't think realize how extreme Japan's decline has been. In 1995 Japan was still a tech behemoth that many thought was on track to become the world's leading economy. They had a skyrocketing GDP that was $5.5 trillion at the time, compared to the US' $7.7 trillion. Today Japan's GDP is $4.9 trillion, the US' is $20.4 trillion. They've had an ongoing problem with deflation that's more recently been met with extreme measures including very heavy handed quantitative easing.
If the US economy just suddenly collapsed and stayed that way for decades, you'd also start to see the real cost of living stagnate or even decline, especially in areas that were being driven up previously by a sky-high economy.
Also I think you might have the reasoning for why people come here off. I think most people come for jobs. As an engineer the main reason I live in Bay Area is for the jobs, not for the beauty. There are plenty of more affordable beautiful cities, they just lack technology jobs.
In general though we should expect building roads to reduce travel time. The fact that driving increases following road-building is evidence of this: why would driving increase if travel times between all origins and destinations stayed the same? Validated models of travel demand all depend on travel time, not the existence of roadspace. Just because driving increases upon building new roads does not mean it does so to the extent that travel times are unchanged.
For the record, I do not support building many more roads. They have become very expensive to build and maintain, the maintenance backlog in some places is severe, and in a thick network like many US cities have they do little good. In some cases the pollution they create is severe and disproportionately impacts poor people. But I still feel compelled to nitpick this common misunderstanding about induced demand.
In theory, jobs put an upper limit on housing usage. People almost always follow jobs.
There are many beautiful cities in the world but only SF is near Silicon Valley.
You can find cheap housing in nice areas if they don’t depend on jobs (college towns, retirement communities).
People will present counter examples at the margins of course, but generally the relationship holds.
So if you build more housing, cost of living goes down, which attracts more companies to the city who were priced out of the labor pool before, which increases jobs in the city, which attracts people and increases housing usage...
I can see why low cost of living ought to attract companies but in practice the new companies seem to gravitate towards already high cost of living cities.
This may be because the other considerations (workers, education, infrastructure etc) May outweigh low cost of living alone. Or there might be another reason I cannot think of.
(Yes I know that MS does P2P updated and WSUS is a thing but this is just meant to be an example)
The usage pattern for housing is totally different because everyone needs to use it and demand is basically constant per person over time.
"New York City apartment market swoons on glut of new luxury construction"