In a whirlwind session earlier this week in which it mandated gender-neutral bathrooms and passed the nation’s most aggressive paid family leave law, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also “doubled down on its liberal credentials by enacting expansive anti-eviction protections for tenants who work in San Francisco schools, from teachers to janitors and cafeteria workers,” the SF Chronicle reports.
“This sets us on the level of European social democracies that have more forward-thinking policies,” Supervisor Eric Mar said proudly of the family leave law. Maybe so. But it’s hard to think of a more backward-thinking policy than the Board’s desperate, rearguard effort to protect teachers from skyrocketing rents (which now exceed $3,000 per month for a one-bedroom unit, on average—the highest in the country).
As Gabriel Metcalf has argued in CityLab, San Francisco is being devastated by a housing affordability crisis that was engineered by an alliance between wealthy NIMBYs interested in jacking up their home prices and grassroots progressive activists convinced that blocking new development was somehow sticking it to plutocrats. Now the same Board of Supervisors that refuses to amend zoning rules to bring down prices is instead handing out eviction exemptions to favored political constituencies. And of course, these new rules will drive up rents even higher by making landlords wary of signing leases with public employees.
Just as Chicago is the poster-child for the destruction wrought by blue city budgeting brought to its logical extreme, San Francisco is a case study in what happens when pie-in-the-sky progressives are allowed to set housing policy. The Golden Gate City is a idyllic haven for the tech and financial elite, who enjoy access to luxurious apartments without a high-rise in sight, a Whole Foods on every corner, and as much high-end shopping and dining as their hearts desire. Meanwhile, working class people—including, ironically, many of the progressive artists and activists who historically backed San Francisco’s exclusionary zoning laws—are being forced across the bay to places like Oakland and San Leandro, and the city’s homeless population is so large that the city is installing outdoor urinals in its public parks.
Is this the future of housing policy in the progressive city? Generous amenities for the wealthy, and eviction notices for ordinary workers—unless they belong to a group, like schoolteachers, favored by the city’s left-wing political machine? It doesn’t have to be this way. San Francisco liberals—and there are virtually no conservatives in San Francisco with any political power—need to to drop their reactionary NIMBYist pretensions, repeal zoning laws, open up their housing market, and make the city livable again.