Michael Alexander adds to the post below on Seattle:

We really should pay more attention to local government in San Francisco; they’re dealing with so many of the same issuesAnd they have a city council structure which many would cringe at as a replacement.

San Francisco is almost exactly our size (47 square miles vs. our 44.4 sq. mi). Since 1996, its governing 11- member Board of Supervisions has been elected by district. (The Mayor is elected separately, at large.)

Today, San Francisco has some of the highest rental prices in North America, though they’re down a bit from two years ago. According to the rental site Zumper, the median cost for a one-bedroom apartment (in Canadian dollars) is $4,480!

Here’s the median cost for one bedroom by district, in U.S. dollars (add 30% to get Vancouver equivalents). Note that most of the outlying areas are almost exclusively single family.


  1. I’m not sure SF and Vancouver are all that comparable, to be honest (although I can’t find the original post that this refers to, so perhaps I’m off base).
    While the physical size and council size composition may be comparable, the underlying causes of the price escalation are somewhat unique. San Francisco has viciously opposed new development at every turn, while trying to accommodate increasing population. The market clearing mechanism is an increase in rent. Vancouver has been building like crazy, but has largely focused on owner-occupied (or unoccupied) condos rather than purpose built rentals. Market clearing mechanism with few new rental properties is the same – higher rents.

    One beef – Why are we comparing SF rents in Canadian dollars when residents there are paid salary in US dollars? If you’re looking to compare, show the monthly rent as a % of local median wage, both reported in local currency. $3400 USD/month doesn’t look nearly as bad when the median household income is well into the 6-figures.

  2. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/sanfranciscocitycalifornia,US/PST045217 (2013 – 2017)
    According to the US Census the median rent in the City of San Francisco is US$1,709.
    The median household income in San Francisco is US$96,265. (close to 20% of the median household income)
    The median rent in Vancouver for a one bedroom apartment is US$1,089 (close to 30% of the median household income)
    The median household income in the City of Vancouver is US$35,602.
    It appears that the Zumpers data set is different than that collected by the US Census.

    1. Zumper, like several other sites, quotes rents based on what is currently being offered on the market. The census looks at rents paid by all renters, so is a much bigger sample, with many established renters paying lower rents.

      Zumper’s quoted Vancouver rents are $1,800 for a studio, $2,100 for a 1-bed, $3,300 for a 2-bed, $3,950 for a 3-bed and $4,700 for a 4-bed.

      The most up-to-date numbers for market rental are in the 2018 CMHC Rental Study, which confirms that there’s a difference between rent of vacant units, and occupied units (with established tenants).

      In the City of Vancouver in October 2018 average rents were $1,198 for an occupied studio, $1,411 for a 1-bed, $1,964 for an occupied 2-bed and $2,427 for 3-bed+

      For vacant apartments rents were $1,679 for a 1-bed, and $2,593 for a 2-bed, and higher than occupied units. The numbers are closer to the Zumper numbers, but still a bit lower. The CMHC survey covers 57,814 purpose-built rentals, and the Zumper number is probably higher because it will include condo buildings being offered for rent, which are generally more expensive (at least as an asked rent) than purpose-built.

      CMHC survey rented condos in Vancouver, and studios were $1,473, 1-bed were $1,788, 2-bed $2,402 and $3,229 for 3 bed+.

      So different surveys (Census, CMHC, Zumper) have different sets of buildings, and so different average rents.

  3. SF is probably more similar to Vancouver than Seattle.


    Two main bridges to north and eastern major suburbs, due to geography
    Slummy downtown areas
    Huge discrepancy between high and low end incomes
    Lack of new rental supply
    Large Asian immigration
    Large areas close to downtown that are SFH
    A major airport linked via train to suburbs and downtown, plus two others nearby
    Both cities attract visitors by the millions, cruises, air traffic, immigrants, rich and poor and even a few HQs

    What can we learn here?
    Toll bridges
    Build more housing ie allowing more density makes sense
    Rentals need to be forced into new buildings or subsidized
    People move to areas even if they are expensive and cram in to existing units, esp close to oceans, or are willing to commute, and whine about high prices but move anyway
    We may at some point need a third airport (Boundary Bay) to serve faster growing south of Fraser region
    We need far more BART like fast high capacity trains to suburbs
    We need far wider/bigger and yes, tolled, bridges
    We can’t rely on market forces alone to build rentals, it must be channeled, subsidized or forced by governments
    Attractive cities, close to ocean, culture and city attractions will always be expensive, and only cheaper further out with lengthy car or train commutes

  4. Care to expand on the implied diss of SF’s ward system, as if it were somehow the cause of the high costs? Our at-large system is hardly a contributor to affordability – Vancouver is expensive AND I have no direct representation..

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