Thursday, July 24, 2014

San Francisco just voted to make housing less affordable

Yesterday, San Francisco voters handily voted in favor of Measure B. That's a ballot initiative that will make it more difficult to construct tall buildings on the San Francisco waterfront by requiring buildings over a certain size to obtain voter approval via referendum.

As discerning Bay Area progressives like Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffery and Netroots Nation executive director Raven Brooks are aware, this is only going to exacerbate San Francisco's housing affordability problems.

Anywhere you look, local real-estate markets and regulatory dynamics are complicated. But in San Francisco there is a basic underlying reality. The city's physical dimensions are constrained, and a lot of people would like to live and work there. Thanks to the miraculous technology of the elevator, it is perfectly possible for lots of people to live and work in a small geographical area via the mechanism of tall buildings. But when tall buildings are banned, space becomes scarcer. And when space is scarce, the tendency is that the richest people around will be the ones who are able to bid for it.

There are lots of things you can try to do to reallocate some scarce square footage away from the richest people and to some other folks. But as long as you have the scarcity, you're going to have yourself some haves and some have-nots. To make real progress you need to reduce scarcity, and that means making it easier to add buildings, not harder.

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