Real Estate Reporter

Go big or go homeless


It will reportedly cost $5,400 to rename Justin Herman Plaza to something else. But if city leaders and citizens are really interested in undoing the effects of what they blame the long-dead Herman for, perhaps it’s time to put a sizable chunk of our more-than-$10 billion annual budget toward redressing it.

The entire Board of Supervisors, which can’t agree on housing policy, nonetheless gave unanimous backing to the idea of renaming Justin Herman Plaza because of Herman’s role in the then-en vogue urban renewal of San Francisco in the 1960s, when he led the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. He is blamed for the city’s redevelopment of the Fillmore that resulted in the eviction of thousands of poor and nonwhite residents and hundreds of businesses. He is dinged for having said the land was too valuable for poor people to live on, yet he had also said, “Without adequate housing for the poor, critics will rightly condemn urban renewal as a land-grab for the rich and a heartless push-out for the poor and nonwhites.”

He was prophetic. He and his efforts were condemned, and there’s still inadequate housing for the poor.

An online petition by Julie Mastrine demanding the plaza’s name change garnered nearly 10,000 signatures, but Curbed SF notes that “of the thousands who signed Mastrine’s petition, only 172 are from San Francisco.”

We could send the $5,400 bill to those nonresidents. But when it comes to having sufficient housing for low-income and middle-income residents of any race, the policies the city leaders of today are following are as much folly as the urban renewal disaster. Building new housing in San Francisco is super expensive, the crowd-sourcing of opinion on every development adds time delays to nearly every project, and developers are demonized as Gordon Gekko.

So here’s a proposal from an actual San Francisco resident: Let’s take an eye-opening amount of our $10 billion budget — say, $500 million or $1 billion a year for 10 years — and spend it specifically on building new housing that will be nice, dense, high-rise, and sold or leased only to low-income and middle income people. Give it fast-track authority to bypass the ridiculous NIMBYism in the city (thereby speeding up the process and saving money).

That will be a better use of our time and money than trolling through Wikipedia to find dead people to dishonor.


Speaking of affordability, for $1,500 a month you could rent less than 300 square feet in San Francisco; same with Manhattan, London, Paris, Zurich, Geneva, and Hong Kong. That’s according to a report by RentCafe. Your best bets for more than 1,500 square feet for that same amount of money would mean relocating to uber-hip Berlin, financial center Frankfurt, or beautiful Shanghai.

RentCafe says San Francisco is the fourth most-expensive city in the entire world to rent an apartment. Read more at


On the commercial real estate front, our state is due to add 13 million square feet of new office space, with the most active city in the state being San Francisco.

According to Yardi’s CommercialCafe, the new Salesforce Tower alone will add 1.4 million of the city’s 3.7 million square feet this year. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Apple Park will add 2.8 million square feet.


In mid-September, the California legislature passed a package of bills targeting the state’s crises in housing affordability and availability. The legislation, which Governor Brown is expected to sign, would streamline approvals for projects and fund affordable housing.

“Today’s action on housing doesn’t globally solve our housing problems,” said Senator Scott Wiener, who had made housing one of his core issues while a San Francisco supervisor. “We can’t just pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next challenge. It took us 50 years to get into this mess, due to bad and short-sighted housing policies, and it’s going to take years of sustained focus and work to get us back on track. Yet, despite the need for more work, [this] action by the legislature is a very healthy down payment that should make us proud.”


No insult intended to Pittsburghians or whatever they call themselves (might I suggest Pittsbourgeoisie?) but people might be surprised to find that Pittsburgh ranks as the number one metropolitan area in the nation for Millennial renters, according to a new survey from Apartment List. Based on scores for jobs, affordability, and livability, Pittsburgh won largely on its affordability, because it ranked lower for jobs and livability than cities number two (Provo, Utah) and three (Madison, Wis.). While San Francisco earned great marks for jobs, it took it on the chin for affordability.

We can understand Madison ranking high; your humble columnist was born there and went back to attend university, and it is a beautiful, educated city situated on four lakes. Provo is also probably perfectly understandable, if your car breaks down while driving through and you need to rent an apartment until the vehicle is fixed. But Pittsburgh?


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