San Francisco runs the danger of being an artistic ghost town, populated exclusively by the rich, unless loopholes in rent control are strengthened and brakes are put on the so-called dot-com office space development boom.
Maybe you haven't noticed it, but there's a class war going on. And all of your brown-nosing to the ruling elite still won't save you when your landlord takes the shortsighted route and evicts you to make way for an Internet start-up.
Drawing blood: Peter Byrne wanted to use me to bash rent control, so he laid a trap, then when what I said wasn't damning enough, put words in my mouth. Knowing, but not letting on, that I had just passed through some capital improvement costs, he asked what I thought of the initiative limiting pass-throughs. My reply: "I think it's draconian, but it's an understandable response to conditions." Byrne's version: "Holden says the ban would be unfair to landlords, even "draconian.'"
"Draconian," in my dictionary, means "very harsh." Fairness is a different question. The inherent unfairness of the landlord-tenant relationship, in the landlord's favor, is one of the conditions I meant.
Byrne takes five or six thousand words to say our rents are high because we have density limits and rent control. I was just in Hong Kong, a developer's wet dreamland, where demolition and construction go on day and night and there are no limits and no controls on anything. The rents are astronomical. Q: What else, besides great views and great dim sum, do S.F. and H.K. have in common? A: They are both great places to live, with finite space.
A renter against rent control: Peter Byrne is to be congratulated on his excellent analysis of rent control in San Francisco. I am a tenant in a rent-controlled apartment, but I realize that the free market best serves the interests of both landlords and tenants. Also, it is an immoral infringement of property rights for the government to set the price of something that should be set by voluntary agreement. Unfortunately, I fear that a worse deterioration of the housing situation in San Francisco is inevitable before the citizens realize the truly bad results of our rent control laws.
Mark D. Fulwiler
The Starbucks theory: Although Peter Byrne's analysis of San Francisco's current high-rent, housing-shortage problem is accurate, the solution may be more complex than simply abolishing rent control. Yes, the market would, eventually, level off the cost of housing after the initial price hike following decontrol, but one should be careful not to underestimate the power of the market at this time. San Francisco could easily be completely comprised of high-tech folk who could afford the theoretical 50 percent increase in rent. There is more money in the Bay Area than you can shake a stick at, and landlords will want the most they can get for their space, as any good businesspeople would. That equals, possibly, more than a 50 percent increase in rent and most low- or fixed-income tenants moving to Fresno.
If we want our lattes every morning, we must give some consideration to those who steam the milk.
Suffering everywhere: My rebuttal to Peter Byrne's article is the high rents all throughout the Bay Area. Has he tried to rent an apartment in San Mateo, where there is no rent control? Because of demand, rents here are high with or without rent control. The free market is ruthless. Does he want to reinforce this ruthlessness in San Francisco?
The middle ground: Peter Byrne has confirmed something we all know -- that moderation is best. Rent control, as instituted in 1979, with reasonable rent limits, would never have created the housing crisis we have today. It was meant to prevent abuse, not eliminate rental housing. The subsequent changes, promoted by radical activists such as Bostonian Ted Gullicksen of the S.F. Tenants Union, have caused our problems. Boston eliminated rent control in 1995, rental housing reappeared, and their housing crisis soon disappeared. When will San Franciscans learn?
A man with a plan: Supply and demand works only when you have a supply and a demand. Currently, a large demand exists for housing in S.F. The supply of housing is not available because:
- San Francisco does not have any undeveloped land to build ample housing;
- The city enforces numerous rules and regulations that drive up the cost of construction;
- Most people do not want to live in high-rise buildings.
If rent control ends, all rents will go up! No rents will come down! Supply and demand will not function in S.F. housing because no supply exists.
What can be done about the current situation?
- Decrease the number of rules and regulations about building new housing;
- Encourage the construction of housing with tax benefits;
- Do not issue business occupancy permits unless the business can provide housing for its new employees;
- Do not allow business construction until more housing is provided;
- Attempt to educate the public about accepting high-rise living.
