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Creative Solutions to San Francisco’s Housing Crisis

Creative Solutions to the Housing Crisis

Outside-of-the-box thinking on affordability

The cover story in the summer 2014 print edition

At a time when the median two-bedroom apartment rent, $3,550, now consumes about half the average resident’s wages, most news coverage in San Francisco has made the crisis in housing affordability sound insurmountable.

For the summer print edition, we scouted for creative new ideas for big-effect, cost-effective and politically feasible solutions.

Our focus was on bold — if not necessarily imminent — concepts that could keep rents down while preserving the city’s diverse communities and cultures. (See below: What makes a good housing “solution”?)

In June, we went to the community for more ideas, convening a daylong workshop at the Impact Hub San Francisco called “Hack the Housing Crisis.” Policymakers, builders, neighborhood activists, architects, technologists, artists and other longtime San Franciscans presented more than 20 of their own solutions. The event was co-sponsored by Shareable, with help from Craigconnects and other sponsors. 

We felt we needed to provide more than another expose about a troubled institution or failed public policy. It is a risky proposition for a publication that embraces neutrality to specifically seek out and highlight ideas for solutions not yet on the Board of Supervisors’ weekly agenda. But readers told us repeatedly that they wanted to learn about new policy ideas that could improve their community.



Solutions stories

1. Backyard Cottages in Denser Neighborhoods

124,000 parcels have extra space

Published Jun. 5, 2014

2. Tiny Prefabricated Portable Homes

1,200 could fit on vacant city plots

Published Jun. 13, 2014

3. Nonprofit Artist Live-Work Lofts

100+ studios in vacant buildings

Published Aug. 19, 2014

4. $200 Million Bond for New Building

800+ stalled units could rise soon

Published Aug. 25

5. Nano Apartments with Shared Space

1,000+ units built in Seattle

Published Aug. 27

6. Rent Control for the 21st Century

50,000 homes could be protected

Published Sept. 3

7. Credits for Compact Developments

2,800 units qualify for state law

Published Sept. 16, 2014

8. Cooperative Ownership for Tenants

70 residents saved; ready to scale

Published Oct. 2, 2014

9. Transit-Friendly West Side Corridors

5,500 apartments; more through rezoning

Published Oct. 27, 2014

Other stories in this project:



  What makes a good housing “solution”?

  • NEW: something not already in place, or a new twist on an old idea
  • CREATIVE: outside-the-box insights or mash-ups of current proposals 
  • FEASIBLE: conceivable in terms of cost, politics and legal constraints
  • EFFECTIVE: adds or preserves hundreds or thousands of affordable units
  • SIMPLE: easy to implement without a multitude of policy steps
  • CONTEXTUAL: has precedent in other cities or in SF’s past
  • DATA-DRIVEN: backed up by research, prototypes and documentation


We are doing this because readers have told us over and over that they want to hear more about ways they can help solve problems, not just read about what went wrong with a trusted institution. We look to the example set by the Solutions Journalism Network, as well as Journalism That Matters, for inspiration for how to do solutions-focused journalism that, while it endeavors to be independent and not cross over into advocacy, is still controversial in many newsrooms because it invites the community to help set the news agenda.


San francisco housing by the numbers


$3,550   median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the S.F metro area in June

13.8  percentage increase in average rent for a two-bedroom apartment over one year

2½   number of times faster that San Francisco rents increased vs. national average

48  percentage of average wages required to rent a two-bedroom apartment

1 million   projected population in 2040, an increase of 21 percent

222,000  approximate number of rental apartments

171,000   number of apartments covered under rent-control law

170   percentage increase in Ellis Act evictions between 2010 and 2012

19   percentage of new housing needed for middle-income earners

10,000   homes Mayor Ed Lee plans to make affordable in six years

Sources: 1-4: 5: ABAG/MTC. 6: S.F. Planning Dept. 7: S.F. Rent Board - SPUR 8: S.F. Board of Supervisors. 9: ABAG/MTC. 10: S.F. Mayor’s Office.



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