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San Francisco's zoning makes it illegal to build apartments in 73.5% of the city (deapthoughts.com)
364 points by oftenwrong 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 438 comments



Speaking as your neighbour to the north, Vancouver has a similarly horrible NIMBY zoning problem.

https://imgur.com/a/CftAdv5

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.


"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.


The paradox you talk about is well-known. Property owners often don't sell their property even when it seems advantageous to do so, both for them and for the economy in general.

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/


An interesting idea in theory, but I fear it would work poorly in practice. Most people don’t have the time or knowledge to set the right value for their property. Ordinary people would get constantly screwed by professional sharks.


The counterargument I've heard to that is that ordinary people already get screwed by professional sharks, and when it becomes common the market will fill in the need (e.g. companies that track the value of your house, and insure against unexpected forced purchases)


Am I missing something, or do those two ideas completely contradict each other?


But those third-party companies would obviously end up with misaligned incentives to serve the sharks in efforts to cheaply buy from unwitting people. Only wealthy people could afford truly trustworthy third-party insurers to help set the price, which again will entrench the wealthy in the ability to preserve their experience at the opportunity cost of other people.

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.


This sounds like the latest in a long line of economic theories and ideas cooked up by people who LOVE the game of pricing things and can't understand why others don't share that love. Basically, economic wankery.

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


> This sounds like the latest in a long line of economic theories and ideas cooked up by people who LOVE the game of pricing things and can't understand why others don't share that love. Basically, economic wankery.

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.


Essentially all this does make the property owner pay a protection fee to prevent their property from being bought by someone else.

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).


But very soon it would reach an equilibrium. All billionaires are at their desired space, with jacked up price (to create a price 'moat'), paying much more tax than previous owners..

It can work.


How are you optimistic enough to think that billionaires would just stop at some reasonable amount, instead of taking as much as they possibly could?


No. What will happen is billionaires will capture all the space, everyone else will move out and lose all their money (property is the biggest asset most people have), then the billionaires value their land for pennies and hire security to keep people away.


Isn't it just a question of tuning the dials for taxation levels? A billionaire values my home at $10 million when I value it at $1m, I need to sell it to them at $1m but then to protect it they need to pay taxes on a $10m valuation. So just set the taxes such that it makes it a net positive to society with the billionaires paying for state-funded housing (and other services...job training, language and culture courses for immigrants, etc.) as the cost of scooping up land. They get no free lunch.


Or we could just raise taxes on billionaires directly instead of imposing this convoluted nonsense.


Lower taxes perhaps? Or better yet, eliminate the property taxes and shift them to a sales tax collected upon sale. Or use existing capital gains taxes.

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.


> Property owners often don't sell their property even when it seems advantageous to do so, both for them and for the economy in general.

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.


I imagine the way this would feel for a homeowner would be that they have to pay an ever increasing amount of “protection money” to stop rich property developers from kicking them out of their home at any time.

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.


A less radical, and probably more tolerable, version would allow the owner to retain the property by increasing the declared value to the offer and paying back taxes with some formula (say, presuming linear increase from the last repricing, with some added interest payments for the delay if the back taxes for a given year are above a specified fraction of the original amount.)

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.


> 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.

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.


the point is that owner should pay (high) tax on the high offer he is not accepting.


I'm stunned that this idea is getting any kind of consideration at a time when extreme concentration of wealth and political power is a frequent topic of conversation.

Let's take a look at the rental market in Sacramento [1]. 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. [2]

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.

[1]: http://www.kcra.com/article/this-is-the-largest-owner-of-ren...

[2]: https://calmatters.org/articles/data-dig-are-foreign-investo...


A very interesting idea, which will never gain political traction.


Yeah, it's very neat, but having to sell your house because you mistook the value of your home? Not gonna fly.


Wasn't something like it actually done in classical Athens? http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Course_Pages/legal_sy... bottom of page:

"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."


Seems like the converse to an idea I once had, wherein if the property tax assessor valued a parcel of real estate too highly, the owner could compel the municipality to buy it at that price. Assess too low, and you don't get enough property taxes, but assess it too high, and the owner calls your bluff.

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.


I listened to that podcast episode and had the same reaction.

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.


What a horrible dystopian idea. No one should be forced to move out of their home on short notice just because they failed to set the value correctly. Imagine how wealthy people could abuse that system to punish their critics by purchasing their homes and evicting them.


Sounds fantastic for the wealthy, who in a recession still have access to easy capital. Better yet REITs, who can swoop in to take entire blocks of SF homes and then rent them back to the same people who don't want to leave.


Then why didn’t those people set the value higher? If you sell for some price, then you agree that you do want to leave for that price. The “market” would be efficient — people would sell for exactly what they would be willing to sell for. “Sentimental” value could be expressed in actual, taxable value. You could quantify exactly what a house is worth to you — and can insure the home appropriately.


> “Sentimental” value could be actual, taxable value. You could quantify exactly what a house is worth to you

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?


