We are having some important conversations about equality these days, so I think it’s worth bringing up this point. The notion of subsidizing housing for non-profit workers is concerning. While many non-profits deal with problems like homelessness that overwhelmingly victimize people of color, non-profit workers themselves are overwhelmingly white. Much more so than the workforce as a whole: https://communitywealth.com/the-state-of-diversity-in-the-no.... Moreover a large fraction of revenues (for example, 65% for “human services” non-profits) comes from the government, so it’s taxpayer dollars that are paying for people to live in San Francisco and would be paying to subsidize their housing.
This is one reason why people are interested in things like UBI. It seems perverse for the government to use taxpayer dollars to say combat homelessness in San Francisco (the supermajority of whom are black, Hispanic, or multi-racial) only to have much of that money go to paying salaries for mostly white college educated people. Of course, non-profit workers of all ethnic backgrounds can be tremendous value-adds. But when we’re considering whether we want to subsidize housing for those workers, it’s worth stepping back for a moment. There is a lot of money on the line: even excluding universities and hospitals, non-profits spend $750 billion annually, more than the US military. When taxpayers spend money out of a desire to help certain groups of people—especially now that we are becoming more aware of the disproportionate impact of things like homelessness on certain groups—we should strive to make sure that the money helps the people taxpayers think they are helping.
You can't help the homeless if the workers who help them can't afford to live near the people they're trying to help.
> This is one reason why people are interested in things like UBI
Can you elaborate on how UBI would help? Homelessness in high-opportunity low-housing-supply regions is not a problem of individuals not having enough cash, and neither is the inability of non-profit workers to live in these places. If we handed everyone cash, we would simply be writing a check to the landlords in high-opportunity regions like the Bay Area, because everyone would still be bidding up prices on the same housing supply.
The core problem on both sides of this is that these places, the Bay area in particular, make it extremely difficult and expensive to expand the housing supply to mitigate this problem, and the article alludes to this:
> We have the empty lot to do it in and we hired an architect but it came out to cost so much we postponed
At the end of the day, high rents push people on the margin onto the streets and they make it expensive to house the people who need to help them. Solutions that purport to dodge this problem with cash handouts (UBI, renter's credits, etc.) will only help landlords unless we also ease supply restrictions.
That said, for people who are already living on the streets, the solutions are even more complicated, as there are often confounding issues like mental illness, substance abuse, etc. that require shelter space and intervention by non-profit workers (and then we're back to the housing supply problem).
> You can't help the homeless if the workers who help them can't afford to live near the people they're trying to help.
It’s certainly true that some fraction of non-profit work is hands-on social work, and yes, those people do need to live near the people they serve. But I think it’s fair to say that non-profits should think really hard about who really needs to live in NYC/SF/etc. versus the degree to which they’re just subsidizing the lifestyle choices of college-educated white workers who could do the same work from somewhere else.
> Can you elaborate on how UBI would help? Homelessness in high-opportunity low-housing-supply regions is not a problem of individuals not having enough cash, and neither is the inability of non-profit workers to live in these places.
Let’s not overstate the “opportunities” available in places like SF and NYC. Lower income people live there because there are a lot of service jobs for unskilled workers. But it’s not like those people are going to be able to work their way up from the mail room at Facebook or JP Morgan. What you have is a situation where these workers have to be in SF or NYC because that’s where the service jobs are, and where landlord can capture a big fraction of the rent that the government might subsidize.
UBI addresses that problem by decoupling wages from location. Someone receiving UBI can move from SF to Bakersfield. That increases their standard of living while limiting the cost to the government relative to trying to support that person in SF of NYC. 1 in 12 people in SF broke their leases during pandemic. Imagine what would happen if the government told everyone tomorrow they they’d get $1,000 per month guaranteed, which they could draw upon either in SF or in Des Moines. It would have the double effect of reducing the demand for housing in places like SF and NYC, and enabling that demand to be diverted to places where building new supply might be much easier.
> Lower income people live there because there are a lot of service jobs for unskilled workers
> What you have is a situation where these workers have to be in SF or NYC because that’s where the service jobs are
Well, yes, I intentionally was including everyone, not just people working six-figure office jobs: everyone else also benefits significantly from living in a place with a large and growing job market. Growth in high-paying white-collar jobs generally leads to even faster growth in the wages and number of less-skilled jobs in the same place.
