San Francisco is at the heart of California’s housing dysfunction. Here’s how locals feel about it

I’m in support of building more housing in San Francisco. And especially housing that service people who work here can afford.

How can we do that? The time is now to answer that question. I hope to see new apartment buildings in the Portola before the end of the decade.

Keith Ferris, San Francisco

Neighbors matter most

I consider myself strongly pro-housing. I don’t see a way to increase housing affordability in the Bay Area without increasing the supply (in San Francisco and in surrounding communities). This may include both luxury and below-market housing; I don’t think we will build enough just by relying on the city/state.

As far as neighborhood character is concerned, the most important thing to me is walkability and general liveliness of the streets. I don’t consider building architecture to be nearly as important — a neighborhood is its people, and that should include diversity of income, race, family structure, etc.

I would rather live next to an ugly new building that families can afford than all expensive Victorians that house only the wealthy or retired people who bought their places 40 years ago.

Gretchen Ehrenkaufer, San Francisco

We need a healthy mix

I am a 21-year San Francisco resident, having migrated here from the East Coast. My husband and I own a flat in a two-unit condo building in the Inner Richmond, on a block that includes single-family, two-unit and multiunit buildings. Our block is a prime example of how housing of all different types can work well together to form a vibrant and cohesive neighborhood.

Without more luxury housing, people in the market for high-end housing will just buy more lower-end housing — displacing people who otherwise could afford it — and spend hundreds of thousands fixing it up. We see that every day in our neighborhood. And the people selling their property take the considerable profits and move out of San Francisco permanently. This is sad and unfortunate.

“Neighborhood character” is people. I believe we are at our best in neighborhoods where people of different backgrounds — financial, ethnic, cultural, racial — can live and learn from each other.

I consider myself “progressive” on housing. The most important housing issue to me is additional housing of all types, from luxury to below market. But San Francisco also needs to build much better public transportation, particularly on the west side, to accommodate additional people and cut down on car traffic.

Can San Francisco remain the city so many love if it changes its cityscape to make room for newcomers? Of course. Cities must always evolve or they die. San Francisco has plenty of room for greater density all over. But in what other city can just about every resident find a beautiful park within a 10-minute walk? Or world-class sporting events, museums, restaurants, farmers’ markets, performing arts and outdoor spaces?

I would not want to live anywhere else in the world.

Carol Brewer, San Francisco

Affordable housing key

I have worked in real estate development in San Francisco and the other core Bay Area counties for over 20 years. And I am progressive with respect to the need to build more housing.

The most important need is affordable housing. “Affordability” and market-rate housing don’t fit together in San Francisco, as construction costs are so high that a market-rate developer can only develop for the highest rents or sales prices on the market. Thus, in San Francisco, it will only be possible to provide affordable housing built by true affordable housing developers who have access to capital sources specific to these types of buildings.

I also believe that affordable housing should be spread throughout different neighborhoods, subject to having good availability to transit. Those living in affordable housing developments are typically those that work in-person jobs. Also, housing can be built much more affordably when in-building parking is minimized, making transit near housing imperative.

How can a city love itself if only people who make $200,000 or more can live here? The city does not just belong to the wealthy.

Vickie Nyland, San Francisco

City can get even better

Neighborhood character is a more politically acceptable way of saying keep it the way it is, and keep those “other people” out, maintaining a lack of diversity.

There is a great need for housing at all income levels. New market-rate housing, with all of the demands made for approvals, is necessarily expensive. More new housing being built will mitigate the demand for existing units being converted to luxury housing. San Francisco today (or at least in 2019 pre-pandemic) is the best it has ever been. And I expect it to get even better.

As I grow older over the next 20 years, I expect that living in a three-story house will become more of a challenge. When I reach that point, I hope to move to an elevator building located within or near my neighborhood.

A final thought: I live in ZIP code 94114, recently reported as one of the most affluent in the country. I would like to see more diversity.

Alan Marling, San Francisco

Stop calling it ‘luxury’

As the former executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, I’d like to throw in my two cents’ worth. I object to using the term “luxury housing” as a catchall when describing new housing production. It’s inflammatory and does little to illuminate the debate around our housing affordability crisis.

I suspect little of San Francisco’s paltry current production is actually luxury housing, which generally includes amenities like sweeping views, concierges, fancy fitness rooms, etc. It is also limited to certain neighborhoods. There is no luxury housing being built in the Tenderloin, Sunset, Western Addition, Bayview and many other city neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, for a variety of complex reasons, ALL new multifamily housing in San Francisco is really expensive to build. The culprits are stratospheric costs for scarce skilled labor and building materials, high land costs, expensive and lengthy process and permitting costs, and the very high taxes and fees we put on new market-rate housing to subsidize “affordable housing.” A modest 30-unit building in the Richmond District with smallish unit sizes, no views or amenities, and limited parking generally faces the same obstacles as a 30-story glass and steel tower on the waterfront.

The problem with calling all new housing “luxury” is that most of it simply is not. In public debates, what we call things matters. No matter how it’s approached, solving our housing crisis demands that we dramatically increase housing production in all of our neighborhoods. Using false arguments to oppose this should not be accepted. Besides, it’s perverse that folks who live in neighborhoods where homes run for $1.5 million (San Francisco’s median sale price) or more should be taken seriously when they oppose new housing on the grounds that it is too expensive.

Tim Colen, San Francisco

Some context needed

I grew up and lived most of my life in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. For the past 12 years or so, since my retirement, I have lived in San Francisco. As a rule of thumb, housing in the Minneapolis metropolitan area costs about 20% what it costs in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a major international city. However, many residents still want it to be the funky small town of the 1950s. To solve the housing problem, people here must first accept the fact that change is inevitable.

San Francisco just needs to build more housing! All types of housing!

There is plenty of land available to build. Affordable housing, middle-class housing and, yes, housing for the wealthy. There is nothing wrong with building high-end condos for the wealthy billionaires from around the world who would like to live in San Francisco. Their condos pay real estate taxes and are only occupied a fraction of the time.

San Francisco needs to embrace the fact that it is a dynamic, diverse, exciting international city.

Bill Drake, San Francisco

A gathering of ideas

When we speak about urban design in the profession, and as students, there are many movements. From prefabrication to cohab housing, the village and assembly line manufacturing, urban renewal/slum clearing, placemaking, urban transportation, visual aesthetics of large and small, parks and streets, neighborhoods, living communities, market spaces, and squares.

It’s historic. Yet it evolves with history, culture and community.

We have to constantly be asking those questions of our community. What could we be? Where do we want to be?

We have the creativity and knowledge right here San Francisco. Let’s do something right and have a charette in front of City Hall to do some serious planning ideas and invite the community!

April Rosenlund Ford, San Francisco

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