A Tale of Two Cities Breakdown: #SFvsDEN

Aerial photo of Denver showing urban trees

Week 3 is one of the marquee match-ups this season. There’s a lot of hype in San Francisco about getting on the right path after decades of poor leadership and sclerotic politics. The modern YIMBY movement started in San Francisco, and you’ll see why as we break down this competition. YIMBY Denver is a part of YIMBY Action, so normally we’d call each other friends, but not for game day. Let’s see how the cities stack up against each other. #SFvsDEN

The Fundamentals

How do these cities stack up against each other? How’s their housing production? Do they play a successful defense against NIMBYs? Are they meeting the affordability needs of everyone?

Production

As always, let’s look at the record for building housing. We look at the metro area through the MSA, and it looks painful for SF. We’re going to break this down in more detail later though, there are some key details in this head-to-head matchup you won’t want to miss. Believe it or not, it gets even worse for SF!

A plot showing that San Francisco has averaged building 0.2 homes per person over the past 20 years, while Denver has averaged building close to 0.6 homes per person.

 

Rent

How about those rents? We’ve got the plots, but it’s easy to find tales of six people making six figures all bunking together in a studio apartment because that’s all they can afford. There’s a reason that the YIMBY movement started in SF.

A plot showing San Francisco and Denver rent prices over the past 3 decades, with San Francisco prices skyrocketing over that period

Ownership

Home prices? It’s easy to hear people in Denver say they moved here because they couldn’t afford there.

A plot showing skyrocketing house prices in San Francisco over the past decade, with Denver catching up quickly

 

The fundamentals favor Denver, so let’s see how they got here!

How We Got Here

Racially-exclusive zoning started just across the Bay in 1916. We know it’s not San Francisco, but the idea that cities could use arcane rules to segregate didn’t start in Colorado. That’s not to say Denver’s track record is great though.

Historically, both teams have been prone to unforced turnovers of housing into parking as well.

Here’s what Denver did in the past:

Aerial photos of downtown Denver in 1978 and 2011, showing how many parking lots existed in the 70's and were infilled.

Here’s what San Francisco is doing now:

Another Housing Denial: Concerns Over Apartment Size Kill 57 Units on Parking Lot

 

 

Change is aFoote in both cities though. You can learn from YIMBY Action’s Executive Director, Laura Foote!

Editor’s note: YIMBY Denver will never apologize for our puns.

The Wildcards

Mile High Stadium is in the Mile High City. The San Francisco 49ers stadium is…not. San Francisco has NIMBY’d their home team out of San Francisco and into the South Bay Area! Advantage, Denver.

A map of the Denver area showing that it takes 15 minutes from the city center to get to Mile High Stadium A map of the Bay Area showing that it takes nearly 90 minutes from the city center to get to Levi's Stadium

 

Denver made homes for 50,000 more people than SF, and many of those homes are right in the center of the city. That’s pretty fantastic.

Census tables showing Denver's population went from 600k to 715k from 2010 to 2020, and SF's population went from 805k to 874k in the same period

 

To San Francisco’s advantage, the state of California has RHNA and HE targets which will force SF to build more housing. If those acronyms don’t mean anything to you, you’re not alone. It’s basically the state saying SF has to plan for a certain number of homes in the near future, or the state gets to take over zoning from the city.

Hear It From The Other Side: A SF YIMBY Responds

Editor’s Note: At time of blog publication, every SF YIMBY was reveling in the passage of statewide parking reform bill AB 2097. We will update if we hear anything else.

Hear It From The Other, Other Side: A South Bay YIMBY Responds

“Welcome to the 10th-largest city in the United States ahem. :wink:

The Final Prediction

Chris Calls a City

San Francisco has momentum on their side, but it will take a while for SF to prove they can keep up the pace and become a world-class city for everyone. Denver, and Colorado, have avoided some of the same pitfalls as SF. Chris Calls It for Denver, but leads us to our last point!

 

You can be an important part of making more housing happen! Sign up for our newsletter, become a paid member, and learn more about us here on our website. We use your membership to convince politicians we have power and to work towards hiring staff. We are a 100% volunteer organization with incredible people and results, but delivering the results Denver needs means we need someone who can work on housing every weekday.

In a democracy, you have to play for a team if you want to win. YIMBY Denver winning means we all have more affordable housing, higher quality of living, and a more functional city. Join us, won’t you?

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