Moving every time someone else decide you have to would sux for anyone except very young people. It would also make it even harder to keep social ties and networks. In particular those people who care about elderly or sick relatives who live nearby. It is also pretty cool when your kids can have stable set of friends, stable school and what not.

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.


So set a high price. Problem solved. You wouldn’t be forced to sell for any less than the value you, yourself have assigned. Nobody gets exploited: people get exactly what they want.


Except that there is the tax thing which is literally designed to make people bleed money if they want to stay at place and force them to move.

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.


But a high price leads to higher taxes. In this way I am taxed for my sentimental attachments, which seems wrong. An old man with 5 years left may have a very high sentimental attachment as he wishes to die in his 'forever home.' Should he be taxed more for that? What about a young couple who just had their first kid? Providing a sense of stability and staying in their current home has a lot of meaning to that family, should they be charged for it? A family in 2008/2009 who is making payments but barely and struggling may place huge value on being able to maintain their position as homeowners. You're going to force them to choose between much higher taxes or selling to a PE firm?

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.


The idea of owner appraises property for taxes and commits to selling at that price (or raise it and pay N years back taxes of the amount they had to raise it) was mentioned in one of the later Heinlein novels, Number of the Beast I think.


Going in on land development is a great way for the amateur to go broke.


Probably a typical case of "Got mine, fuck you".

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.


I mean, everyone does that at some point. Just about no one would want to see their neighborhood turn into Hong Kong's Walled City, even if that meant squeezing in a few people. Different individuals naturally have different red lines - some might not want to see a historic single-family house neighborhood demolished to make apartment buildings. Others might be OK with that, but not want to see their neighborhood park destroyed to make a big box store. Others might be OK with that, but might not want to see the schoolyard where their kids play cut to a fraction of its size to make room for more development.

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 neighborhood turn into ...

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.


>Just about no one would want to see their neighborhood turn into Hong Kong's Walled City,

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.


I’ve heard this referred to as “drawbridge thinking” in cases where someone moves to an area, makes sure they have access to whatever they want, and then essentially pulls up the “drawbridge” and says, “No new outsiders allowed! It’s too crowded here!”. I feel like this is essentially what has happened in the Bay Area/SV. Though I live in Portland and it’s just as bad.

It’s such bullshit.


Prop 13 in California has the same impact. "I was here first, so don't let my taxes keep pace with inflation -- the newcomers should pay for my police, fire, schools, etc.."


Yes. We should absolutely not allow people to own homes in neighborhoods where they simply can't keep up with the financial realities of the neighborhood. Especially, the older people that maybe once were highly productive but, now, might not be able to as rapidly advance in wages or, God forbid, may even be retired and now on a fixed income; the nerve of those people to think that somehow property ownership entitles them to live in their homes for as long as they want. The community has needs and, as the old saying goes, "on ne saurait faire d'omelette sans casser des œufs"! Imagine how much faster re-gentrification and local government growth could be if you could push the churn of homes up? Clear out the dead-weight I say.

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.


Great points. It's impossible to know what would happen to the prices in your neighborhood under different conditions. But prices /probably/ wouldn't rise as much if people were forced to sell their homes due to increasing tax burdens.

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.


First, in both of your points someone gets fucked. As far as you're concerned, who cares, so long as it's the right group getting fucked. Perhaps the real discussion is on why you chose to favor one group (new property owners) at the expense of the other (incumbent property owners).

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.


> First, in both of your points someone gets fucked. As far as you're concerned, who cares, so long as it's the right group getting fucked. Perhaps the real discussion is on why you chose to favor one group (new property owners) at the expense of the other (incumbent property owners).

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.


You have to remember, though, that Proposition 13 has overt racism as part of its history; people like to go on about "tax revolts" and citizens reacting against over-taxation, but it was pushed as a centerpiece of reactionary measures after California's courts refused to allow various attempts at maintaining indirect racial segregation of schools, and ordered redistribution of funding between school districts. Proposition 13, by gutting the property tax (which was the primary source of school funding), was the final end-run around courts which increasingly would not allow vastly unequal schools for children of different races.

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.


The original minimum wage laws were born of overt racism. I assume you don't mean to dismantle them with this line of argumentation? Or do you?

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.


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 wasn't about the elderly or retired, and there are many tax abatement programs in other states (like homestead exemptions) that benefit them.

Prop 13 benefits landlords and corporations, it was a hand out to business interests wrapped up in a feel-good message about the elderly.


This is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you protect fixed income / elderly via rent control and prop 13 (aka rent control for home owners), you reduce the incentive to trade and build housing. Which means price go up, and now you really need those or the people you purported to protect will be destroyed by a Sword of Damocles of your own construction.

> 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.


>We should absolutely not allow people to own homes in neighborhoods where they simply can't keep up with the financial realities of the neighborhood.

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.


It's really hard for people who move to California and don't hang out with retirees (aka voters) to understand/appreciate this mindset. But it's so prevalent.

