Student Opinion: As COVID-19 Rises, So Do Unoccupied Homes

Share:
(Corey Browning/Special to S.F. Examiner)

By Jacob Vito

One of San Francisco’s most unique and appealing traits has long been its city architecture’s eclectic nature. 100-year-old wooden townhouses can live mere blocks away from towering high rises made of glass and steel. But in 2020, many of those diverse living spaces share a common trait: they remain disproportionately empty.

As many as 89,000 households have moved out of the San Francisco area during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from The Guardian. This has led to a near-100 percent spike in open and available homes in the city. 

A large number of these moves seem to stem from a common cause: a sudden lack of the need to go to the office. With opportunities for remote working expanding and becoming more permanent, many formerly living and working in San Francisco have left in hopes of more affordable housing elsewhere. 

However, this rapid increase in empty living spaces has only made one of the Bay Area’s most persistent problems all the more apparent: homelessness. 

Estimates from 2019 have shown that the greater San Francisco area is one of the largest hotspots of homelessness in the country, with the city’s homeless population alone at over 8,000 people. What’s more, the number of homeless in the area has only been rising for the last number of years, with the coronavirus only further growing the demographic. 

Though the city government implemented a program to move the most vulnerable of San Francisco’s homeless to temporary living in hotels, the future of that program remains uncertain moving into 2021. Many of those struggling with homelessness are forced to prepare for a life without stable living conditions once again. 

Even when looking at such a situation, an important number should come to mind: 1,800 houses are currently open and on the housing market. That means this conversation would not exist by simply using the unoccupied homes for this homelessness crisis and having around four people per dwelling. There are already enough empty living spaces in San Francisco to end the city’s homelessness epidemic.

Yet during these unprecedented times of empty dwellings, something baffling happened: as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, housing prices rose. In a year where more people have moved out of the Bay Area than ever, such data would be preposterous. Because of this abundance of supply and lack of demand, one conclusion remains: the number of people who want to live there does not decide the housing cost in San Francisco.

In truth, many of the most expensive living spaces in San Francisco do not exist for people. Very simply, they are an investment: a way of temporarily storing the wealth that gives the property’s owners a slightly favorable tax rate. Any benefit gained by actually having individuals live in such a space is no doubt preferred but often secondary. 

Ultimately, the math is not that hard. Some empty homes and apartments will likely not be occupied for months or years to come, and some people would have their lives bettered by living in them. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to do next. 

However, those who consider the homeless lazy or imagine a shelter as a privilege, not a right, receive pushback. But in truth, what differentiates the two?

Americans have many rights: freedom of speech, protection from cruel and unusual, etc. Yet among all the strictly defined rights lies one of the most impactful phrases in the Declaration of Independence: the inalienable right of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Does systemic homelessness allow for any of these? In a city where the very concept of shelter has such an inflated cost, can someone truly pursue happiness without access to one of the most important factors in life’s stability? To put it bluntly, no. 

There’s a reason that shelter is considered one of the most basic needs. Without it, people are exposed to exponentially more physical and mental harm outside of their control. Many factors leading to homelessness, from debt to addiction to the loss of a job, are often caused by a bad stroke of luck, but bad luck is no real excuse to destroy the foundation of someone’s life. 

What’s more, with other public services and utilities, this situation has already been noticed and rectified. A public fire department or mail carrier, or school were all founded on the fact that a country is better for everyone when some basic level of care is given to all its citizens.

Emergency services, electricity and water, sanitation and perhaps soon healthcare are all services and protections now guaranteed to practically every American, knowing that doing so makes the standard of living for everyone in this country better. So, to further grow this country into the 21st century, I ask, “Why not housing next?” 

Share:

About The Author

Related posts

13 thoughts on “Student Opinion: As COVID-19 Rises, So Do Unoccupied Homes”

  1. Keith Olsen

    What’s the author of this article advocating for?  That homeless people should be able to take over and live in million to multi-million dollar homes in S.F?

