This One Map Explains San Francisco's Housing Crisis

posted by Dalton Runberg -

San Francisco Housing / Getty Images

It's no secret that San Francisco (and the Bay Area in general) is undergoing a massive housing crisis, causing rental and purchasing prices to soar and pushing many long-time residents out of the city.

This is largely due to a huge influx of new workers being drawn to the city by tech companies who have set up shop here over the past decade or so, and it's only gotten worse. According to U.S. News, this has made California the top-rated state for venture capital, patent creation and GDP growth, but #46 for "opportunity" with low marks in cost of living (#48) and housing affordability (#49). So, good for business and high-earners, but bad for everyone else.

But there's a bigger problem, and it becomes quite clear with just a quick glance at the San Francisco zoning map for height/bulk districts, as seen below (via the City and County of San Francisco Planning Department):

San Francisco Zoning Map

The key piece of information here: All the beige areas of the map are places where building heights can't exceed 40 feet. 

This means residential structures in these areas are limited to just a few stories, meaning less units and therefore less number of potential places for people to live. There's simply an imbalance of jobs to available housing, causing rates to skyrocket as demand increased so rapidly. Even so, the pace may have been too fast for San Francisco to keep up with, especially with old zoning restrictions hampering construction of high-density housing.

A new bill making its way through the state senate, SB 827, hopes to address the issue by allowing more mid-rise (55'-85') developments to be built along major transit routes, and remove minimum parking space requirements. But the bill has been running into some problems of its own, currently undergoing amendments to address local concerns. Even if it passes, it would still be years before new units would pop up and begin to help ease the pain.

And of course, there's always a balancing act between the old and the new. Construction of mid-rise and high-rise housing developments would inevitably mean the destruction of old houses (temporarily displacing people), and possibly historic businesses and landmarks. It would change the landscape of the city forever. With the specter of of gentrification already looming so heavily over San Francisco, many long-time residents may not be in favor of making way for something new.

But it doesn't look like the new crop of businesses will be leaving the Bay any time soon, which means their workers will be sticking around as well and the housing crunch will continue. 

San Francisco may just be too small of an area to withstand its booming popularity. Surrounded by water on three sides and more residential-heavy cities to the south, it seems there's nowhere to go but up.


Top photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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