Historically, there is also a wage premium for unskilled workers in larger metros - today much of that surplus flows to landlords instead, thanks again to under-building of housing in those areas. Even in SF, wages for the lowest-income workers have grown slightly faster than CoL over the last ~decade (thanks in part to the effect of rent-control for long-time tenants).
> Someone receiving UBI can move from SF to Bakersfield.
This is true iff UBI is generous enough that many of the people who work those service jobs would choose to live on it without being employed - at $1000/month, I suspect that would not be very many. If people want to be employed, living near the much larger and growing job market of the Bay Area would remain much more attractive than living in Bakersfield. The fundamental issue would be unchanged AFAICT.
One thing I think about non profits and volunteering, is the jobs displaced by volunteers;
For example; Adopt-A-Roads
In "The Legend of Bagger Vance", Hardy's dad becomes a street sweeper in the midst of the depression to pay his bills;
What if, instead of volunteering to clean up roads, the city collected taxes, and paid a living wage with benefits to people cleaning up the streets.
This line of thinking also applies to the Coronavirus, restaurant + school shutdowns; If only, instead of asking for volunteers, non profits were paid by the state to re-employ restaurants and/or their workers, to make meals for children now without a meal.
> What if, instead of volunteering to clean up roads, the city collected taxes, and paid a living wage with benefits to people cleaning up the streets.
Viewed through the lens of equity concerns, I worry that the result of your hypothetical is a bureaucracy of unionized, mostly white college educated managers overseeing the street cleaners.
My hope is that recent events make us think hard about the nature of need in America and how we address it. Over 90% of white people are above the poverty line. The median income of a white household is $70,000, versus $40,000 for a black household. 60% of all homeless people are black or Hispanic. We talk a lot about middle-class "stagnation." But median wealth for white people has more than doubled, after inflation, since 2000. It hasn't budged at all for black people.
More than ever, we are recognizing today that a huge part of systematically addressing poverty in America is about addressing race disparities. That’s critical: the black-white income gap (at the median, so forget about Jeff Bezos) is proportionally the same size today in 2020 as it was when George Wallace ran for President in a segregationist platform. Meanwhile, we have spent vast sums on the premise that the best way to remedy racial disparities is through government programs for education and creating “good jobs with benefits.” State and local spending per person has therefore doubled since 1977.
But it turns out that much of that spending merely perpetuates those gaps. For example, increased education spending (which has tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars per student since 1970) has overwhelmingly gone to white, college educated teachers and administrators. (Indeed, black people were actively excluded from many of these jobs by unions.) Cities with majority black and Hispanic populations owe hundreds of billions in retirement and health benefits to retired teachers, police, etc., who are overwhelmingly white.
Now, that’s not an argument for saying that we should, for example, renege on those obligations. But we certainly shouldn’t perpetuate the disparities. If we are appalled by say homelessness in American cities (and we should be), we should figure out how to efficiently channel money to homeless people or people likely to suffer homelessness. Not to some government bureaucracy which by its nature is likely to be staffed with people who have various indicators of privilege (white, college educated, from a middle class household—who do you think government agencies tend to hire?)
There's a Youtuber named Hotep Jesus who had an interesting plan about cleaning up after the various protests/riots. His idea was to give all the government contracts for cleanup to minority owned local businesses. Additionally, he discouraged people volunteering to help cleanup for free. This would create a big local stimulus for the local community, people would be learning skills like how to install windows, how to rebuild structures, re-pave roads, plumbing, etc. Some wiggle room could be given on licensed professionals there. Of course, the work would have to be to code, and oversight by a skilled/experienced person is necessary for important things like buildings, but with guidance people could pick up a lot of skills.
I think the stick outweighs the carrot! Like many of these complicated problems, there are always pros and cons, and the question is how does society weight the importance of achieving/avoiding those.
I suspect the unpleasantness of prison plus the shackles of a felony on your record more than outweighs the benefits of the education you receive - at least in the USA. But like many people, I think that prisons should reform as well as punish, so I assign a strong weight to the importance of this (IMHO) very minor moral hazard.
