What SF crane watch does and doesn’t tell us

From an article by Sarah Holder, CityLab, September 24, 2019.

“Rider Levett Bucknall, a construction project management company, [conducts] a semi-annual international Crane Count.

“As dots on a map, all cranes may look the same. But their impact isn’t indiscriminate. Are they harbingers of displacement, or agents of much-needed supply?

“Two things can be true: San Francisco’s crane count is almost half that of Seattle, and its affordability crisis is more severe. The average rent for a Golden Gate one-bedroom reached $3,700 this year, while in Seattle that figure is $2,130. [And] 78 percent of Seattle cranes were building mixed-use and residential projects in January, while in San Francisco, only 35 percent were involved in housing.

“RLB doesn’t factor affordability into their analysis, but most of the luxury housing being sold on the San Francisco market is part of existing housing stock, not new apartments, according to a 2017 analysis by the Urban Institute. At least some of this crane-related activity is easing, not exacerbating, the city’s housing crisis.

“The last count found cranes concentrated in South of Market (SOMA) and Portrero Hill, where multifamily projects have been rising. Construction was also active in Parnassus Heights, where UCSF’s Medical Center was growing.

“When the final count was released in July, North America’s overall crane count had jumped yet again, for the fourth consecutive year. But San Francisco’s count had again decreased, one of only three cities to see slumps. The decrease was probably due to the completion of two major projects, the new Chase Arena and the UCSF medical center.

“Counting tower cranes might not be the best way to track the real momentum of a city’s construction scene: Sorely needed missing-middle housing, like duplexes and fourplexes, don’t require the same construction gear. But for now, it’s the best RLB’s got.”

Read the full article here.