A recently proposed moratorium on the construction of new housing units in San Francisco’s Mission District was rejected by the city’s Board of Supervisors. The proposed moratorium sought to combat rent hikes on the existing units populated by low- and moderate-income families.
Moratoriums on development are the opposite of a solution to California’s urban housing problems. An influx of highly-paid tech employees are causing San Francisco’s rent prices to skyrocket; development restrictions merely amplify these rent increases.
What San Francisco and other coastal cities need is a more permanent solution than rent control. That means expanding zoning limitations to permit the building of more units. Additional housing produces lower rental prices (or at least keeps them from moving higher) and accommodates urban density and all the accompanying benefits, a process known as upzoning.
Upzoning is a hard sell in San Francisco, a city challenged both by geography and an entrenched opposition to change. But change is needed to accommodate the continuing shift to urban areas following the recession.
Moratoriums hinder recovery
It is unrealistic to expect zoning limitations to maintain San Francisco and cities like it as they stand. The demand for housing has increased since the crash, but if policymakers refuse to supply that housing, recovery is impossible.
San Francisco’s desire to keep its historical neighborhoods low-height and low-density has collided with its desire to play host to the newly-moneyed tech elite that fuels its local economy. This intransigence ends up pushing out developers and forcing the new generations of skilled and talented residents out to the suburbs and smaller cities that welcome them and their employers.
In other over-priced urban and coastal regions of California, rent and housing price skirmishes are escalating as the population’s focus shifts from suburban living to urban dwelling. That’s why government resistance to Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) groups is so crucial. NIMBYs are responsible for most of the zoning restrictions hindering the construction of new units and other projects. Without additional units, urban residents — both old and new — will continue to feel the pressure of the housing bottlenecks.
What NIMBYs don’t realize is that modifying zoning limitations to accommodate urban density is necessary to complete recovery from the recession and housing crash. Expansion only occurs once the local housing and employment markets are thriving.
Benefits of urban development
Upzoning and increasing urban density have potential to create flourishing communities, especially with mixed-use zoning. Residences in close proximity to offices, retail properties and recreational facilities create opportunities for economic prosperity as well as decreased crime rates.
Most importantly, expansion provides employed residents the ability to live where they work, significantly decreasing traffic and commute issues, including environmental effects and production efficiency. Standards of living increase for everyone when greater density is primarily brought by a well-educated and skilled population.
Expansion also benefits agents and brokers by bringing more buyers and renters into the local market. People who work in urban areas are eager to live close to their place of business, and more available housing will lead them right to agents’ doorsteps.
Want to get involved in cutting through the zoning red tape? California is home to a few zoning pioneers who are working hard to present more effective solutions to the badly festering urban housing problem.
Participate in the solution by attending local council meetings open to the public, promoting zoning propositions and donating time and money to organizations working to improve an understanding of our urban housing conditions. Your efforts will help lead to the expansion California cities — and agents — need to stay afloat in the state’s impacted urban and coastal communities.