I was being a little facetious before re: post protest cleanups rather than engaging with you properly, and I certainly support the idea of helping minority owned businesses in principle. I suspect (or hope?) that most cleanup companies would not try to make rioting worse. On the other, the moral hazard definitely exists, there are limited downsides (i.e. the off-chance that you get caught), and if the financial incentives for the cleanup operations became big enough...
The other important point to remember (on the topic of unintended consequences) is non profits are quite likely to be producing less in the way of useful resources than they consume. If a given community is quite poor, a likely contributing factor is that too many people are consuming more than they produce.
The subtext of the article seems to be 'the Internet Archive doesn't pay their employees very much and makes up for it by helping to organise their lives'. I respect that, no complaints, good work. But it would be better to read 'internet archive so profitable that its employees can afford a nice house & retirement savings'. Things that make profits are more robust and reliable.
Apparently the 80% number includes hospitals and fee-for-service revenues (think Medicare or Medicaid) which isn’t quite what I’m getting at. I’ve edited the able to refer to the 65% of government funding for “human services” non-profits as reported here: https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/sites/default/files/docu...
People instantly think 'non-profit' means 'virtuous charity', but first of all not all charities are doing things you or anyone else would agree are genuinely virtuous, and secondly non-profits aren't necessarily working on any kind of 'charity' as a reasonable person would understand it. People should remember - 'non-profit' is an administrative status, not a comment on the value of what they're doing or their motivations for doing it.
Now not saying they aren't worth it - this person probably bought more money in than that so of course it's obviously worth it on the bottom line, and everyone's entitled to earn as much as they can negotiate, it's nobody's business but their own and the people paying them.
But don't hear 'non-profit' and think 'impoverished monk working on noble goals' as one or both may not be the case.
In Northern VA there are whole neighborhoods with huge houses and nice cars. I know a guy who lived there. I asked where all these people worked, thinking Verizon, AOL or similar. He said pretty much all worked for nonprofits. There is great money in non-profit leadership. A lot of hospitals also are non-profit and pay huge salaries to their management.
If I ever find a baby trapped at the bottom of a dry well, I'm not going to help until I know whether or not the legacy of slavery had a role in it. If yes, I'll help. If it's just an unlucky white baby, it's on its own.
The UN's annual budget isn't extraordinary, and it's certainly not the largest nonprofit of them all. As the very off-the-cuff numbers mentioned elsewhere in this thread hint at, the largest nonprofit in the world is probably involved in healthcare. (some very quick googling suggests the UN, the Gates Foundation, and the Kaiser Foundation all have annual budgets close to $3 billion, with Kaiser the highest at $3.5B)
It actually would be interesting to know how the UN addresses hiring and diversity in the companies they contract with, but their hiring is not a force that's going to move society in any direction.
The thought exercise I want to promote is, imagine an earth ruled by a single government. How should that government handle equality across the globe ? and if we can come up with a good answer, let our local policies not be totally inconsistent with what we would do globally.
Another attempt that doesn't address the real issues: rent is too high and/or wages are too low. In-demand locations are always going to be expensive.
The minute you start providing "special" apartments to a certain group of people you introduce tons of other (negative) issues. That person is basically locked into that apartment and can never move. Any issues with quality or landlord disagreements will be tilted towards the owner, because they know the renter will never leave. The whole thing is a mess.
> Building houses and maintaining them in livable condition is not that cheap
I don't really understand this. Building and maintaining houses (especially single-family houses) is really cheap. (We're talking like ~$600/month or so for a large 4-bedroom home).
The expense in housing is primarily financial shenanigans and land monopolization, with some property taxes on top. Actually building and maintaining a house (construction + maintenance costs) is way less than 50% of the total cost.
It is but there isn’t a good fix that satisfies everyone.
Even the USSR had private apartments for people who didn’t want to live in multi-family per apartment arrangements (communal apartments). Obviously not everyone could afford private apartments —very few could, buy they existed because even with all the resources of a top down bureaucracy they could not meet the needs of the people.
The USSR always had a shortage of apartments, because of its inability to affordably hammer raw materials together into housing. It had no problems with parceling land into housing, though.
The USA has no problem hammering raw materials into houses, but it has a shortage of apartments because of its inability to affordably parcel out land into housing.
You need to be good at both, in order for housing to be affordable. However, it should be noted that affordable housing is not the goal of at least half the country - because that half of the country own houses (or mortgages for houses), and housing becoming affordable would financially destroy them.
