Blame Boomers for SF’s High Housing Costs?

by on April 5, 2017

Boomers Have Led Opposition to New Housing

The SF Business Times reported this week on a Bay Area Council poll finding that “seventy percent of millennials were in favor of building more housing in their own neighborhood, while only 57 percent of residents age 40 to 64 supported additional homes near them.” Newer residents were also much more likely to support housing than those living in the region for 20 years or more.

The poll covered the nine county Bay Area, so was not specific to San Francisco. But it likely underestimates San Francisco’s generational division when it comes to attitudes toward housing and levels of civic engagement around new housing development.

Baby boomers have long led efforts to restrict housing development in San Francisco. They dominate public hearings on projects and are most often identified  by the media as spokespersons for anti-housing development fights.

As a boomer myself, I’ve long defended these generations against charges of excessive narcissism.  Boomers spawned social movements to stop wars, racism, sexism, and imperialism, and built a massive nonprofit sector for social good; that’s hardly self-indulgent.

But San Francisco boomers who bought houses before the initial 1979 boom or even before the dot –com frenzy failed to create housing opportunities for  a future middle-class.  Instead, it’s been all about “preserving neighborhoods,” even if this foreclosed future living opportunities for the non-affluent.

Let’s be honest: baby boomers have seen their home prices rise to the stratosphere because they have led San Francisco to artificially restrict new housing supply. And by demonizing tech workers and other millennials with the money to afford homes in now expensive areas like Noe Valley, the Castro, or Bernal Heights, it makes it easier for boomers to identify their anti-housing policies as “progressive.”

Pursuing Self-Interest

The boomers have always been split between those who were young UFW volunteers and those like Bill Clinton who did what they needed to do to get ahead. While the boomers spawned the 1960’s, they also dominated the 1970’s—boomers were the “Me Generation.”

Many San Francisco boomers never bought a home, and some are among the seniors now facing Ellis and OMI evictions. But for those who did buy, it’s understandable that they see no advantage to their Noe Valley block becoming a construction zone for two years.

The larger projects that trigger inclusionary affordable housing are as rare in Noe Valley as a block on 24th Street without a baby stroller; by preventing larger new developments, Noe Valley and similar neighborhoods have denied any opportunity for the millennial generation’s middle-class to live in the neighborhood.

Many boomers back affordable housing.  But this support obscures how their anti-market rate housing stance has resulted in policies pricing out the middle class in many San Francisco neighborhoods.

Fortunately, the YIMBY’s have put this issue on the map after it was ignored for decades, And while it will make some feel uncomfortable and wrongly accused, this debate about earlier generations sacrificing the city’s future economic diversity for their own self-interest needs to occur.

Had we considered back in the 1980’s how anti-housing policies would price out future generations of the middle-class, San Francisco may not be in its current affordability mess. But if we are going to create new middle-class housing opportunities, it’s time to address this generational divide over new housing.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He is the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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