The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After a bitter election about affordable housing, San Francisco still wakes up to the same mess

An election sign in a Chinatown window supporting affordable housing in the Mission District and restrictions on short term rentals in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Last week, on the eve of an election in San Francisco loaded with ballot measures addressing affordable housing, the city's budget and legislative analyst released a report that helped explain how the city got here. How it became an enclave of million-dollar modest homes, of bitter intra-city fights over $3,100-a-month one-bedrooms.

From 1980 to 2010, the median value of owner-occupied housing in San Francisco rose 175 percent, more than triple the national rate. If costs in the city were to keep pace with the rest of the country, San Francisco would have needed to build 459,000 new housing units over those 30 years, according to a state analysis. Instead, the city built 60,334.

That larger number is an approximation at best — it's hard to look back at what might have been, or to project an alternate past onto an idea of affordability in the future. But the many heated affordable housing questions on the ballot Tuesday were an expression of the long-building tension between these two scenarios. They were, however, also imprecisely aimed at minor culprits, including new luxury apartments rising in the Mission, and homegrown startup Airbnb.

Voters ultimately turned away ballot measures designed to curb both. Proposition F, which would have limited residents to renting out their homes for 75 nights a year and empowered their neighbors to sue them, lost with 45 percent of the vote. A proposed 18-month moratorium on new market-rate development in the Mission neighborhood lost with 43 percent (in the Mission itself, 56 percent of voters supported the idea).

Other measures that did pass make small swipes at the city's underlying problem: A mixed-use development that was approved for a parking lot near the Giants' ballpark will include several hundred affordable units. Voters also approved a proposition allowing the city to issue up to $310 million in bonds for affordable housing (the last housing bond, two decades ago, produced about 2,000 new units).

Voters also supported a novel program that would incentivize landlords to extend the leases of "legacy" businesses threatened by rising rents. That proposal is supposed to ensure that long-lived local businesses — which contribute to the "history or identity" of a neighborhood — aren't replaced wholesale by high-end restaurants.

The defeat of the Airbnb measure may not be the "victory for the middle class" the company is touting. But the measure, had it passed, wouldn't have done much to solve the city's affordability problem, either. Proposition F in particular, as TechCrunch's Kim-Mai Cutler definitively chronicled, exposed the hypocrisy of Bay Area housing, where voters have long elected to cripple the region's growth, where advocates who claim to fight for affordable housing want to protect their own million-dollar homes, and where most residents are only comfortable with new development if it happens in someone else's neighborhood.