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The First Affordable Housing In San Francisco

Hello everyone. It’s been a long time hasn’t it? Sorry for the delays, but if you remember my article on the Purge of 2016 it has continued in high gear in 2017 so I’ve been a little busy. So without further ado, here’s an article that’s been on my mind for awhile.

I’ve seen people talking about San Francisco’s need for affordable housing to be built so that, well, people can afford to live here. I agree that affordable housing in necessary and thought I’d share a bit of history about the Sunset District where I live. 

My Grandparents and Mother bought the house I’m living in back in 1954. They chose the Sunset District because there were seven or eight contractor families that were building houses like crazy out here that were — affordable. Between the 40’s & 50’s post WWII during the Golden Years as people refer to them the US was living large after the war. The Sunset District was mostly sand dunes and nothing else so the city figured building houses would be a good way to get more residents and make them look more prosperous by being able to own a home. The houses in the Sunset were built so that working class families could afford a home and then become a part of middle class America.

Typical Sunset District Backyard

I remember my Mom telling me that back then they looked at houses they could have bought for $9000, but they were pretty quickly assembled and didn’t look like they’d hold up over the years. The house they chose was asking $23k and they managed to talk the builder down to the ridiculously low price of $18k for a four bedroom with a full backyard. For 1954, that was a lot of money, but not unaffordable like houses in San Francisco have become today. My Dad used to tell me that when he and my Mom were first married that he used to toss her dog over the three foot back fence and let him run in the sand dunes that stretched out to the beach until more houses were built behind ours. The backyards when the houses were built were pretty much a joke. It was a fence holding in sand and nothing else. You can still find a couple of houses like that out here if you look real hard from above with Google maps.

I occasionally meet someone who can beat my price story. I met a guy who had just sold his Grandmother’s house that his grandparents had purchased in the 40’s for…$6000. It was a simple two bedroom with nothing special about it and it had the short [keylot] backyard. The selling price…$1.2 million.

Back then San Francisco had 100,000 less residents than it does today and room to grow. It was easy back then to quickly build houses that people could afford. Today, not so much. There’s no room to grow anymore unless they build in Hunter’s Point which I’ve mentioned previously, but all of the open space has been taken up so if they can’t build out they can only build up. I won’t go any further on this part because that would be another article entirely.

I remember being a kid and hearing my Mom tell my Dad in the 70’s, Did you know the house up the street just sold for $50,000? Who would pay $50,000 for a house…HERE! If my Mom were alive today and knew how much houses go for she’d probably have another heart attack and die a second time. There has been talk about the housing bubble bursting for years. Not just since 2000, but well before that and sometimes it does, but it always comes back with a vengeance. The Sunset District now is seeing many more houses selling for closer to $2,000,000 well up from the $800k median when the prices fell in 2011.

The newspapers and hip websites never pay attention to the Sunset District either because they don’t want people to know about it or because they think it’s an uncool urban suburbia. I think that might be part of the reason the real estate is getting so hot out here. You’re in the city, but not and no one knows you live here. Oh, and Karl the Fog is always your next door neighbor. Next time you make a wrong turn and end up in the Sunset District take a look at the houses and just think for a second about this article and how much you wish you had been here in the 40’s or 50’s.

A Way To Make Housing More Affordable

Rent-or-BuyAbout eight years ago I was unemployed for almost two years. A friend of mine told me that I wasn’t unemployed, but that I made $40,000 per year. I looked at him and shook my head. That made no sense, but he pointed out that because I had been lucky and inherited my parents home I didn’t have to pay rent which [at the time] would have worked out to about $40k/year.

While that number has increased nowadays, it hit me hard. There are some things that many people don’t understand about owning a house that is different than renting and I feel that should change. While it’s a change that should happen nation wide, it’s something that makes a lot more sense in San Francisco.

If you own a house you must pay property tax. The thing that some of you might not know is that property tax is tax deductible. I met a woman who recently bought a house and is paying over $11k/year just in property tax. All of that is deductible from her tax return every year as a living expense. With rental rates at an all time high in San Francisco this is a bit of a drop in the bucket, but getting to cut $11k+ off your yearly income is still nothing to sneeze at. She can also claim her mortgage payments as a living expense and deduct them from her income.

