Red and Ted Talk Housing in SF

Editors’ Note: Introducing our latest series: Red and Ted! These are conversations between two longtime San Francisco residents, both of whom want to see a better city, but who have slightly different perspectives on how to get there. Ted listens to KQED and true crime podcasts, donates monthly to Planned Parenthood, and appreciates Nancy Pelosi for standing up to the GOP. Red is a member of SF DSA, pays attention to local politics, and thinks it’s time for Nancy Pelosi to go.

TED: Red! My cousin wants to move to San Francisco, but she’s having a hell of time finding a place that isn’t a bazillion dollars. I didn’t realize how crazy things have gotten. There are places charging almost $2000 for a bedroom. Not even an apartment, just a forking bedroom!

RED: Uh, yeah. That’s been the case for years. What planet have you been on?

TED: Well, I was on Reddit a couple weeks back and read that the reason we don’t have enough housing is because of all the rich white people back in the 80s and 90s. Tons of new people were moving to San Francisco, but rich folks didn’t want to let any new construction happen in places like Noe Valley or Laurel Heights. They were worried about their property values. So why don’t we just build more housing?

RED: Kinda feels like you’re oversimplifying it a bit. Sometimes opposing new construction makes sense.

TED: Wait, what?! Are you worried about YOUR property values?

RED: Come on, I don’t own a house. All my money goes towards student loan debt and avocado toast. I just want us to be thoughtful about what we commit to in the wider development landscape of the city.

I actually agree with you that we should build more housing! I just want to make sure we build in a way that’s fair to everyone, not just the rich.

TED: But every bit of housing counts. When there’s more housing for anyone, then eventually everyone will benefit. We have a demand crisis, so we need to fix it by raising the supply. Then, demand will eventually be met, and everything will get cheaper for everybody. That’s basic economics.

RED: That’s not how it works at all! People keep saying that there’s some kind of trickle down housing economics voodoo at work here, but that’s a fairy tale. We’ve had a housing surplus for a looong time. So, the most important thing to remember is that we don’t have a housing crisis, we have an AFFORDABILITY crisis. Because think about this: if you wanted a new apartment and your budget was $5,000 a month, could you find a place today? If you had three million dollars, could you buy a place today?

TED: Yeah, of course. My slob housemate Dave would be gone in a heartbeat. I’d replace him with a hot tub and like, three extra bedrooms. And parking and a basketball court. I don’t think that’s a good comparison, though. Rich people always get what they want.

RED: Exactly! We’ve been giving the rich what they want for decades, it never seems to help the rest of us. I think something new needs to be done. Think about it: a huge number of lower-income folks have been displaced from SF during the boom of the past decade. How do you think we can keep the ones left here in the city? Or possibly even bring some formerly-displaced folks back?

TED: Easy. When some person builds apartments, then I can leave the place I have now and get away from Dave. Then lower-income folks can have my old place. This is why it makes so much sense to build more housing, even if it’s like those ridiculous luxury condos in the heart of the Mission. Because then people like me will have somewhere to move and that will free up my old place for some new family!

RED: Not really! A ton of those new fancy units are owned by Wall Street investors. Those units will have no rent control, they’ll never be affordable, and also, tons of them just sit vacant, because the owners are happy just to wait for property values to rise. San Francisco would end up an expensive, empty wasteland, like the center of London.

TED: No way, Red. This San Francisco, not London, folks here wouldn’t let that happen. We’ll add some new taxes or something like that.

RED: Okay, yes, let’s have some faith in our fellow neighbors. So say you move out and someone else takes your old place. And say that happens over and over again as new housing gets built. And say we’re able to keep forcing the landlords to rent the units. How long is this entire process going to take? Five years? 10 years? 20 years? Everyone needs better housing now. As a city, we can’t wait that long. That’s why I think we should be building affordable housing, not luxury condos.

TED: I mean, that sounds nice, but I don’t know…. real estate developers will probably go broke if we just force them to build nothing but affordable housing. And then where would we be?

RED: The real estate industry has more money than the oil industry! And it’s not like they lose money by building affordable housing. Even if developers made a 100% affordable housing project, they would still turn a profit. So, why is it more important for developers to make money than for everyone to have a place to live? Personally, I support decommodifying housing. Instead of helping developers add zeros to their bank accounts, we could be investing in affordable and community-owned housing.

TED: That sounds great, but how do we actually make that happen? I’m worried that if the developers aren’t on board, then we won’t have anyone who will actually build the houses. Right?

RED: Look, I don’t have all the answers here. I do know that we need to start reassessing our priorities when it comes to housing. Most people just don’t have a place in the city the way we’re developing it now. So what kind of city do you want to live in? Do you want a city filled with just rich people, without artists or a working class community? I want a city for everyone.

TED: C’mon Red. Of course you know I want that. But if you don’t have the answers, then who does?

RED: I just feel like getting together as a community and figuring something out seems like a better solution than the statu quo. We are continuing to allow a few rich dudes to just do everything for us. We need to put silenced communities forward and emphasize their voices. It will take time and transparency and communication, but we can do it together

TED: That sounds hard. I think I need a drink to wrap my head around that?

RED: Yeah. That’s housing in San Francisco. Two-drink minimum.

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