The Housing Crises in San Francisco; It’s Distribution Stupid!

As YIMBY spreads it’s sprawling and affluent tendrils around local governments and policy, it’s worth to see their contradicting platform to pinpoint their flaws. Their naive market solutions aside, their statements and goals are not consistent; they miss an economic analysis of why there is a “housing shortage” in San Francisco.

According to YIMBY, the main problem we are dealing is a housing shortage. This is misleading. The problem in the Bay Area is multi-fold. First off, in the Bay Area and in the country, we do not have a shortage problem – we have a DISTRIBUTION problem. Yes I write that in caps and I hope that any YIMBY minded person can read it with all the condescension as I intend.

According to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, there are 7,000 units in the city that are available for short-term rentals. It’s obvious that platforms like AirBnB are destroying stable housing. The problem? It’s complicated. But it’s obvious that it goes something like this: affluent slumlords evict all their tenants in exchange for higher rents. Many times, they put on short-term rental platform like AirBnB. Tenants elsewhere, in order to keep up with the higher rents going on, also may engage in short-term rentals. As a result, rents increase throughout all the city. Actual housing though, stable long-term rooms, are being exchanged for the benefit of profit of short-term housing. The poorest are affected. They may either be displaced or move out entirely.

The housing crises thus is being perpetuated by the capitalist/neoliberal economics. What YIMBY does is then propose yet another market solution: to build more housing! What this really means is their desire for having cake, and eating it too. They desire to keep profits, and make even more money from putting more housing as market-rate housing. According to their logic, an increased housing supply will decrease the rents throughout all the city. Of course this makes sense – if you ignore the whole problem of short-term rentals to begin with. And if you ignore the amount of empty homes that can house more than 80,000 people, right now. With the amount of short-term rentals and empty property that is locked out of the tenants, that almost brings the number to actually housing about 90,000-100,000 people, assuming the 7,000 units mentioned earlier would each accommodate roughly 1-2 people.

Even funnier is YIMBY’s page, saying that they believe that “high housing costs kneecap our ability to save money, force us into crowded conditions”, at the same time that they are ok with “high density housing” because it goes “with high-quality public transit and walkability.” In fact, they believe that “density is good.” Which side are they even on?

Their solutions, one that overlaps with the gasping Left in San Francisco (don’t kid yourself, it’s largely dead), is to build more mixed and “affordable” housing. Probably the biggest crises related to the housing problem won’t be housing itself – it will be shortage of labor that comes with it. Not having enough labor to fulfill the economic needs for San Francisco will put it in a dire position of searching a fresh supply of labor from… somewhere.

We all know that affordable housing for these YIMBY folk is totally unaffordable for many at the bottom levels of society in San Francisco. There will be no market solutions to this. The problem, after all, is distribution of housing, not in increasing the supply. The supply is already there.


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