Friday, May 27, 2005

Escape from San Francisco

I'm not sure exactly why I'm writing about families fleeing San Francisco in a blog called "Houston Strategies", but it's a topic that sort of fascinates me. It seems completely obvious to me that insane housing costs would drive out families, but I'm not sure San Francisco can really do any thing about it at this point, other than maybe some sort of rent-controlled affordable housing that only allows families - and that would have to be done on a massive scale to have any real impact (I don't think any affordable housing program in the country affects even 1% of a city's housing stock). I'm sure the mayor's task force will try a lot of small programs on the margins, but I doubt it will have any real impact - the simple economics are just too overwhelming.

Houston has always been a pretty family-friendly city, especially when it comes to affordable housing, and I think that will be a very helpful strength long-term. It not only increases diversity and makes the city more interesting, but those kids, once they're grown-up and educated, will have a natural affinity to either stay in Houston or come back here after college, adding to our skilled work force and economy. I guess it comes down to being another argument for keeping housing affordable, and its close corollary, investing in good mobility to keep that affordable housing accessible within a reasonable commute.

Child Population Dwindles in San Francisco
Anne Bakstad and Ed Cohen are starting to feel as if their family of four is an endangered species in San Francisco. Since the couple bought a house five years ago, more than a dozen families in their social circle have left the city for cheaper housing, better schools or both...

San Francisco has the smallest share of small-fry of any major U.S. city. Just 14.5 percent of the city's population is 18 and under.

It is no mystery why U.S. cities are losing children. The promise of safer streets, better schools and more space has drawn young families away from cities for as long as America has had suburbs...

Another reason San Francisco's children are disappearing: Family housing in the city is especially scarce and expensive. A two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot starter home is considered a bargain at $760,000.
A recent survey by the city controller found 40 percent of parents said they were considering pulling up stakes within the next year.

Determined to change things, Mayor Gavin Newsom has put the kid crisis near the top of his agenda, appointing a 27-member policy council to develop plans for keeping families in the city.
"It goes to the heart and soul of what I think a city is about - it's about generations, it's about renewal and it's about aspirations," said Newsom, 37. "To me, that's what children represent and that's what families represent and we just can't sit back idly and let it go away."...

Other cities are trying similar strategies. Seattle has created a children's fund, like the one in San Francisco. Leaders in Portland, Ore., are pushing developers to build affordable housing for families, a move Newsom has also tried.

For families choosing to stay in San Francisco, life remains a series of trade-offs. They can enjoy world-class museums, natural beauty and an energy they say they cannot find in the suburbs.

But most families need two or more incomes to keep their homes, and their children spend most of their days being cared for by others. "We have so many friends who are moving out and say how much easier life has been for them," Bakstad said. "If we can make it work in the city, we would love to stay. In a way, the jury is out."


At 11:21 AM, May 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an anecdotal comment... my wife's cousin and her family live in SF. Before they had a child, they were paying a mortgage on a tiny condo. When she got pregnant, they decided to become renters again because their condo was just too small for three people. They now have a 3BR, 2BA apartment in the Presidio with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and their rent is about $2k/month. Last we talked about it, they said that rents have been falling over the last few years. It certainly seems however that for buyers, the prices have been going up up up.

So a lot of those people who are thinking of leaving are probably asking themselves whether they are willing to be renters or not. The tax system sure doesn't favor them as renters, that's for sure.

At 4:17 PM, May 27, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's the sign of a bubble real estate market: prices going up while rents are going down. It means speculators are buying for the appreciation, not to live in them, and there are too many of them trying to rent them out. I've read that rents can't even cover the mortgages anymore, much less maintenance and other expenses. There will be much pain when it bursts...


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