Government-administered affordable housing is bullshit

Came across an article on Facebook that is a great example of why I hate “affordable housing” programs so much.

The gist of the article is this non-sensical techno-optimist babble that basically says “look, we made it easier to get yourself into a broken, byzantine process. We didn’t do anything about the process, but we made it more transparent. TED Talk, here we come!”

The process is the wait list for below market rate housing in San Francisco, and the problem with it is that it creates a two-tiered system that doesn’t really work for the poor and completely leaves out a massive chunk of middle-income people.

I have a high-salary job, and I can’t afford San Francisco at the “market rate”. I also can’t afford San Francisco at the “below market” rate, because that rate is for people who make much less than I do.

I have seen what those truly poor people resort to to get by in this city while they’re waiting in the very, very long wait list for the few below-market-rate units available, and it is fucking inhumane and beneath their basic dignity to have to live like that. But that’s how bad people want to live here, and as always the courage, tenacity and ingenuity of poor people in the face of oppression is inspiring and breathtaking.

What I don’t know is what these families do when, given stable housing and a chance to improve their financial prospects, they get to a point where they can’t continue improving them without risking getting thrown out of their below-market-rate housing.

Believe it or not, this is an actual problem. The fact is that there are a lot of high-paying jobs available in the Bay Area, and once you have stable housing, it’s much easier to get yourself to a point where you can learn the skills necessary to obtain one of them. But if you do, you might find yourself in the affordability gap, where I and many other people, like most tech workers, or people with white-collar NGO jobs, are currently stuck.

These are the current limits for affordable housing in SF. “Affordable housing” activists frequently work themselves into seizures of outrage when anyone suggests that the definition of affordable housing should include people making over 100% of the median income and start shouting about “rich people” or whatever, without realizing that NGOs like the Sierra Club regularly pay experienced employees $75,000+. Which is not nearly enough to afford market-rate housing in San Francisco.

So what you end up with is a huge population of poor people waiting to win the lottery while they scrape by in a city they can’t really afford, lots and lots of middle income people with no access to affordable or market rate housing, and a bunch of comfortably-housed rich people, who have somehow managed to enlist “affordable housing” activists in the fight to keep anyone from building anything.

Activists do this by opposing anything that isn’t “100% affordable housing”, meaning housing that would also be placed out of reach of a large segment of the city.

In part because “100% affordable housing” isn’t financially feasible, or even a viable solution to our housing problems, nobody ever agrees to it, so projects remain tied up, and rich people get to keep their views of the Bay and their property values. Nice work everyone, pat yourselves on the back.

The right answer is to either a) accept that the Bay Area is a major urban center and start building accordingly, or b) for activists to commit to the level of violence and intimidation it would actually take to get companies to move jobs out of the Bay Area, which is the only way you’re going to stop the growth that’s leading to rent increases.

There was a step in the direction of b) during some of the Google Bus protests, but the activists who were militant enough to actually get the job done were quickly disowned by the same liberals waging the war against math that got us into this mess.

I’m in favor of making room for more newcomers in the Bay Area. I’m in favor of this part of the world coming to grips with the fact that it is a globally significant urban center, not a collection of quaint seaside hamlets, and fucking acting like it.

I also think that we need to start imposing consequences on the VC firms that insist that all of their dipshit me-too social-food-delivery-photo-sharing companies all move to SOMA. We need to start taxing the living shit out of companies that could allow remote work but don’t, imposing massive, confiscatory fines on companies that bus their employees to their offices from Oakland and SF, and imposing special taxes on VC firms themselves for causing this massive fucking mess and getting filthy fucking rich in the process.

And while we’re at it, we need to make sleeping and eating in public or in your car explicitly legal, because people need to be forced to deal with the consequences of their opposition to new housing construction.

And I am a tiny, tiny minority. Nobody wants all of these things at once, and it’s more likely that we’re not going to get any of them. It’s more likely that SF will just limp along until the next crash, nothing will change, and everything will be that much more fucked up at the top of the next economic cycle.

And it is everyone’s fault, but the battle lines are bright and thick, and the fighting crossed out of the realm of the rational and into the tribal a long time ago. My housemate Sonja Trauss is doing God’s work trying to scramble people’s allegiances and get people to actually think critically about these problems, but mostly she’s just inspiring hate from the “build nothing anywhere ever” crowd and accolades from racist pro-gentrification organizations.

So I find myself once again a constituency of one, with nowhere to turn but my blog.

Oh well.

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