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The Onion Or San Francisco Chronicle? Hard To Tell The Difference | Congress for the New Urbanism

The Onion Or San Francisco Chronicle? Hard To Tell The Difference

MLewyn's picture

Today's headline: "S.F. Called Model For Affordable Housing."

Really? The same San Francisco where the average house is worth over $800,000 (about eleven times the median household income)?  At first glance, the story seems at least as insane as any of the comedy stories on the Onion.

But seriously, the newspaper story goes on to explain that San Francisco is a role model because its taxpayers spend a lot of money on affordable housing.

What's wrong with this logic?  It assumes that "affordable housing" is only a problem for a few poor people, and thus is easily solved by throwing public money at housing programs that benefit a small minority of the public.  But where housing is as expensive as in San Francisco, even the middle class cannot afford to live there, let alone the working poor- and as a result, people other than the wealthy and the residents of low-income housing are forced to drive to suburbia to seek affordable housing.   In that situation, affordable housing is a problem not just for a poor, but for most people.

So can we do about the San Franciscos of the world?  The sprawl lobby answer is to build lots of highways to suburbia: suburbs become affordable as real estate is opened up for development, while cities became affordable because they are deserted, terrible places to live (as are the most affordable parts of Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland and St. Louis). 

Sprawl creates affordable housing, but only by imposing heavy social costs on Americans forced to drive, on those trapped in dying neighborhoods, and on the physical environment. 

What's the new urbanist alternative?  Like the sprawl lobby, urbanists should support building lots of housing units to keep prices down- but those housing units should be in walkable urbanism instead of in sprawling suburbia.

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