  2. Alan Miller

    simply using the unoccupied homes for this homelessness crisis and having around four people per dwelling. There are already enough empty living spaces in San Francisco to end the city’s homelessness epidemic.

    This article makes no sense to me.  It is written as if the empty houses are owned by the government or some nebulous common agency.  In fact, these dwellings are owned by individuals or in some cases companies.  They are an investment just like putting money in the bank.  To simply give the key to so-called homeless persons would be the same as taking the money in your bank and giving it to homeless people – except in this case the author seems to be saying those with property ‘should’ do just that.

    Also, the premise that more vacant homes equals more homelessness makes no sense.  While housing prices have gone up slightly in the Bay Area, rental prices have plummeted and availability skyrocketed.  The vacancy is due to the rapid crash and property owners not yet adjusting their prices low enough to attract people from outlying areas that couldn’t afford to live in expensive areas but now can — that will simply take some time, but I know personally a few people who are doing just that.  And that opens up housing in outlying areas now made available.

    People living so-called homeless in San Francisco haven’t made a wise decision, choosing the most expensive place to live.  What people used to do is move to an outlying area where housing was cheaper.  I can’t afford to live in San Francisco, why should a so-called homeless person?  Yet a few weeks ago this blog quoted a student who said, “Davis should be affordable for everyone”.  I assume everywhere else should be affordable for everyone, too?  Just what are you advocating for?   I’m really not sure how we cram the entire population into Carmel, San Francisco and Atherton just because they ‘want’ to live in those places.

    But the truth is, people choose to live in San Francisco for market reasons as well, and actually have made a wise decision if willing to live in garbage-strewn tent cities.  There are a lot of programs to give them stuff, and people walking down the street give them money, because there’s a lot of money and a lot of ‘sympathy/guilt’ there among rich liberals – really a perfect place to be so-called homeless.

    Were a property owner to simply turn a property over to so-called homeless persons such as one sees on the streets in San Francisco, their property would likely be destroyed.  It already costs $5-$10k to turn over a mid-to-high-end house in the Bay Area between tenants, because unlike the Davis student rental market, people expect a lot for their high rents.  It could easily cost $50k or more to repair a house destroyed by so-called homeless to ready it for market again, that is if it isn’t burned down outright.  Also, no insurance company is going to cover property so wantonly mismanaged.  No one is going to do this, any more than they are going to empty their bank account and give it to so-called homeless people.

    Now, it the government were to buy all property and make centralized decisions about the distribution of housing to individuals, your concept would make perfect sense.  I believe there’s a name for that . . . hmmmm . . . just not quite coming to me.

  3. Ron Glick

    “Yet during these unprecedented times of empty dwellings, something baffling happened: as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, housing prices rose. In a year where more people have moved out of the Bay Area than ever, such data would be preposterous.”

    Only if you think price is not set by a multivariate combination of factors. As the pandemic set in interest rates crashed. This moved the needle on affordability and that caused prices to rise.

    Perhaps SF should take a hint from Yolo County and move the homeless into old hotels. In the Bay Area that might be the ones around Union Square.

  4. Alan Miller

    San Francisco did move a lot of homeless into hotels. The amazing part is there were stories back in about May where San Francisco was actually supplying the addicted homeless with alcohol and even illegal drugs to keep them from going out during the pandemic and buying drugs on the street. The baffling question that I never did hear an answer about was — how did a government agency get the OK to purchase illegal substances in order to provide them to addicts? I just don’t see a structure in which that works.

  5. Keith Olsen

    My son’s company is located in S.F.  They’ve all been working from home since last March.  They plan on going back to the office when it’s safe.  I’m sure there are many companies, workers and renters/homeowners in the same boat.

  6. Ron Oertel

    Yet during these unprecedented times of empty dwellings, something baffling happened: as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, housing prices rose. In a year where more people have moved out of the Bay Area than ever, such data would be preposterous. Because of this abundance of supply and lack of demand, one conclusion remains: the number of people who want to live there does not decide the housing cost in San Francisco.

