I’ve been chuckling with my friends over articles about San Francisco rents, and breathless articles about a 90%+ increase of units on the market over [some time period]. We are chuckling because some writers are seeing this as a sign that the City is emptying out, while we know that a 90%+ rise in a place where vacancies are usually around 2% isn’t worth writing home about. Low single digits, people! Nothing to see here! Move along!
There is a sense, though, that if enough tech people from distant US regions (which seems to be a lot of tech people) can work remotely and want to go back to their home states, there might actually be nearly affordable housing in SF again! IT COULD HAPPEN! I’m not saying it is happening, I’m just saying it COULD. Because: wouldn’t that be amazing?
I know, I’m desperate for a silver lining on a cloud that turned out to be part of a tornado.
The pandemic has been a nightmare for San Francisco, and when I’m not trying to figure out how to turn all of the empty street-level real estate into pop up shops and art galleries and small business incubators for local craftspeople, inventors, and artists (which I’m not in a position to implement, so don’t write to me, please), I’m looking for SOMETHING new and good. Our tourist and convention industry has been hit SO HARD. Aside from neighborhood restaurants, which are suffering from the transition to take out only, our neighborhood small businesses are largely still closed. So this tech companies working-remotely-forever thing has some potential.
I don’t really think that EVERYONE working remotely forever is good. I got a lot of exercise in my car-free commutes. I like to see my colleagues in person sometimes. I’m getting wistful email messages from breakfast/lunch only restaurants in the financial district saying goodbye forever. I can see the follow-on effects this is having on countless shops and small businesses that previously served office workers. I worked downtown for DECADES (yikes!), and the convenience of all of the services and shops was fantastic. My dentist, optometrist, multiple pharmacies, the place I donated blood, great coffee services, reliable book shops, and so much more were all just blocks from my building. I worked very long hours, and spent SO MUCH ON FOOD! And on drinks, back when I had friends who would go out with me after work, rather than only having colleagues who leave early to drive a zillion hours to a remote suburb with a large house they were rarely able to see by day…
But some of those tech companies are NOT integrated into the urban landscape like my company/I was. There are a few big ones that are more like isolated islands within the city. There were complaints that workers went in early, left late, and left no trace on the area around their building: they had food services and recreation within their offices, which really could have been anywhere, so…
…Meanwhile, in New York, I’m watching a slightly different drama play out on Twitter, where people say “good riddance” to people who moved to NYC for work/play and now are bailing on the city because it isn’t “fun” anymore with the covid precautions in place. (It’s pretty entertaining – the quality of the insults is high!)
The Guardian (UK) has a piece that makes the class elements clear, especially when people run off to their second or ‘vacation home,’ a concept that had to be explained to me long ago. (Living in California, I didn’t immediately understand why I would need to go AWAY from a place that other people come to on THEIR vacations. Also, I did not grow up knowing people that owned more than one home, so that part was especially baffling. (Your WHAT? Why do you have that? Did your first one break?)) The data isn’t complete, but it’s looking like rich folks are the ones who cleared out, because they had other places to go, AND could afford to.
Parrott’s research underlines the bitter inequalities buried within the job losses. While lower-income and predominantly black and Latino workers in face-to-face industries have suffered devastating levels of unemployment – 61% in entertainment, 56% in food services, 49% in hotels – the decline in lucrative Wall Street jobs has been just 3%.—New York’s not dead, but pandemic has laid bare deep-seated problems, 29 August 2020, by Ed Pilkington
YIKES. Looking at those numbers, it’s going to take more than some wacky incentive program for surviving business to get people back on their feet.
Note: the Guardian actually interviews black people, instead of interviewing other people about how black people are faring, which is REFRESHING.
SO: cities are going to shed some people who weren’t especially happy to be there anyway. How will that change how those of us who stay live and work? This is what preoccupies me while I hide inside from the wildfire smoke…