This is why I believe that rent should be tax deductible as a living expense. I recently saw an article where an elderly couple in the Sunset District who were paying $2100/month in rent had their new landlord remove an in-law apartment from their house thereby making the home a single family dwelling. The landlord was then able to increase their rent because the home was no longer under rent control to $8900/month.

San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States where something like this could happen, but there are places where it is happening more often. Most of the Bay Area is quickly approaching the rental prices of San Francisco because when you leave San Francisco the homes are bigger thus demanding a higher price. Even the apartments are larger outside of San Francisco.

So why isn’t this happening? I can only make a guess, but let’s use San Francisco as an example. If residents were to be able to deduct their rent from their income as a living expense San Francisco would look like a very poor city. Yes that new techie family that’s paying $10k/month for a house in the Mission would suddenly have a $120k deduction from their income each year which would probably qualify them for financial aid unless they were pulling in closer to $200k/year in salary. This also probably wouldn’t help reduce rent because hey, it’s a tax deduction.

Overall, San Francisco has for a long time been difficult to live in due to the increasing rental prices and that also increases expenses in the Bay Area. To make this change so that rent was tax deductible would probably make a large number of people in the U.S. look much poorer than we realize, in California where Proposition 13 is in effect so that property tax can only increase by 1.1%/year, home ownership even with these high purchase prices currently has advantages over other parts of the country. Perhaps this is more of a state wide thing, but I believe it’s something a lot of our politicians should start talking about.




Affordable Housing In San Francisco

Hunter's Point Open SpaceThere has been a lot of talk lately about building affordable housing in San Francisco. I’m not exactly sure what the right answer is [although my suggestion is below], but so far I’m not sure it’s going in the right direction.

Out in the Sunset District there is the Sloat Garden Center. It’s currently the largest of it’s locations and now the owners are going to sell it. I can understand that since they can get a good deal of money for that, but the problem is that it has been labeled as the perfect spot for affordable housing to go in and by affordable housing they’re talking about a ten to possibly twelve story building in an area that is zoned as NC-2 which is mixed commercial/residential with a height of no more than three stories.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I can’t prove they want to build a ten to twelve story complex, but there is a height limit code of A100 which I can’t get a definition for and everyone seems to believe that means 100 feet. I can see that, but there comes another problem with what is defined as a story. Typically in the past a story was defined as twenty feet, but now through the process of downsizing a story is being redefined as ten feet. This is another part where that could mean that 100 feet could represent a five story complex or a ten story complex. The twelve story came from someone who has been pointing out the requirement of 20% low income housing to all building in San Francisco, but misses the point that that doesn’t allow them to add on.

My overall thought is that while yes, there are few buildings that somehow got past the strict coding over the years and are more than three stories they are the exception rather than the rule. To build a 100 foot building out by the beach would be ridiculous in my opinion because it just would not fit with the character of the other buildings around it. They might as well relocate Coit Tower to the Sunset District if that height is fine for a spot in San Francisco that after it was just a bit of sand had been dubbed, the suburbs of San Francisco.

Candlestick ParkSo what is the answer? OK, just bear with me for a moment because this is going to sound a bit NIMBY, but it’ll make sense…Hunter’s Point.

Yes, I’m suggesting if they want to build affordable housing that they look into Hunter’s Point. They’re already planning on building a shopping center, or at least they’re seriously talking about putting one where Candlestick Park used to be so it makes sense. It especially makes sense when you look at the picture in this article. There’s is tons of open land in the Hunter’s Point area [and Bayview as well] where you can even see the former foundations of buildings.

Hunter’s Point was always considered a bit of a scary place in San Francisco, but with the influx of people to San Francisco there are a lot more people that are buying homes and new condos that are being built in the area and it’s starting to come up…albeit slowly, but it IS happening. I am more frequently having to drive in that area and I’m pretty surprised at the changes I’m seeing. San Francisco isn’t seeing how much of a clean slate and lack of opposition or at least much less opposition that they would get from a currently populated part of San Francisco.

There is no reason for our politicians to destroy the character of San Francisco’s existing neighborhoods when there is a good amount of open space in the city where they could develop a whole new neighborhood from the ground up.