Seattle’s diehard “urbanists” can be remarkably single-minded in their advocacy for new and denser housing, but they aren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, according to some recent number crunching on San Francisco’s rental market, they’re essentially correct on what it’ll take to bring the city’s skyrocketing rents back down to earth.
The Washington Post recently highlighted an analysis of San Francisco’s rental market by Eric Fisher, a computer programmer with a laudable dedication to data-digging. Fisher combed through roughly 70 years of rent prices in San Francisco, cross-referencing them with the city’s economic history and policy changes to create a mathematical model for predicting rent hikes.
Adjusting for inflation, Fisher found that San Francisco’s rents have consistently risen about 2.5 percent a year, with only a few slight deviations. This, despite a period of population decline, the introduction of rent control in the late ‘70s, and a few tech booms and busts.
The basic conclusion of Fisher’s analysis is that it’s extremely hard to bring rents down in a prosperous city. Only two things can really accomplish it: more housing units, or fewer jobs — particularly high-paying ones. That’s it.
One Twitter user summarized the study succinctly: “We can have Prosperity, Preservation or Affordability, but we can only pick 2.”