Classic example: https://twitter.com/nextdoorsv/status/927583483186225152


“Meanwhile let me raise rents by 20%...”


Not only is it not bullshit, but you've just summarized millions of years of habitat on Planet Earth.

Every moderately sophisticated creature protects its territory from inundation by outsiders.


Most moderately sophisticated creatures also use violence and murder to settle disagreements. Are you sure you want to do everything moderately sophisticated creatures do? Or use their actions to justify human actions?


Why, no, I don't! Why don't you and 17 of your friends make my livingroom your home.


Just because something is/was a certain way does not mean it should stay that way. There are a lot of things that exist in a certain state that should definitely change, so implying that something is fine because it’s always been that way is a bit fallacious.


Not letting others walk over you definitely isn't going away.


I find it odd that people are so upset that others are looking out for their own quality of life and financial investments. They are under no obligation to make things better for others yet worse for themselves. Very few humans would actively engage in similar behavior if the roles were reversed.


Moreso, I know and know of numerous people who preached about shared supporting of society and anti-capitalism... until they made a good chunk of money. Then they went off to their gated community walled gardens and started complaining about taxes.

These individual vs societal beliefs aren't constants. They're vehemently reflective of an individual's very current situation.


username is appropriate


Mildly disagree. If a NIMBY houseowner (along with everyone else in the area) agrees to change the zoning laws and allow high density housing, that only benefits the houseowners who sell their land and move on. Everyone else could _possibly_ see their house value drop because of increased supply and sprawl.

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.


it's the disregard for your fellow human (selfishness) that the parent was reacting to, not (wholly) irrational behavior.

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.


How's increased density "sprawl"?


Yes, you are right. As it stands right now, upzones are valuable because high density land is scarce, upzones are rare, and the price difference between higher density zoned land and lower density zoned land is so drastic. A much larger scale upzone would tank the value of high density zoned land to a much lower equilibrium.

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?


There's also people who severely disconnected from reality because they're homeowners/retired.

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.

https://twitter.com/nextdoorsv/status/998998249833984000


It cannot be compared.

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.


Seattle also has a growing affordability problem and is in the same zoning situation as SF or Vancouver.

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.


> 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.

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


most home owners have the vast majority of their wealth tied up in a single asset

Is this a problem, and is it feasible to fix it?


It is a problem because it creates NIMBY behavior. It is not feasible to fix it because it would require rewriting the US tax code.


The linked paper discusses the idea of an insurance market for property values.

Somehow, prior to 1970, housing was a home and not an investment. I'm not entirely sure what happened to change it.


> Oddly, those same single family home owners would become rich if they could subdivide their properties for intensive development.

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.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-15/tax-cuts-...

No matter how you cut it the incentives are politically hard to unwind.


Vancouver has done nothing but massively build new housing, one of the most prolific metros in North America. There were just lots of greenfield and brownfield areas to build on first, rather than up-zoning existing residential areas. (Olympic Village, now NE False Creek). The transit and other systems can barely handle the existing density as it is.

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.


If you could add some sourced numbers to this comment it would be helpful. You might be right or wrong but I can't tell from this comment alone.


Lots of data here: http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/Pla... to answer many questions about Vancouver housing. They average about 20,000 new housing units per year.


If 10s of thousands of people are moving to an area, there is easily a way to build enough housing.

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.


This is what's happening in SF. The eastern side of the city is the high-density zone, and as prices get higher and higher, it's pushing farther west, into Cole Valley and the central Mission.

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.


First you have to put a stop to all the speculation. Otherwise half of those apartments will be empty, owned by people overseas.


> 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.

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.


Not sure I would trust that image. It has West Vancouver on the wrong side of the Lionsgate bridge.

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.


Sure ideally they would all be filled with renters. but building more buildings 90% empty isn't such a bad deal: the owners pay all the same property taxes without any burden on the local system for schools, traffic, etc. In fact, i'd say it's a great deal.


>>> .. it's a great deal.

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.


You're right about empty units in high density properties. It's a problem in a lot of cities (London is another).

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.


I've heard some cities thinking about imposing a supplemental tax on unoccupied housing.

British Colombia already has an "unoccupied home" tax.[1] Of course Canadians who bought a vacation home in BC are getting the shaft. 2% of the home's value for a foreigner.

[1]https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/taxes/property-taxes/publi...


Flossing is never popular, getting your shots is never popular...

I wish there was some way to make more real to people the long term benefits of their short term pain.


> Vancouver having some of the world's most expensive real estate relative to incomes and rents.

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.


As a Vancouverite I'll object to that analysis, there is indeed a large influx of foreign money into the city but that is only truly damaging for the vacated property squatters which are a relatively small proportion. Anti-density regulation is hurting the city much more and driving folks out to sunny New West where the mayor is much more progressive about supporting affordable housing by allowing density to expand in a targeted manner.

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.

https://www.translink.ca/-/media/Slider-Zoom-Tool-Images/tnc...