    I thought I’d take a look at the link cited above.  Actually, San Francisco’s median home price did drop slightly over the past year, and is the only Bay Area locale to do so.

    the number of people who want to live there does not decide the housing cost in San Francisco.

    The number may not, if they’re homeless (and have no money, for example). But if people are paying those prices, then the supply-demand equation is pretty much in balance. That’s how our system works.

    In any case, rents have been absolutely plummeting. Strange, how no one on this blog ever acknowledges the flexibility of the “demand” side of the equation. Where did those people go, by the way? (Some apparently went to Tahoe, maybe other Bay Area counties.)

    By the way, Elon Musk is outa-here (California). Moved to Texas, where he’s expanding operations.

    1. Ron Oertel

      During the summit Musk called California “a little entitled,” comparing the state to a once-great sports team that has gotten complacent.

      That Texas also has no income tax surely had some bearing on Elon, the second wealthiest person in the world, just behind Amazon head Jeff Bezos, deciding to relocate there. He’s expected to earn somewhere north of $50 billion from stock-based compensation packaged approved in 2018 which would be subject to California’s taxes — among the highest in the nation. The move to Texas will save Musk billions of dollars.

      Tesla’s Elon Musk moves to Texas, citing friction with California regulators – Roadshow (cnet.com)

      (It does seem strange for him to use the word “entitled”, even a “little”.)

    2. Keith Olsen

      By the way, Elon Musk is outa-here (California). Moved to Texas, where he’s expanding operations.

      Driving away businesses, that’s what California and Democrats do best.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Kind of true, but maybe California (and particularly, Silicon Valley) has “enough”.  Maybe it should be dispersed.

        My theory is that as places become more developed, they become more stable (and pursue growth to a lesser degree).  Folks start seeing the downside of it, at some point.

        The trick is to not end up like Detroit (or other rust-belt cities).

        Texas has a LOT of room to develop, and does not have a reputation of being particularly concerned about the environment, etc.  It’s probably a great place for companies like Tesla to expand.  Nevada, too.  (I call Nevada the “anything goes” state, for several reasons.)  😉

        But it sounds like Elon’s (personal) move was probably driven by the lack of personal state income tax, in Texas. (Same is true in Nevada, I think.)

        I believe that some wealthy people move to other countries, for the same reason. Not sure if this applies, but I think that Tina Turner is no longer a U.S. citizen, for example. Renounced her U.S. citizenship.

        1. Keith Olsen

          But it sounds like Elon’s (personal) move was probably driven by the lack of personal state income tax, in Texas. (Same is true in Nevada, I think.)

          I don’t think that was his most pressing thing, Musk was disgusted with Newsom and the local officials who had shutdown his plant and that’s when he made his first moves.

        2. Ron Oertel

          There could be two separate components:

          Personal, vs. business.  (With various but similar factors.)

          I understand that he isn’t actually moving his operations out of California, but is simply expanding in places like Nevada and Texas.

          Sure is an attractive car, that Telsa makes.

          Ultimately, I think that China is going to be more powerful than the U.S., regardless.  Based upon their goals, practices, and sheer size.

          As Elon essentially noted, no one stays on top forever. (I recall that in another article, he compared California to sports teams, using that analogy.)

          But getting back to the topic of the article, maybe prices dropping (particularly for rent) is not a bad thing, for some.

  7. Ron Oertel

    Although not in the Bay Area, I just happened across this article and found it to be related to the general theme of the topic at hand:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/portland-police-clash-with-protesters-blockading-house-over-evictions/ar-BB1bKKlT

    For some reason, there appears to be a particular “kinship” between Portland and parts of the Bay Area, regarding protests. I suspect that a significant portion of the protesters in Portland originally came from the Bay Area. And/or, may be influenced by Bay Area protests.

    And yet, Portland’s housing prices are still relatively reasonable, I think. (Seattle is more like the Bay Area, in that respect.)

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for