So, in that sense, everything is working by design, and things will never change, if the government can help it.
It’s the same in China today. They have the Hukou system. This is your family registration system and you need special permission to register somewhere new. Your benefits as a citizen are tied to this.
If you move to a city without approval, you work illegally and are not entitled to housing or educational facilities (which is why parents who’ve moved illegally need to send their kids to illegal schools).
The local government also can go raid these places from time to time depending on what quotas they need to align with.
So kind of sort of of like the four belt system in the USSR which limited internal movement and required internal passports.
I've never understood the logic in these programs. People either think they can something for nothing or that they can fool others into believing that.
Pay people enough to cover their needs, or accept that we don't want them to do whatever they're doing.
Weird systems where you subsidize peoples rent but you won't pay them cash just end up forcing them to spend more on housing than they want. So you spend more than it would cost in cash and they're less happy than if you just paid them. So wtf is the point!?
Plus housing gets very sticky. People get very upset if they are required to move just because a program ends or they go part time. If an area gets more expensive, you have to (rapidly) increase the subsidy, if it gets worse you lose all your employees. Making your employees move house every time they want to change jobs is very anticompetitive
Programs like this are also opaque and hard to value. I knew a teacher who thought she was getting free rent up to X, but the small print said it was actually 25% of rent up to 25% of X. I actually think this is why providers favour these schemes: they're deceptive.
All this so that... We can avoid paying people what they're worth, and being honest about what that number is.
You make some good points, but the logic is pretty clear from the employers point of view. It might be helpful to think of it as analogous to supply chain integration. One advantage is decreasing overall costs by cutting out the middle man. If a property owner is making money on your company’s worker, you can save that much by doing it yourself. Another advantage is supply chain security. If The market rent doubles, your won’t go out of business.
We should not continue shoveling any money into “affordable” (read: subsidized if you win some lottery system) and instead need to focus on reducing the market rate rents. The whole “affordable” and “subsidized” housing system is a scam to sell $10 for $3 to a few lucky souls without addressing the root cause of the problem
Furthermore nobody should feel entitled to live in SF proper. It is easy to commute in from much cheaper areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and it doesn’t make sense to subsidize some small set of people to not make that commute
The housing supply has been very inelastic in the Bay Area. And every business and individual who wants to be here starts out life short on housing. So I would group his approaches to staying in the Bay Area into three main categories:
#1, #6: Cover the short by hoarding enough of the fixed amount of housing for yourself and taking that out of the market.
#2, #3, #4: Help employees cover their short. I think it is smart that of him to try to do so in a targeted way to help new employees with downpayment and loans rather than ratcheting up everyone’s salary.
#5: Build more housing. This is the positive sum approach. I wish he elaborated on this because there are many roadblocks to San Francisco’s failure to convert high incomes into more housing (zoning restrictions, slow entitlement process, high fees, high construction labor costs), and it would help for more leaders to be part of the conversation on how to solve these problems for everyone, not just for his own nonprofit.
concerning point #5, the voting public is beyond greedy. they'll sue the sh out of any builder that wants to build anything, and there's soo many zoning laws and so many restrictions and taxes. At the end of the day, people who don't have houses yet end up paying for all this.
I think Remote work is by far the best option. If you can live in a lower cost city like Houston, TX or Chicago, it's a great way to go. Places like CA are so far beyond repair, there's no more hope, at all.
So long as companies pay proportionally less when you work from a lower cost-of-living place, as most seem to do, it's not going to become especially popular to work from a cheaper location. And why should they -- being able to work remotely is something workers want, and companies have the perfect information of your permanent address; supply and demand dictates companies will continue to be able to get away with this kind of policy. If it works the other way around, and companies will pay more when you move to a more expensive area, I expect California to become _more_ popular, not less.
I think you are discounting the differences in quality/types of living between locations. Even if the an employer pegged compensation to regional median income, you can have differences. Median income in sf might afford a small apartment while median income in Wisconsin might afford a large house. Some people may prefer the latter.
For in demand jobs, the employee has the leverage and cost of living adjustments go away.
