Why SF is So Crazy Expensive & DC/NY Are Better

As we’ve established and you already knew deep in your bones, the same house will be more expensive in Greenwich, CT, than in Fargo, ND. What you may not have known, though, is that the difference in price is not merely reflective of the difference of costs, specifically land and material costs in CT vs ND. There’s an X factor too, or, as the experts call it, a “shadow price,” that makes San Francisco so absurdly unaffordable it might as well be Mars.

The price of a house or apartment, the authors argued, is more than just the value of the land plus the value of the building. There’s a third, shadow price, which represents how difficult it is to get something built given local regulations. In highly restrictive places like San Francisco, regulations impede the supply of new buildings, and so raise the price of housing.

So, like, for example, materials and land cost 2x the national average in SF, and yet a house costs 3.6x the national average. The difference can be attributed to regulations. You know, bureaucracy, red tape, all that nonsense. The Economist flatly states, “the [Bay Area] is one of the most difficult places to build in the country. Prices are therefore soaring and neighbourhoods are changing, touching off some occasionally nasty social conflicts.”

DC apartments, though nutsy, remain more reasonable than SF’s, in part because, after our nation’s capital went through crisis after crisis between 1969 and 2001, it decided to get back on its feet by investing in tons of new housing — for DINKs. If you build it, DC figured, they will come, “they” being single, sexy, spendy types, which represent more short-term gain for an urban area. And lo, the city was right

Does Having Money Make You Trustworthy?

The Atlantic takes us to an interesting place this morning, asking us to consider whether we put more instinctive faith in the rich than in the poor and, if so, whether we’re mistaken. Here’s a thought experiment to go with your morning joe:

You’re standing on a corner in downtown San Francisco. It’s a four-way stop, meaning cars are supposed to pause before entering the intersection. As you’re sipping your latte, you look to your left before stepping off the curb. The car approaching is a shiny BMW. Do you cross? How about if it’s a Ford Fusion? The model of trust I’ve been describing suggests you might want to pause if it’s the BMW.

So, do you place more trust in the driver of a Bimmer or that of some midrange American car? What if there’s a third car, a real junkbucket, in the mix? Who’s more likely to hit you? Tell us, science!

The Roommates I’ve Had at the Places I’ve Lived

Remembering the people we've lived with.

The San Francisco Squeeze

San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation, with just 14 percent of homes accessible to middle-class buyers, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate website Trulia. The median rent is also the highest in the country, at $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

“Affordable housing projects are constructed, and the money set aside for that purpose is used, but the demand is just far greater than what can be supplied,” said Fred Brousseau of the city budget and legislative analyst’s office. Evictions under a provision of state law that allows landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants if they convert a building for sale have more than tripled in the past three years, just as they did during the first tech boom.

To Yelly Brandon, a 36-year-old hairstylist, and her boyfriend, Anthony Rocco, an archivist, the obstacles to finding housing became clear when they spent two months searching for an apartment. At open houses, they said, they were competing with young tech workers, who offered more than the asking price and cash up front.

“People were just throwing money in the air,” Ms. Brandon said.

In the Times, Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller report about the “backlash by the bay”—how the middle- and working-classes are increasingly being pushed out by tech workers with big bank accounts. Neighborhoods like the Mission District, a once heavily Hispanic working-class neighborhood, has seen a dramatic change. But some of the changes are less about luxury apartment buildings and moneyed residents like Mark Zuckerberg buying homes in the area:

And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions. The annual Day of the Dead procession, meant to be solemn, has turned into a rowdy affair that many newcomers seem to view as a kind of Mexican Halloween.

Kevin Starr, professor of history and policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California describes the biggest problem with pushing middle and working class families out of the city: “You can’t have a city of just rich people. A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Cost of a False Sense of Security: One $95 Earthquake Kit

When a small earthquake passed through New York on a hot afternoon in August 2011, I was home from work, reading a novel in bed. The bookshelf above my feet rattled, and for a few seconds the building went liquid. The rattle I immediately attributed to my roommate’s sex life, but when the walls seemed to slide my annoyance turned to fear. Our landlord was a former building inspector, which we understood to mean our apartment had never been officially evaluated. “Is the building collapsing?” my roommate called out from the living room. “I think so!” I replied. We ran out into the street and stood on the sidewalk barefoot; I looked down to find myself clutching, of all things, an uncharged laptop.

How Much Would You Need to Earn to Afford a One-bedroom in Your County?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition looked at fair market rents (according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development), and calculated how much a worker would need to earn per hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment in their county (the "housing wage").

A Few Ways S.F. Tech Can Work to Be Hated Marginally Less

Over on his blog today, Anil Dash offers a few timely “Stupid Simple Things SF Techies Could Do To Stop Being Hated.” He talks about how the New York tech community has escaped similar degrees of disdain and resentment because 1. Wall Street will always be worse, and 2. in New York, tech workers have a better “ethos of community involvement.”

His first suggestion is simple, but legitimate:

First, people in tech should use their voices to push the leaders of their companies and industry to do the right thing. It is just as easy for a CEO to ask the city to accommodate affordable housing as it is for them to demand tax rebates. And if a CEO believes their employees expect this kind of request, most tech company execs will do anything to keep their engineers happy. If Google is the symbol of entitlement in San Francisco right now, Larry Page could simply and consistently amplify the voice of those already working on housing solutions and make a huge impact.

What It’s Like to Be a Personal Assistant for the Rich and Famous, Part II

Last month we talked to Amy, a longtime personal assistant who currently works for, among others, a Very Famous Writer.

Places I’ve Lived: A Dormitory for the Arts, Urban Hilltops, and a Former Department Store

Where have you lived, Marissa Barker?

Selling Girl Scout Cookies Where People Get the ‘Munchies’

Thirteen-year-old Danielle Lei sold 117 boxes of Girl Scout cookies outside of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.

What We Give Up to Live in the San Francisco Bay Area

Let's start with this: San Francisco was just named the second-most expensive place to rent by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, beating out New York City. Just pause and reread that sentence one more time—here, I'll help: beating out New York City. (Honolulu was No. 1.)