Influx of foreign money is damaging empty property squatters? How; rather, it has been making them richer.

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 reminds me that SF's actual neighbor to the north, Marin County, is mostly real unbuilt wilderness.

This is all such an epic waste.


There is a difference between urban sprawl and wilderness. Wilderness is good, urban sprawl is bad.

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.


> We should focus on high density housing around transit hubs and then build more transit hubs

I couldn't agree more!

Why should those hubs only be inside, south and east of SF, but not north of it?


Oh yes, lets turn one of the last Bay Area counties that isn't urban sprawl into another vast wasteland of concrete and strip malls. Redwoods are overrated. Wetlands are just swampy land that need an In-n-Out. Mt.Tam would be so much nicer if it had some restaurants and gift shops.


That exact same argument can be made about building more high density buildings in SF. "Let's turn one of the most beautiful cities in the world into an urban jungle filled with high rises so that it blocks out the sun."

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 apartments in cities makes sense, both economically and environmentally.

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.


In the past, I heard the story that BART was blocked in Marin by wealthy NIMBY's who didn't want to share, but just recently I learned this was BS. Turns out BART canceled the Marin expansion because: 1) GG Bridge couldn't take the extra weight of another deck; 2) Building to Marin would have make the whole BART project too expensive at the time, so Marin got cut. Interesting! (Thanks to Bay Curious)


I’ve read that it was San Mateo county pulling out that made it economically unviable to include Marin (as well as disagreements between BART and the GG bridge district about the engineering viability of going across the bridge).



Most european cities are not high rises but they seem to find ways to pack more people in. Amsterdam, for example, has loads of 5 story buildings. There is a big difference between a 2 story single family home and a 4 story duplex or apartment as far as how many people.


I think this is a common misconception people have, that that's the choice.

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.


The median price for a 2BR condo is over a million dollars. Even with median SF wages, I wouldn't think of that as affordable.


1. Do you have a citation on this? I don't think that's true based on my own looking around.

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.


Building apartments actually PROTECTS open spaces and protects our parks.

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.


If built right, these high-rises can be beautiful, and provide welcome shade in summer.

(Disclaimer: I live in New York.)


"Mahattanization" is used as 4 letter word in local city council meetings and letters to the editor.


Is there something wrong with Manhattan (or Chicago, or Tokyo, etc.)?


No, but it attracts specific demographics and (forcefully) repels others. To find the kind of single-family houses you see in abundance in SF within 20-30 minutes of the center, you'll be an hour or more outside of urban NYC. People just want to have their cake and eat it too: they want a city vibe and short commute, but also a yard and a garage and an unobstructed view, etc.


And other's want to have their cake and eat it too; cheap housing in one of the hottest job markets, in an interesting city. It's like the business paradox; cheap, fast, good, pick one.

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.


Locals arbitrarily believe that all buildings should be sort of old, squat and humble looking, that this is a universal value, and that everyone else has to make whatever sacrifices are necessary for it.


> If built right, these high-rises can be beautiful, and provide welcome shade in summer.

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” -- Jack London


Actually, more commonly attributed to Mark Twain, but apparently he did not say it either.


Go here, to northeast, where it's +95F in the summer, and you can actually swim in the ocean! :)


Not really. Preserving open space does far more then just make life pleasant for people. Expanding housing in a place that has already displaced most of the areas natural habitat helps reduce sprawl. I'm not saying I like the idea of making SF more crowded. Personally I think its time we started looking at rural-sourcing.


how about "2nd tier" city sourcing


I hadn't heard that term before, but yeah, something like that as well.


> That exact same argument can be made about building more high density buildings in SF. "Let's turn one of the most beautiful cities in the world into an urban jungle filled with high rises so that it blocks out the sun."

That doesn't make sense because I want to live there and I can't afford to live there unless we do that.


Of course, another option is to impose rent controls on all housing to eliminate the insane market and then rationally plan how much additional space to build.


Central planning works sooo well.


there is a big difference between paving over west marin, and allowing communities near transit, the 101 and aterials to densify. Also, realistically speaking, if density controls were lifted in marin, the vast majority of changes would be subdividing mansions into 4plexes, without changing the building envelope.


> Oh yes, lets turn one of the last Bay Area counties that isn't urban sprawl into another vast wasteland of concrete and strip malls. Redwoods are overrated. Wetlands are just swampy land that need an In-n-Out. Mt.Tam would be so much nicer if it had some restaurants and gift shops.

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.


Along 101 there's definitely a lot of strip malls behind a row of tress - that's basically what Corte Madera and parts of Strawberry are. However, 35% of Marin is preserved open space, and that doesn't include the Marin Agricultural Land Trust - where farmers in (generally North and West) Marin agree to preserve the farm land in exchange for immediate payments to make improvements to their farms.

