5 Facts: It’s NOT Because of Supply

San Francisco’s Housing Crisis is NOT Because of Supply
Joseph Smooke | 02/23/2015
San Francisco neighborhood
Photo Credit
Joseph Smooke

#1 San Francisco is the second most densely developed city in the U.S., behind New York. We’ve been packing a ton of housing into these 47 square miles! Despite these concentrations of housing supply, these are still two of the most expensive housing markets in the country!

#2 From 1950 to 2013, SF has built two new units for every new resident! Over these 63 years, SF’s population has increased by only 62,085, while we’ve added 115,245 new housing units.

#3 With all this supply, housing’s not getting any cheaper. Median household income has roughly doubled from 1950 to 2013. Meanwhile the median price for an owner occupied home has increased over six times. Increasing market rate supply has only made housing expensive. That’s why we need to prioritize affordable housing! (These figures are after 1950 median income and median home price are adjusted for inflation to the 2015 level.)

Apartment building beside Painted Ladies houses

#4 Policymakers have known for decades that the market won’t provide enough affordable housing. But, developers have well financed PR.  They want you to believe that we have a supply problem so they can keep making more money catering to the high end. On the contrary, what we have is an affordability problem!

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt collaborated to create the Housing Act of 1937 because he knew that for-profit housing developers would never provide enough affordable housing. FDR said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

#5 Even developers admit that building condo towers won’t make housing prices fall. One of SF’s biggest new developments, 5M, proposes to add more than 900 units in SoMa at 5th and Mission. The developer, 5M/Forest City said in a recent community presentation that they’re predicting (conservatively) that prices will continue to increase 2 - 3% per year from now until the buildings are finished between 2019 and 2026. That means, these new units will be even MORE expensive than today’s crazy rents and for sale prices! Mayor Lee’s “Housing for All” plan to build and fix up 30,000 new units of housing by 2020 will apparently not be making “market rate” housing any cheaper!


SF needs to prioritize affordable housing. Public policy that gives for-profit developers free rein over the city will not make things cheaper for working class or middle class families.

  • There is a tremendous amount of capital running through San Francisco’s economy that can be captured and put to use for affordable housing. We need to partner with businesses especially Tech to create a Workforce Housing Equity Fund;

  • SF needs to partner with unions to invest pension funds in affordable housing;

  • The City needs to use its Public Lands for 100% affordable housing for 0 - 120% AMI.

  • The recent offer by Oakland’s Mayor was generous, but SF should work with the Governor and surrounding Bay Area governments to create a Regional Housing body like our Bay Area Air Quality Management District that treats affordable housing as a regional issue where every jurisdiction is held accountable by the State to actually meet its Housing Element goals.

Only by being creative and prioritizing the creation of permanently affordable housing will we truly have housing for all.

Find out more

If you want to read further about this issue, click here for "Developers Aren't Going to Solve the Housing Crisis in San Francisco" a multimedia exploration into the issues.