We thought we had a long commute: Your reporter tells us that rent control is driving up rents. Yet in Austin, where I'm from, and where there never has been and never will be anything remotely resembling rent control, rents have risen precipitously in the last 10 years. The common denominator? Both the Bay Area and Austin are experiencing high-tech booms. Some people are making a lot of money and are therefore able to pay more, and all the landlords have dollar signs in their eyes. It's not community policies that drive up rent prices, but wealth and greed.
Look! Another opinion on rent control: It's about time some sanity about rent control appeared in an S.F. newspaper. A couple of points could have strengthened your case, though:
1) Yuppies aren't the main victims of rent control, nor would they be the main beneficiaries of its abolition. All of the cities you mention as holdouts of strict rent control are also bastions of homelessness -- Berkeley, San Francisco, and New York City. That is because the poor are the ones least able to cope with surplus housing demand, and thus most likely to be excluded from housing under rent control. Other things like the destruction of residency hotels to build the Moscone Center also reduce the supply of affordable housing. Cities without strict rent control don't have anywhere near the level of homelessness.
2) A way to ensure that the poor could still afford to rent their apartments after the abolition of rent control, which would be less harmful to the housing market and fairer to landlords, would be for the city to issue rent vouchers to those who can show proof of need. The federal government already does this. If San Francisco thinks there's a need for more rental housing assistance than what's already provided by the feds, the city can make up the difference between the controlled and market prices for rental housing for those in need.
Last one, we promise: Once again, an author seeks to show the pernicious effects of rent control; once again, he relies on incomplete economics to do so. As has been pointed out time and again (by tenant activists and others), the law of supply and demand is a good deal more complex than "when there's more of something, it gets cheaper." That kind of reasoning is great for the elementary-school set, but there's a catch: It only works when demand is elastic, like demand for candy bars and VCRs.
Housing is arguably among the most inelastic of commodities, because it requires land -- and since no more land can be manufactured, the supply is finite.
It may well be the case that San Francisco needs more high-rise housing -- if constructed in a well-thought-out way. How about a Prop. M trade-off: Any developer wanting to build offices (for quick, high returns) must also build low-income housing (for long-term, modest returns)?
Didn't think so.
Sorry. But What Do You Think About Rent Control?
Kim. Lee. An easy mistake: Thanks for the article ("Grievous Angels," Music, Aug. 9, on the band the Court and Spark)! It turned out great, except that my name is misprinted. It should be James Kim, not James Lee.
Court and Spark drummer
Best in the State
But you knew that: Competing against the state's largest weeklies, SF Weekly won the first-place prize for general excellence last week in the California Newspaper Publishers Association's statewide journalism contest.
In all, the Weekly was honored five times at the CNPA's annual awards ceremony in Coronado, winning first place for lifestyle coverage; second place for arts and entertainment coverage; first place in the sports story category (for Matt Smith's "Road to Redemption," an article on a comeback by a troubled professional bicycling legend); and second place in the business/financial story category (for Smith's "Telling Fortunes," a piece about a San Francisco company involved in the global game of risk assessment). In a quirk of the CNPA contest, SF Weekly competed against all weekly papers for the lifestyle and arts and entertainment awards, and against weeklies with 25,000 or more circulation for the three other prizes.
"To be called the best major weekly in a state the size of California is a genuine honor," SF Weekly Editor John Mecklin said. "I can't adequately describe how proud I am -- and what a continuous joy it is -- to work with a staff this talented, and energetic, and focused on good journalism."
Among other Bay Area weeklies, the San Francisco Bay Guardian won first-place honors in the illustration/info graphic category, and second place in the public service, editorial comment, and investigative/enterprise reporting categories; the East Bay Express won first place in the writing, feature story, and environmental reporting categories; and San Jose's Metro won first place in the business/financial story category.