The Complex Dynamics of San Francisco's Housing Crisis and Accomplishment Arbitrage


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 19, 2023

4 min read


The Complex Dynamics of San Francisco's Housing Crisis and Accomplishment Arbitrage


San Francisco's housing crisis has been a topic of discussion for years, with various factors contributing to its complexity. From height limits and rent control to the demanding permitting process, the city's housing situation is a product of a multitude of movements and societal changes. Additionally, the concept of lifetime employment has faded, leading to a shift in demographics and job security for the younger workforce. Alongside this, the technology industry's influence and the city's progressive values have further shaped San Francisco's culture and the housing market. In this article, we will explore the interplay between these factors and how they have contributed to the housing crisis, while also delving into the concept of accomplishment arbitrage and its relevance to the discussion.

The Impact of Demographic Changes and Job Insecurity:

As societal norms evolve, people are getting married later and living longer. The rise in unmarried individuals, now comprising almost 50 percent of Americans, has had a significant impact on housing trends. Young adults and affluent retirees are increasingly moving into urban cores, while immigrants and the less affluent are pushed out. This demographic shift has exacerbated the demand for housing in cities like San Francisco. Simultaneously, the concept of lifetime employment has given way to a network of weak ties between workers and employers. Job security now relies on moving from one company to another, further contributing to the population influx in urban areas.

The Influence of Technology Industry and Social Density:

The technology industry has played a pivotal role in reshaping San Francisco's culture and economy. The rise of social networking platforms, in particular, has driven the migration of tech workers to the city. Platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Foursquare, and Twitter all leveraged social density to achieve critical mass. As tech workers flocked to San Francisco, the city's culture and the technology industry underwent significant transformations. This gentrification wave, which predates the dot-com era, has been driven by San Francisco's progressivism, prioritizing protection of the environment, architectural heritage, neighborhoods, diversity, and overall quality of life.

The Discretionary Permitting Process and Housing Supply:

Unlike other major U.S. cities, San Francisco's housing development is subject to discretionary building permits. This process adds complexity and delays to the construction of new housing units. As a result, the market has failed to keep up with the city's population growth. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, the city experienced a population increase of 32,000 people. Despite the high demand, the number of new construction permits has remained low. This imbalance has driven up housing prices, making living in San Francisco unaffordable for many.

The Importance of Elastic Housing Supply:

If the entire Bay Area had a more elastic housing supply, it would not only alleviate the housing affordability crisis but also provide more job opportunities. By enabling a larger portion of the population to find work closer to their homes, people would have more disposable income to save or spend. The current situation forces many individuals to move to distant areas or become unemployed due to limited housing options. By addressing the issue of housing supply, San Francisco and the surrounding region can create a more sustainable and inclusive economy.

Understanding Accomplishment Arbitrage:

In addition to the housing crisis, another concept that influences perceptions and values is accomplishment arbitrage. This phenomenon occurs when someone refers to an accomplishment that happened in the past and takes advantage of the disparity between the perceived and true value of that accomplishment. People can exploit the historical context and perceived difficulty of past achievements to enhance their own accomplishments. This can be seen in various contexts, such as taking a company public, where the perceived value of the achievement is influenced by the prevailing market conditions.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Encourage the development of an elastic housing supply by streamlining the permitting process and incentivizing construction of affordable housing units.
  • 2. Foster collaboration between the technology industry and local communities to ensure responsible growth and mitigate the negative impacts of gentrification.
  • 3. Promote policies that support a diverse range of housing options, including affordable housing, co-living spaces, and mixed-income developments.


The housing crisis in San Francisco is a complex issue influenced by demographic changes, job insecurity, the technology industry, and the city's progressive values. By understanding the interplay of these factors, we can work towards finding sustainable solutions. Simultaneously, acknowledging the existence and impact of accomplishment arbitrage allows us to critically evaluate perceived achievements and their true value. By taking actionable steps to address the housing crisis and fostering a more inclusive and equitable environment, San Francisco can retain its unique character while providing affordable housing options for all its residents.

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