The Irish Times view on Dublin and San Francisco: cities by the bay

Is the experience of the US tech hub a warning sign for Dublin?

Dublin is not San Francisco in terms of wealth, climate or its silicon-based industries. But that other “city by the bay” (above) shows what can happen if a social housing shortage is aggravated by an influx of highly paid workers. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Dublin is not San Francisco in terms of wealth, climate or its silicon-based industries. But that other “city by the bay” (above) shows what can happen if a social housing shortage is aggravated by an influx of highly paid workers. Photograph: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

 

Dublin is not San Francisco in terms of wealth, climate or its tech industries. But that other “city by the bay” shows what can happen if a social housing shortage is aggravated by an influx of highly paid workers.

The average asking price for a home in San Francisco now exceeds €1.2m and rent for a one-bed apartment costs €3,365 a month. With a footprint of 49 square miles and surrounded on three sides by water, there is little room for the city to expand. Purchase is beyond the reach of most tech workers while the number of homeless people has reached 10,000.

Residents complain about rising crime rates, drug-taking and the thousands of homeless people sleeping rough. Others grouse about income inequality and the changes brought about by the tech sector. But the city’s decline as a vibrant, socially diverse community can be traced to an inadequate housing programme that, at first, discriminated against poor families but has now come to affect middle income groups as well.

In response to this social disaster, the San Francisco authorities are planning to build an additional 4,000 homes, some of them social and affordable. The high-tech giants of Silicon Valley, whose workers migrated to the city and outbid the locals for available accommodation, are talking about subsidising house building there. Rent caps have been introduced. But efforts to build high-density housing at transit hubs and reduce the power of local councils to block such developments were resisted by property owners.

Here at home, extensive office construction has led to the displacement of Dublin inner-city communities. The influence of developers is also reflected in dockland apartment schemes, designed to cater for well-paid tech employees. And beyond central Dublin, the shortage of accomodation for purchase and rental, once only associated with the capital, is emerging as a deepening problem. Brexit apart, no more important issue faces the Government. Its complexity demands singular focus and co-operation and co-ordination between public and private sectors.

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