As San Francisco’s economy continues to rebound from the Great Recession, the impacts of both a growing population and employment base have taken center stage. The San Francisco Examiner’s series of articles called “Forces of Change in San Francisco” recently spotlighted many of the positive impacts of employment growth, as well as The City’s troublesome shortage of workforce housing.
Several factors bring us to where we are today. As late as the 1940s, population growth could be accommodated through development within The City’s 49 square miles. Like other older American cities, San Francisco in the 1950s began losing population — from a peak of 775,000 people in 1950 to 679,000 by the 1980 census.
More recently, our city has become a mecca for knowledge-based jobs and international travel. In 2012, California estimated The City’s population at a record 826,000 people. Employment has rebounded to almost 600,000 jobs, nearly equal to The City’s historic high in the dot-com boom of 2000.
San Francisco’s economic recovery is broad-based. While the technology sector has grown by almost 8,000 jobs over the past year, 75 percent of The City’s recent job growth has come from sectors other than technology. Looking back to 2010, when unemployment approached 10 percent, The City’s economy has added back tens of thousands of jobs in professional services, hospitality, construction, education and health. Today, unemployment has fallen to almost 5 percent.
Like many urban areas across the country, San Francisco is also seeing movement from the suburbs back to the urban center. Thankfully, our city is well-positioned to accommodate this growth, with thousands of new housing units approved for construction. However, we are not building workforce housing fast enough to impact the costs of either rents or home ownership in the foreseeable future.
In March 2004, the chamber sponsored Proposition J, which would have provided incentives downtown and along the Pier 70 Third Street corridor to build additional below-market-rate housing. Unfortunately, that measure failed at the polls. The chamber has since advocated for specific area plans that can add affordability and density, such as the Hunters Point shipyard redevelopment and new in-fill housing at Parkmerced. Last year, voters also approved the chamber-supported Housing Trust Fund, which will begin to fund construction of new affordable and workforce housing over the next few years in part through increases in business license fees.
San Francisco is fortunate to be in the midst of a broad recovery attracting people and jobs across industry sectors. Our city has already taken some important steps to accommodate the impacts of this growth. However, San Francisco will never be a low-cost place for residents or businesses. Knowing this, we can — and should — do more to increase the supply and availability of workforce housing so our city can continue to innovate, prosper and lead for generations to come.
Bob Linscheid is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.