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 :)


"Real unbuilt wilderness" has some value to many of us. [0] [1]

[0] https://www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm

[1] https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=471


Suburban sprawl is one of the main problems that we are facing. Building more sprawl isn't a solution to anything, it just makes the problem worse, while also decimating precious wilderness areas in the bargain.

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.


Wasn't a BART extension proposed and vetoed by NIMBYs? I think the deal was, if there was realistic transportation people would want to live in Marin County, and then existing residents wouldn't be able to have a mansion a 20 minute drive away from San Francisco (if they avoid peak commuting hours, or just live there and don't commute).

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.


The "Marin Nimby" spin isn't the full story [0]

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.

[0] http://www.marinij.com/article/ZZ/20100807/NEWS/100809186


Very interesting; thanks for the link.


>Wasn't a BART extension proposed and vetoed by NIMBYs?

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_14_(196...


All property owners in SF are retroactively NIMBYs trying to keep young wealthy white and asian programmers out. Even though until 1974 the National Association of Realtors' Article 5 implicitly made it a code of ethics violation to move black people into a white neighborhood, and HOAs were originally called White Homeowners' Associations and their only purpose was to legally insure that all home sales in the neighborhood were to whites.


You mean there's a difference? Cause up here near Portland, it seems to be the same story only five years ago instead of in the 60's. And I'm sure there are plenty of examples of the same throughout the country. I guess HN doesn't like it when comments get too close to reality.


> 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.

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?


Doesn't the $8 billion disaster of the new Bay Bridge answer your question?


It says that we can't build things. But why is harder to say...


To be fair, there is something to be said for increasing urban density while preserving unbuilt wilderness close at hand (and yes, you can still preserve "local character" in select historical neighborhoods via lottery).


Wilderness is the opposite of waste.


You have to balance short term housing with the desirability of the location in the first place. I would not call it epic waste, I’d call it a nice contrast to the density of the city and a place for those who don’t want density can go live.


Agreed.

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.


This reminds me that SF's actual neighbor to the north, Marin County, is mostly real unbuilt wilderness.

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.


I was looking at apartments in Marin.

Me: "Man I wish BART went up here."

Marin landlord: "Nope. We don't want those people here."


That's just one person's opinion. The reality was it didn't make economic sense to extend BART to Marin with it's tiny (at the time, and likely still today) population.


This is true, a better solution (for everyone) then high rises might be better access through (or around?) the city to the east and north bays. Getting into, or especially through SF from Marin is a nightmare.


high rises might be better access through (or around?) the city to the east and north bays

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.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17567916


You're telling me none of those big houses (viewed in satellite and street view) are even Duplexes‽


The US has some ridiculously huge single-family houses. Five to ten times bigger than what's the norm here (Northern Europe).


I was referring to Vancouver, BC, Canada that the GP was sharing a purported zoning map of. Many US cities would at least allow duplexes in such zones I would think (my experience being from the NE US).


>if they could subdivide their properties for intensive development.

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>


> those same single family home owners would become rich if they could subdivide their properties for intensive development. I have never understood this paradox.

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.


It's easy to understand, many people don't want to live in overpopulated urbanized environments. They want a nice piece of land with room to breath, they want to preserve the natural beauty of their surroundings, they want a nice place to raise their kids. I'm equally perplexed at people who want urban sprawl to spread indefinitely


Many people do like living in densely-populated, urbanized environments. The SF metro area isn't Wyoming and pretending that it is won't make it become Wyoming.


How did you get that zoning map? Does anyone have one for Montreal?


Quality of life in a single-family home neighborhood is higher than in a dense-housing neighborhood.


As for everything it depends.

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.


Ironically low density neighborhoods such as the Sunset District are the few places you can actually get fiber in San Francisco. The grid streets of single family homes and above ground utilities make for an easy permitting process with little challenges. This is changing; but for years I’ve looked at my Westside friends’ Sonic.net Gigabit service with envy. I generally agree with your statement though.


It may be a shock, but other things are more important to some people.

And since when do suburbs not have walkable schools?


I am not judging, just saying there are obvious trade-offs as well as different common visions of a “good life”. People live in different places brcause they enjoy different things.

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.


I have young kids. Until recently I lived in the East Village, and now in a proper house on 1/3 acre in Colorado. Life in Manhattan is fun but damn is it hard. Especially with young kids. And that was lower Manhattan, probably the richest, most charming high-density place in the world. I can completely understand why the residents of Vancouver wouldn't want to see their quaint little neighborhood demolished for the sake of stacking more people into the city in a bunch of glass-and-concrete trash cans.


Then just move. After years of living downtown (Chicago, Baltimore, etc.) I moved to the suburb of Annapolis. It has its charms, but if Annapolis suddenly explodes in population, I don't see myself as having a right to freeze it in time circa 2018. You have no right to tell people what they can do with their own property, unless it's harming you. (And your snowflake aesthetic sensibilities do not count as harm.)


>You have no right to tell people what they can do with their own property, unless it's harming you.

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.


