Misguided Municipal Charity

San Francisco is full of good intentions, and San Franciscans in many ways must think of their city as a model for the rest of the country. Not the least of San Francisco’s triumph has been the response to its once-growing problem of homelessness.

Via Neatorama, I found a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed detailing how well these good intentions leave behind most of their working citizens.

But while the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars to house the extremely poor, there is a large segment of its population — hard-working, fully employed and stable – that makes too much money to get the help they need to find affordable housing. …

A family of four that makes more than $24,850 — which is 30 percent of San Francisco’s average median income — will be unable to find any subsidized housing, according to local experts. Instead, the family can either cram into a tiny studio or flee the city — along with the better-paid teachers, firefighters and police officers who have already done so.

Unfortunately, all of these people made a single, critical mistake: They got a job.

Homeless in San Francisco are taken care of because enough San Franciscans above the poverty line pay their taxes, and enough don’t mind paying. They figure: if San Francisco can fix poverty by tacking on to the municipal tax rate an extra few fractions of a percentage point, and if much of the cost will be covered by tourists, then it’s a worthy sacrifice.

Yet — hasn’t San Francisco created a new kind of poverty by eliminating homelessness? The lower middle class can’t afford to live in the city, and must either commute from outside communities or cram into tiny one-room apartments. It’s a fine line between adequate housing and inadequate housing.

The unemployed have reasonable homes in San Francisco; many employed don’t, and can’t. To wit: If this op-ed has its facts straight — big if — then homelessness has only barely been fixed.

Much worse, once living in subsidized housing, what incentive would the laziest of the unemployed have to break out of the cycle of poverty if their basic needs are already taken care of? Much less, what incentive would there be to get a job if having basic needs taken care of already requires no personal effort?

Even if my conjecture doesn’t pan out, I have a feeling that San Francisco isn’t half the model its well-meaning residents think it is.

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