I did consider this. There are many things (especially consumer goods, like cars) that cost more-or-less the same regardless of where you live. And that's to say nothing of intangible advantages of many of the more desirable / more dense areas. Your point is taken, but I think for every person who prefers the cheaper location, you'll find one who prefers the more expensive location. And so I stand behind my previous comment.
I don’t have any data on what people will prefer in that situation, and am happy to cede the point. However, this is only the case in when the employer has all the leverage. When I have to fill a hard to fill position, I don’t care about local cost of living. This is especially true for contract and consulting work
It's not so bad. I'd gladdly take a 33% pay cut to save over a million dollars on a house. Plus many of your other COL will be half too. Plus, you'll pay less in taxes too. Earning a decent income in a high COL area can be quite punitive.
The Bay Area can also build more of those schools and infrastructure as well. There are so many metro areas, probably hundreds, that have done it before. It’s entirely a political problem. I always hear the NIMBYs complaining about these made up problems and other people choosing to live in “shoebox apartments” as if they’re real problems and not simply them imposing restrictions on everyone else
I’m saying the problem needs to be addressed in good faith, because NIMBY people will put up nonsensical arguments like other people living in small apartments or needing to build new schools (to support an expanding tax base...) as problems rather than the actual problems they have motivating them to politically oppose urbanization
I was admiring Sutro tower on my morning walk, and realized if we tried to build Sutro tower today it could never happen. We couldn't build another bridge, tunnel, or anything. Imagine the laughs if you proposed another bay crossing. It's been made impossible to change or develop San Francisco. I don't think the future is here anymore.
> But despite not a single resident registering a complaint about the antenna work — a modern-day miracle! — getting the permit from the city's Planning Department took two years. Approval came just as special crews arrived to do the work.
> “It was held up for no good reason,” Hyams said, echoing a common gripe about our city's slow Planning Department, which mirrors the slowness of just about every department.
> change its mission to mandate very very fast development
While no one's going quite this far yet (alas), the mayor's approach actually isn't too far from this, e.g. for housing:
> The new measure would require an approval process of no longer than six months for projects that meet existing zoning rules...
or for SMBs:
> the ballot measure would require that permit applications for storefront uses that are allowed by the current zoning be reviewed within 30 days, compared to what can sometimes be months of review 
Unfortunately the first one is postponed indefinitely because COVID made signature collection impossible, but the second will be on the ballot in November.
The bridge was a replacement, and the tunnel is a decade late and still not complete. Both are way over budget. China build 16,000 miles of fully connected high speed rail in the same period of time. I'm going to stand by my statement that the future is not in San Francisco.
Yeah, a whole new bridge to replace the old one. Have you seen it? It's nice. They put lights on it and it makes patterns at night.
> the tunnel is a decade late and still not complete.
But it's there, right? (Technically not there.) You don't doubt that it will get finished?
> Both are way over budget.
But they exist, right?
If you want to talk about how the Millennium Tower tilts, or the Transbay Terminal cracked, or the sidewalks in the new Mission Bay are abandoning the buildings and sinking into the bay, let's rap.
But you can't claim we don't build. We build.
> China build 16,000 miles of fully connected high speed rail in the same period of time.
If you want to admire the CCP for the very real economic revolution they have accomplished in the last few decades we can do that too, as long as we also talk the fucked up things like how the Chinese people can't use the fully connected high speed rail to move to a different city without government permission.
Look, China has done some crazy impressive things like building cities and railroad and so on, but they're also playing catch-up, lifting hundreds of millions of people from archaic poverty to modern semi-luxury.
We did it last century. (Not on the same scale, of course, but we built our cities and railroads and interstate highways and such already, is my point.)
> the future is not in San Francisco.
Well it never was, except in Star Trek. These tech companies don't come to SF for the city itself: they ruined the city. They're here for vanity mostly, not solid economics. The East Bay over the hill makes way more sense. (FWIW if I were starting a startup I'd do it in Davis.)
Believe me when I say that the old timers in SF (who survived the tech onslaught) can't wait to see the tech scene move on. We will not miss "the future" at all.
> I'm going to stand by my statement that the future is not in San Francisco
I don't see why this follows. :)
SF is a beautiful and diverse city and a hub for (at least one) of the biggest and most innovative industries in the world. This is often true in spite of the Bay area's government, but imo that's the good news: government is fixable.