And I as well, would tell those who are unhappy with the cost of housing in SF to just move to a cheaper area. By your argument, they have no right to tell people living there what they can do with their 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)


> By your argument, they have no right to tell people living their what they can do with their property.

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....


Tax policy and zoning is clearly telling people what they can do with their property. Eminent domain is clearly telling people what they can do with their property. The problem is that those who want cheaper housing don't have the votes to win on that issue.

And if building a high rise damages the value of an adjacent property with no compensation, that's a taking, no?


Even granting the premise for argument, this says nothing about the tradeoffs involved in zoning some of the highest-demand real estate in the world as singe-family.

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.


Not for those who can't afford to live in an area with artificially constrained supply and instead will have to commute from the exurbs.


I've been thinking about this a lot as someone who recently bought into a condo building.

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


According to what metrics?


If you like it quieter, with vastly fewer people around you, no vagrants, and you enjoy your own little bit of green space, then by those metrics a single-family dwelling is certainly better.

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.


> no vagrants

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 used to live in American suburbia; it was full of vagrants. I had to call the police on several occasions.

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 ;-).


No it isn't.


Lol I have a friend in SF who complains about high house prices and wants increased development. When I said he should move to NYC he said its too big and crowded and he doesn't want to live with a family in an apt. Didn't even blink.


It could be as my father always said decades ago of BART- support was high, but ridership was low- because everyone was thinking:

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)


> other people will ride BART, which will reduce traffic for me so I can drive > (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" [1]

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.

1. https://www.bart.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2014-08%20BART...


> There's a lot of evidence that housing near good non-car transit is in higher demand than equivalent non-transit accessible housing.

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.


> right by Cal Train

I think you mean Amtrak, but overall point taken.


Actually BART is continuing its downward trend as has most mass transit in the US [1]. Ridership was down in 41 out of 50 cities just from last year. Even with increases in service areas many transit authorities did not see a good return on investment. A common method has been to reduce bus service to try to bolster rail only to end up losing the revenue from the bus riders. Many transit authorities have tens of billions in deferred maintenance that is catching up to them. NYC has notorious problems with both expansion and maintaining its current system with pension debt fast becoming the big bogey man.

[1] https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/With-BART-riders...


Is he perhaps seeking a middle ground, where he wants more development of spacious luxury condos? I wouldn't want to live in a crappy little (and usually old) apartment either, but I do like new luxury-ish condos. Theoretically, it should be cheaper to buy such a condo than a single-family home in a location where land value is very high.

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.


I think you're painting apartments with a very broad brush. My rent in NYC has increased by a total of $125 a month over the 6 years I've lived in the same apartment. The building was built in something like 1839, and it's quite solid by today's standards. There are no noise issues to speak of.

Only thing I really want is central AC, a modern innovation that New York has not seemed to have heard of.


"Luxury apartments" are usually a bit cheaper than any well-maintained condo from a century ago in my city. Cement/stone construction, thick, sound-isolating walls, coupled with foundations and architecture that has proven to survive vs yet another Amli/RealEstateChainBuilder company that puts up a tinderbox townhouse complex and charges a $100k premium for $5k in amenities.


>that puts up a tinderbox townhouse complex

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.


There's a middle-ground between detached houses and apartment blocks, though. For whatever reason, the US seems very low on terraced houses in particular. Much denser than detached houses, but not apartments.


Kinda funny to mention that in the context of San Francisco :) https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x808580a524767fb...


LIRR is far better than Caltrain. It's easy enough to afford a house and commute to Manhattan


Absolutely. The secret of NYC density is transit. Nerds invariably think that you can force people to act against their own interests; they call this "NIMBYism", but it's just rational economic behavior.

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.


> You make a neighborhood dense by building decent transit

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...


OK, so you've pointed out projects that are being completed. What was your point?

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.


People in the Bay Area fight against decent transit because they know it will lead to the increased density they oppose.


This is a similar sentiment I've heard from several other renters who live in San Francisco. They often cite the appeal of the city keeping its "feel" and fear they will have to deal with more transportation issues. As a one-year resident in San Francisco, I can appreciate the desire to keep the city the way it is. I feel like this opinion is often overlooked by those who cheer for more housing development.


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You're posting a whole lot of unsubstantive comments. Could you please read the guidelines and then stop?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


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....

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.


The midwest is an underrated area of the US but unfortunately the lack of diversity makes it hard for me to live there. It's a hard area for certain cultures to live in.

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.


As someone from Kansas, absolutely an issue. It's probably 90% white, there's no culture in Kansas City, just a bunch of hipsters with clear framed glasses. When I interned for Garmin a few years back, they had intern events to hype us up about living in Kansas City.

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.


There's plenty of culture in Kansas, just like everywhere else in the world. The problem is homogeneity of culture, not the lack of it.


Picking nits, but yes


Regarding diversity of thoughts (which is to me way more important than visible diversity):

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.


> What you really mean, is that the Bay area got the "good diversity" (rich democrats)

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).


