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Who’s ‘against change?’

March 29, 2016

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

Or does that just mean some of us are against the sort of change that the powers that be are pushing?

Like 48 hills editor Tim Redmond, I welcome UC Berkeley geographer Dick Walker’s piece in the East Bay Express debunking the supply-side approach to the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. As Walker writes, that’s the approach taken by “mainstream policy shops and planners such as Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of the pro-urban growth organization SPUR.” In their view, the problem is “activists and neighborhood residents who oppose more market-rate housing development. Their solution is to allow developers to build more freely.”

Walker agrees that the region needs more housing. But “building more housing,” he contends,

cannot solve the problem as long as demand is out of control, as it is today….Three basic forces are driving the Bay Area’s housing prices upward: growth, affluence, and inequality. Three other things make matters worse: finance, business cycles, and geography. All of these operate on the demand side of the equation, and demand is the key to the runaway housing market.

He goes on to mark the region’s 500,000 new jobs since 2010, the tech industry’s huge profits and correspondingly high salaries and wages; the gaping, growing inequality of income and—even worse—of wealth in the Bay Area; and the “geography of privilege and power” that enables “the nouveaux riches of the tech world….to outbid working stiffs, families, artists and the poor” for housing.

Also well-advised are Walker’s recommendations for local policy: restrict speculation via development fees and controls on rents and evictions; create and fund housing land trusts; build new housing that includes low-income units; and do it all in behalf of “a livable city” that incorporates “good design, historic preservation, neighborhood protections, mixed use, and social diversity”—and “a collective, democratic and yes, conflictual process of politics and public debate.”…

When people say, “You’re against change,” they really mean, “You’re against the kind of change I want.” The essential question is, what kind of change is that?

As Calvin Welch pointed out in these pages last December, the kind sought by the fast growthers—SPUR, the Bay Area Council, the Building Industry Association, the real estate Democrats, and their allies in the planning profession and the regional planning agencies—is the same kind their ilk purveyed as “urban renewal”: “market capitalism using state power” to achieve “demolition and displacement for tens of thousands of San Franciscans” in the name of “‘housing opportunity.’”…

Density’s dubious relationship to housing affordability aside, the larger growth question remains. To paraphrase the title of a much-cited article by David Talbot, how many people can one region take? That question would seem to be entailed by Walker’s recognition that demand is “out of control.” It’s suppressed in the halls of power, including the offices of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). For the sake of genuinely livable cities, community activists need to raise it, loud and clear… (more)

If you look at the history of displacement in San Francisco you will see that we lived through at least two other dot com booms and busts without a housing crisis. This has less to do with tech and more to do with politics and the economy. During the last booms we had height limits imposed by Prop M and and financing was not cheap.

The courts recently blew the lid off Prop M height limits, development funds are practically free, and there is also a lot of cash looking for a place to land. Landlord tenant relations are tense, so many land owners are selling out to the developers, forcing desperate tenants to resort to media tactics and shaming. No one is happy. The result is a high rate of vacancies and short term rentals.

Most people feel their only hope, other than a disaster, to stay in San Francisco is to stop the wholesale destruction and redevelopment by electing a new body of politicians who will support a better plan than what is currently being offered by the powers at City Hall. This is where our hope lies. The discussion needs to be with the candidates running for office.


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