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Why San Francisco needs to build 5,000 homes annually for 20 years

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To address The City’s housing shortage, Mayor Ed Lee has ordered San Francisco to construct 5,000 homes per year for the next 20 years. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition cheers Mayor Ed Lee’s recent executive directive to increase home creation to 5,000 new homes per year. Mayor Lee understands the severe affordability and displacement crisis that all San Franciscans are experiencing was caused by a self-inflicted housing shortage. For years, SFHAC has been advocating for a goal of 5,000 new homes per year for the next 20 years, and we are heartened that Mayor Lee’s directive matches our quantifiable goal.

One only needs to look at San Francisco’s jobs/housing balance to see why we need this.

Estimates show that the Bay Area has produced 11 times the number of new jobs compared to new homes since 2000. San Francisco has done a little better than this, but not by much. Because of our red-hot economy, lots of people are moving to the region but are not finding affordable places to live. The demand for housing far exceeds the available supply, and our extreme housing prices reflect this imbalance. We are blessed by our attractive economic region, and the responsible thing to do is build more housing near transit and job centers, so longtime residents and newcomers can call San Francisco home.

According to The City’s chief economist, San Francisco needs to produce about 5,000 homes annually for 20 years for prices to increase at the same rate as projected inflation. In effect, building 5,000 new homes every year would hold prices constant.

In 2016, we hit that target for the first time in more than 50 years. Unsurprisingly, housing prices actually went down in 2017, while the economy is still booming. To put our goal in perspective: The City’s actual housing production for the last 20 to 30 years is about 1,800 units annually, which indicates the magnitude of the problem.

Perhaps the most optimistic aspect of Mayor Lee’s directive is the presence of data and metrics, something SFHAC has been pushing for years. The directive explicitly states that we’ll have measurable checkpoints, both pre- and post-entitlement, to ensure we hit our goal.

Publicly available quarterly reports ensure organizations like SFHAC can monitor progress. If we’re trending below our goal, we need to adjust our policies to spur more home creation. If we’re trending above our goal, it’s extra cherries on top of our ice cream.

We’re not in the business of selling you fool’s gold. It took 40 years of bad housing policy to get us into this mess, and it will take 15 to 20 years of doing the right thing to fix the problem. Now is the time to reverse the trend and start to build housing for the people who want to live here. Math and common sense inevitably lead us to the same place: It’s time to set 5,000 homes per year as a realistic target to dig ourselves out of our housing shortage, which created our self-inflicted affordability and displacement crisis.

Todd David is the executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. Contact him at todd@sfhac.org.

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