Rather than giving up I try to channel my frustration into volunteering and donating to groups that are working on these problems: YIMBY Action (yimbyaction.org) has clubs throughout the Bay Area that advocate for easing restrictions on building housing and transit, operating small businesses, etc; Seamless (seamlessbayarea.org) also works on improving transit governance throughout the Bay Area.
When talking about the environment, I think it's useful to think about what remote work would mean at scale.
Non-profits in SF often work directly with vulnerable populations, take Larkin Street Youth Services, for example. their mission directly involves interacting with homeless youth on the streets. San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is basically a giant warehouse in SF.
Even if you do have no-profit work that can be done over Slack or Zoom, these are still people who'll commute to the beauty parlour, buy groceries at the farmers market, or visit the museum during the weekend - so there are still excess car trips while living in the suburbs versus the Sunset District.
Any reduction in the commute is a net positive for traffic, the environment, and even productivity.
> Non-profits in SF often work directly with vulnerable populations, take Larkin Street Youth Services, for example. their mission directly involves interacting with homeless youth on the streets. San Francisco-Marin Food Bank is basically a giant warehouse in SF.
Sure, not everyone can work remotely. However, even they will benefit from the reduced traffic and commute times.
> Even if you do have no-profit work that can be done over Slack or Zoom, these are still people who'll commute to the beauty parlour, buy groceries at the farmers market, or visit the museum during the weekend - so there are still excess car trips while living in the suburbs versus the Sunset District.
You're not seeing the bigger picture. Not everyone lives in the Bay Area. With remote work becoming an integral part of office culture, this also means not everyone has to work in the Bay Area even when they work for Bay Area companies. ie. They're not going to go to Sunset on weekends; everything is more decentralized. Remote work scales better than just throwing money away when you can't fix the root problem of a limited supply of physical space. If you can't fix available housing inventory, all that happens long term when you give people more money is that housing just keeps getting more expensive. We've already seen this first hand with the large salary increases for Silicon Valley engineers
I'm sympathetic to this particular cause but not to the solutions a non-profit in SF like them would probably propose. (because generally a story like this is here for the lessons to be taken by others, not for their particular situation to be solved)
What we need is less picking and choosing who is to receive specific housing, and setting aside of property or units for them. Because all that picking and choosing by well-intentioned (but bad overall outcome producing) people is exactly what's creating the problem.
Everyone who has a special interest in preserving <x> or helping group <y> puts in their request to their San Francisco supervisor, solving their little corner of concern but making it worse for everyone else. One by one all the little barriers (unaware of what the other hands are doing) get erected to make it impossible to do anything productive for housing.
We need planning at a city strategy level, that admits that San Francisco cannot stay the way it has for decades, protecting the landlords and people who've lived there for 30 years from any kind of change. The tax situation is a given constraint, and we're not going to change that anytime soon barring a miracle, so the thing that has to be compromised is "neighborhood character" (whatever that means as a cover for not letting people live near you) or housing density and your spoiled view of the bay / Muni wires.
Specify what outcomes you want to achieve, and let the rules be updated to make that happen. Otherwise we will continue to be in a world where the external factors flooding in (lack of local leadership, jobs creation without housing creation, corporate money) will be making the decisions for us without us realizing it -- and a lot of unhappy people who want to live here but can't, or have been displaced from their housing.
My desired outcomes:
-- Affordable prices of the general rental and house purchase market (not "affordable housing")
-- Owners who actually live in their housing, and are not absentee landlords
-- Renewal of the creative, productive population and not creating of a rich / retired class that occupies all the housing
-- Good transport and home-work districts, and the attraction of small businesses
-- Ability of homeowners (and renters if desired) to easily and cheaply improve their properties and change the look and feel of their neighborhood for better/newer
I am not in favor of soft arguments that are disguised attempts to regulate who is allowed to live in a place according to some particular interest's judgment:
-- neighborhood character, density
-- equity-related arguments
-- "I got here first"-related arguments
-- what is "fair"
You will find that if you set up reasonable rules, the communities that emerge will be just as interesting, good, and pleasant places to live as before. They may not look the same, and may not be what you thought, and that may make some people unhappy. But it's what's best for a city.
I just bout my first house a year ago. Mortgage is around 22% of take home income. Granted I never asked what mortgage I was approved for and can guarantee you it would have been at least double what I purchased