It’s been called the “Leaning Tower of San Francisco.” Like it’s namesake in Pisa, Italy, this tower is listing to one side. However, unlike its 185-foot high Italian cousin constructed in 1372, this tower was completed in 2009. Fifty-eight stories high, the gleaming 645-foot glass and steel skyscraper is the tallest mixed-use residential structure in San Francisco.
It may be big, but there’s a little problem. Since construction, the huge building has sunk 16 inches and is now tilting about 2 inches. In this opulent building, where apartments can rent for $10,000 a month, some residents are feeling slightly nervous. And who wouldn’t, living precariously high above San Francisco’s hip south of Market neighborhood in a tilting tower? As less living-large San Franciscans gaze upwards with schadenfreude, blame’s going around, with theories about causes and remedies being discussed.
And it all seems like a metaphor for San Francisco housing in 2016. Of course, terrifying heights have been a San Francisco symbol since Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Now, with both rents and home prices soaring as high as those sleek condos going up on seemingly every corner, nobody’s really on firm footing. Living in a place which has become unaffordable for all except the super-wealthy is bound to leave most of us feeling unstable.
Like that tower, in San Francisco, housing, a basic need, is beginning to tilt dangerously. Everyone has a friend driven out of the city by high rents, and those lucky enough to have locked in low housing know how suddenly their situation could topple. In San Francisco, with an average income of $78,000, few of us could afford to move into one of those shiny new buildings.
A city where housing is largely built for the luxury market, out of reach of most of the people who live and work there, has a foundation as shaky as that leaning tower. And the supply of affordable housing is more unbalanced every day.
The leaning tower of San Francisco may only contain 419 residential units, but when it comes to housing costs, these days, all San Franciscans are tilting and sinking.
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.
Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.