San Francisco Persecutes Landlord Offering Low-Rent Housing to Homeless Vets

P. Gardner Goldsmith | February 15, 2018
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San Francisco just keeps the craziness coming!

Last year, the city promised “Free College” (wink) for city residents.

A few months later, leftie snowflakes spread dog dung on a park where free speech advocates were going to hold a rally

And now, the government of the “progressive city” that cares so much about the poor and desperate has fined a landlord $2 million for housing the homeless, mostly vets.

Christian Britschgi reports for Reason that for the many years, Judy Wu and her husband, Trent Zhu, have rented 49 low-income units to people who otherwise would be without living spaces, but there’s a problem with their charitable actions.

They’re not doing it the government’s way.

Since 2015, the city politicians of San Fran have attacked Wu and Zhu’s activity because the couple’s property is mandated by government zoning statute to only allow fifteen housing units. That year, the gods of the city ordered the couple to change the dwellings or they would be torn down.

Nice, huh?

It gets even better...

In 2016, as she was working to bring her units into compliance, and while her tenants fought to preserve their homes, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued Wu, claiming that her unauthorized dwellings ‘substantially endanger the health, welfare, and safety of individual tenants, the residents of the City and County of San Francisco.’

Even though, as Britschgi mentions, their vet tenants had not complained, are getting low-rent places to live away from the dangers of nature and human predators in the crime-ridden Streets of San Francisco (see how I made an incredibly deft reference to an old cop show, there?), the government clearly knows better than the people freely engaging in commerce with a willing seller.

And so…

Wu's trial began on Monday. Facing mounting legal fees and the prospect of $8 million in fines, she decided to settle on Tuesday.

And the couple still has to comply with the government order to change the dwellings.

Politicians painted Wu and her husband as slumlords, preying on the homeless vets at a time when finding low-rent housing is hard. But in a world where zoning restricts the number of units and promotes commercial use rather than residential, and when government takes huge portions of city blocks for its own, isn’t letting landlords rent to more a good thing?

Seems the renters thought so, and so did advocates for the homeless vets who use federal funds for their rent and check to make sure the units comply with standards set in DC. And these units met those standards.

And it gets even “better”…

To make matters worse the City Attorneys' office sued Wu while she was in the process of trying to legalize her units, extracting now $2 million in fines. According to court documents filed by Patterson, the City Attorney's office even actively lobbied San Francisco's Planning Commission to not permit many of the units that Wu was trying to bring into compliance.

Let’s face it, zoning is one of the prime ways local politicians can play favorites with their friends and harm their enemies. Zoning codes artificially and arbitrarily restrict the natural way in which city populations and city building would occur, and replace those free market choices with political plans. In city after city, zoning has been problematic, raising costs, showing favors on certain politically connected people, and harming the natural growth of societies. Housing prices rise, expensive, tax-generating ventures are built, and governments reap the rewards.

As Jack Salmon wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education in 2016, the difference between housing costs in areas with meticulous political control over zoning are much higher than those without. Dallas is well known for avoiding zoning codes, and has seen the low-cost benefits accrue to renters because of it.

Unfortunately, people often miss the problems of zoning until a story like this from San Francisco appears, and it is very difficult to change the codes or get the politicians in office to lower their legal weapons. Why would they, when they can get election donations from various people whose livelihoods and property investments benefit from restrictive zoning?

San Francisco seems to continually serve up bad policies and trends, but one should not think this zoning problem is isolated to the Golden Gate metropolis. It’s everywhere. Look at how your own town zones for business; see who owns the land, and who is cozy with the zoning board or city planners.

It’s a perpetual problem that can only be solved by cutting back on the areas over which politicians have power. And the first step in that direction is through education about free markets and the ethics of liberty.

They probably don’t teach that much in San Francisco.