As some one who grew up in semi-rural Appalachia, part of the reason I live in SF today is due to how badly I don’t fit in culturally in places like the Midwest. Being surrounded by those with differing opinions doesn’t bother me too much, so that’s not a problem, but the culture in these areas tends to be quite hostile to anybody going against the grain and that’s not something I care to deal with.

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.


>but the culture in these areas tends to be quite hostile to anybody going against the grain and that’s not something I care to deal with

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.


It definitely depends on the city/town. In the small town I grew up in, you were welcome as long as you were baptist (or at least some Christian denomination) and held fairly stereotypical conservative beliefs. Publicly deviate from that and all bets are off.

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.


unfortunately the lack of diversity makes it hard for me to live there

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.


Asians are minorities. Also, Asian subcultures are extremely diverse - East Asian, South East Asian, South Asian, etc. You don't need every single minority involved to be called diverse.


>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...

http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Western_Addition:_A_B...


They don't live in the neighborhoods that the HN crowd finds attractive.


This is more true than most people realize. I grew up in the midwest in a predominantly white area. We had an Indian classmate, and people called him the "black kid". I wish I was joking.


One way to decrease fear of the others is proximity and familiarity, eventually you stop being others.

Huge disclaimer: This is probably easy for me to say, as I am about as "all american" looking as they come


It is true, I live in one of those cities (Omaha) at a tech startup, it's been tiring these last 4 years sitting next to people who openly talk and try to 'educate' peers about how immigrants kill people, vaccines cause cancer, and climate change is made up from dodgy scientist readings.

Education could be a lot better here.


I live in the Bay Area because of the dense concentration of smart people and ease of joining/starting startups. There's more to tech than fast Internet.


Believe it or not there are smart people outside of the Bay area, even out in the Midwest. Over the last few years there’s been a big increase in startups out here the last few years, partially driven by the high cost of living in the traditional tech regions.


Believe it or not, I have 2 close relatives who are techies living in the Midwest. They like it there, and we have different opinions about where we'd prefer to live.

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.


Yes, they are concentrated in the Chicago metro. The cost of living there is not much better than the Bay Area minus the advantages that the Bay Area offers. The metros around Austin and Portland are a better alternative imo.


These are all very good points. I recently visited the midwestern city near where I grew up and was AMAZED, as a longtime SF resident, at the spacious cafes in gorgeous brick and timber buildings that would cost millions on open in SF. At the craft bars where liquor licensing was no problem. At the super cheap houses you could drive to in 10 minutes where the biggest cost was probably renovation. And seemingly more young, progressive-ish people out and about in the city than I remember. Diversity definitely an issue but pretty LGBT friendly and solidly blue state politics.

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.


> 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.

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?"


The midwest is underrated, but even though they have the right mentality there are still major barriers to this idea:

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?


I feel like people view California sometimes as an entirely blue state which is absolutely false. If you go anywhere outside of a metropolitan area you are in Red country. Go to South Lake Tahoe and tell me you don't see Trump signs.

Rural is rural, I went to a local bar West of Sacramento and felt like I was in my home town in nowhere Illinois.


Blue CA makes all the decisions that affect the state. It's a blue state.


If you want to never leave the Bay Area or LA/SD area yeah you're in a blue state. As soon as you take a road trip to a pretty national park be prepared to encounter plenty of Red.


So? Why is that an issue? They have no say in how the place is run (and resent the blue part of the state for it, which is why splitting the state keeps getting proposed) so unless seeing a Trump bumper sticker ruins your day it doesn't really affect anything.


I'm relating to the original post, the commenter said "Omaha is blue but everything outside is red". This is also true in California. Metropolitan areas are going to be blue, rural areas are red.

> 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.


Right, it was pretty shocking for me when I drove through Bakersfield on the way to SF. Nice folks, but lots of Trump supporters


I'm surprised at how unacceptable this is. Is coexisting with people you don't agree with really that terrible?


Big, gigantic tornadoes. I live in florida and we can see our big nasty storms coming for weeks. The "alley" doesn't come with that feature.


Depends on what you want.

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.


I have to say I loved growing up in midwestern nature. It's not a touristy sight-seeing nature like we have in the SFBA but there is just so much of it and you are surrounded by it and it's yours to play with. So.. as you said, it depends on what you want.


YMMV, where I grew up it was very flat and almost completely corn fields.


The problem isn’t even San Francisco. It’s the entire Bay Area. In 1 hour in any direction you have exorbitant rent/ housing.

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.


>Who is making money off this scheme?

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


Everyone who owns a house near san fransisco has the price of their property, and thus their money, reduced by more houses being built near san fransisco. They get more money by reducing the supply of houses, thus all the house owners, usually more rich and people who already live in an area, are against more houses being built.


Property owners are making out quite well.

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.


Have you or your gf been there for a while? Is the homelessness worse than before? I lived there about six years ago so I’m curious.


