Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Institution-bound singles in the Twitterhood

Been working some more on this theory that the San Francisco Western SoMa area south of Twitter's building at Tenth and Market might fill up with two interlaced campuses for institution-dependent adults: high-rent housing for high-paid single techies and low-rent or "affordable" subsidized housing for aging, disabled and unemployed people living on tiny fixed incomes.

The idea needs revising a little. It looks like we'll also be getting more "workforce housing," i.e. charitable and zoning-mandated efforts to house the population who older Americans may remember as middle-class people with normal jobs.

So that's everybody, right? High, middle and low? It's gonna be a neighborhood for everybody? That's good, right?

Hm. Maybe not exactly.

My new version of the theory is, Western SoMa will remain one of the rare places where there's housing for people at every income level, and that's good, but income diversity won't make it a fully diverse neighborhood. Instead, the residents may acquire a depressing sameness in two other ways: small household size and dependence on large institutions.

What brings this up is, Jim Meko, longtime convener of Western SoMa land-use discussions, has a planning quirk up for discussion: High-end developer Tishman Speyer apparently didn't want poor people or even moderate-income people in the mix of a luxury development at 201 Folsom, way out east near the Embarcadero. So, per Jim's report, they want to segregate their "inclusionary" units a mile and a half away at Tenth and Mission, a block from the new Twitter building. (To be fair, the word "segregate" is mine. Jim is more diplomatic than me.)

With these "inclusionary units" we're not talking about deep Section 8 subsidies or anything. We're not talking about people who would be visibly poor enough to make dowagers feel guilty in the elevators. We're certainly not talking about anyone unemployed, not at all. "The housing will be for sale rather than rental, priced to be affordable to households earning an average of 90% of the area median income, with some units aimed at those earning as much as 150% of AMI." As you can find here with a little clicking around and arithmetic, San Francisco household "area median income" is $103,000 overall, and 50% of median for a two-person household is $44,400, so 100% of median for a childless couple is $88,800 and 150% is $133,200, which is not most people's idea of disadvantaged. (On a personal note, thank heaven once again for rent control.)

So it's OK with Tishman Speyer to stick its units for the employed but perhaps less than stunningly coiffed middle class into a TNDC project on Tenth Street. And as Jim notes, the same area has some subsidized low-income families' and seniors' projects coming online. And at the same time, as he also notes, there's this extremely fancy 35-story apartment tower going up on Market right across Tenth from Twitter.

So the folks who plan these things must be supposing it's socially OK for the high earners moving into that tower at Tenth and Market to live in the same neighborhood as the middle and lower classes. Whereas that wouldn't be OK for the high earners (or rentiers, I suppose) who will live in that tower way out east at 201 Folsom. Conclusion: the two neighborhoods are expected to attract different kinds of rich people.

Out on Tenth, I'm predicting the monied folks we get will be tech-oriented, hard-working, unlikely to have time for children, tolerant of economic difference but not all that well-rounded or free as people, because they'll be deeply bound to the large tech institutions they work for. Like their neighbors who live on government fixed incomes or depend on subsidies, and unlike small business owners (anyway, the luckier or more traditional small business owners), these tech folks will be constantly dreading the whims of a large and not entirely logical institution on which they depend directly.

As I mentioned before, Western SoMa is likely to keep getting low- and moderate-income subsidized buildings because the area is a "qualified census tract" incentive zone for low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) development. Also there are still some privately run SROs around here and those keep getting nonprofitized one by one.

The high-income tech stuff is likely to keep coming, because of not just the Twitter building but also this whole wave of South of Market tech development -- Web 2.5, or whatever we're calling it now. (Seriously, Western SoMa has picked up a ton of techies. Just step into the Deli Board on Folsom for five minutes at lunchtime and count the sci-fi T-shirts. Nerds love that pastrami with extra cholesterol. The other night we were headed over to Le Charm on Fifth Street for dinner and between Sixth and Seventh on Folsom, we passed two central-casting nerds deep in talk about Ruby on Rails. Joel laughed. He was doing Ruby work South of Market four years before there was Rails.)

The singles or small households stuff makes cultural sense because of the hipster factor, and because our sidewalks have that certain ambient cannabis quotient, and because this is otherwise not as easy a place for a kid to spend time outdoors in the daytime as it was even in the '70s, when, per neighborhood stories, there was less traffic, and there were more oldster fresh-air inspectors being "eyes on the street" a la Jane Jacobs, and there were baseball games in the alleys. Yes, and families with money who have kids look for kid-oriented neighborhoods, and they usually try to keep their kids away from poor people. People without money who have kids also look for kid-oriented neighborhoods, and they usually try to find apartments they can afford with enough bedrooms, and those generally aren't downtown. (Some of our new subsidized units around here are for families, yes, but I think they're all pretty small.)

Again, an interesting question is if or when people who depend on public benefits or who live in paternalistically run subsidized buildings may start talking with people who have more money but depend on paternalistic employers, and if they might just possibly arrive at discoveries that they live on several kinds of common ground.

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