Based on my subjective observations, homelessness definitely seems to have gotten worse in the South Bay Area in the past few years. If you go biking or walking along the various creek trails and railroad tracks you'll see more encampments. Some of them are fairly well hidden but if you stop and look you'll see the signs.

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.


I've been here for 8, my (totally anecdotal) observation is that a lot of the homelessness + drug use has moved up market from the mid market/tenderloin area towards duboce triangle and the castro making it more noticeable/visible. I wouldn't be surprised if the absolute numbers increased too but it seems like a lot of the development/companies that moved into the mid market area may have led to an increase in police enforcement that has led to a dispersion.


It's surprising how "Owning a home is the most important investment you can make" collides with "Why isn't housing affordable?"

Here's what parents are telling their kids: https://twitter.com/nextdoorsv/status/999364778907914245


If housing wasn't viewed as the middle class investment, housing prices would be much lower.


[flagged]


If you keep breaking the guidelines we'll ban the account.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


SB827 would have overturned zoning near transit hubs. It was shot down by a coalition of NIMBYs and Bernie-progressives accusing it of not being good enough despite acknowledging the existence of the problem. The upshot for me was making a donation to Scott Weiner's warchest - we need more new ideas and original thinking to get out of this mess.

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/04/californias-transit-d...


Seems like a total misrepresentation of what the critics to the left said about it, and like you're trying to pull a "both sides do it" / "the truth is in the middle" act without substance.

For example the Los Angeles DSA argues that SB827 would not have even lowered rents [0] 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".

0: https://www.dsa-la.org/statement_in_opposition_to_sb_827


So that's the problem. No plan is going to be perfect. Better remains the enemy of good enough and I think this would have been a really good start. Note that the rebuttal posted here demands the repeal of Costa Hawkins. Doing so would strip all homeowners of the right to evict renters from their own home. Please tell me how that helps any homeowner whatsoever. Or if you don't care about homeowners (in which case why should they care about renters?), please tell me why California would be a better place by doing that to every single homeowner in the state?

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
No, it was poisoned by the committee chair, a Democrat.


The NIMBY / YIMBY divide is orthogonal to Democrat / Republican. Republicans are of no consequence in California, anyway.


Honest question, is it truly possible to build yourself out of a housing crisis? Or is housing like roads, where an increased supply just leads to even more demand?

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 :)


Yes it is possible.

http://www.sightline.org/2017/09/21/yes-you-can-build-your-w...

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.


Roads are literally the classic example of induced demand. The price is the opportunity cost of using them. You build more, you lower that cost, more people decide to start driving. Not that hard to understand. Perhaps a fair proxy for tech professionals who’d love to move to SF if only the price came down a bit — But way higher than what working class folks can afford.

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.


> Roads are literally the classic example of induced demand. The price is the opportunity cost of using them. You build more, you lower that cost, more people decide to start driving. Not that hard to understand.

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?


> Induced demand is where a shift in the supply curve shifts the demand curve

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.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand


Induced demand is no longer true when there is capacity such that there is no demand based on negative externalities.

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.


Yes, Tokyo did it. Rent for a 1 bedroom apartment is like $1000/mo. It's a huge thriving mega city with affordable housing thanks to zoning that's managed by the national government.


I'd consider why housing prices are high. The reason is of course pretty simple - there's high demand at current prices driving prices even higher. Why is there high demand? Supply is certainly a part of the equation here, but in this case it's secondary to the primary reason. That being that the economy is in a crazy boom phase and there are lots of jobs paying disproportionately more than the rest of the nation.

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.


In the Bay Areas case I would put a definite yes. Specifically our city actually has a very normal amount of growth (there are many cities with higher amounts of growth that don't have enormous growth in housing prices). We absolutely have enough space for all the demand and induced demand if we raise restrictions of height and density to small European city levels (think Porto or Vienna not NYC or London). As much as we think there's a lot of jobs and growth in SF, it's actually not that high an amount.

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.


Regarding roads, it's not true that building roads can't alleviate traffic congestion---although there are special cases where building roads makes travel times. It depends on the network.

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.


Great question.

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.


But, also in theory, cost of living drives competitive salary, which in turn drives whether a company can afford to hire employees in a particular city.

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...


The part of this logical chain that I don’t follow is the low cost of living attracting companies.

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.


Roads (or any other high volume transit system) are like bandwidth. Peak demand times such as rush hour (for roads) or every windows machine updating at once (for bandwidth) will always use everything you've got, degrade the service and people will forgo trips (bad for quality of life) or not do their work because they can't access some cloud service well enough (bad for productivity). You don't add more roads or bandwidth with the expectation that service will not degrade but to reduce the length of time during which it's degraded.

(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.


"Seattle-area rents drop significantly for first time this decade as new apartments sit empty": https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/seattle-ar...

"New York City apartment market swoons on glut of new luxury construction" https://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-york-city-apartment-ma...


I think so. It is much harder to not to live in a city or move out than to decide not to drive. If a region's economy is good then housing demand is just going to go up indefinitely.

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