Jan 17, 2015 · 2 minutes

San Francisco may have New York beat when it comes to tech companies with big-money valuations. But the City by the Bay has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete with its cross-country rival on affordable housing.

Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had financed the construction or preservation of more than 17,300 affordable housing units in 2014, exceeding its projection of 16,000 units. 86 percent of these units were for low-income families with 4-person annual household incomes of less than $67,120. The milestone was part of de Blasio's plan to build or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over the next ten years.

As rent continues to skyrocket in New York and San Francisco, many argue that affordable housing mandates are crucial to ensuring these great American cities aren't shut off to all but the rich -- or to those willing to work two or three jobs just to cover basic living expenses.

For all the handwringing over gentrification, however, and the finger-pointing at middle-to-upper class tech workers, professionals, and trustafarians for their role in rent hikes, you can't pass a law banning hipsters from culturally-vibrant neighborhoods -- though I'm sure there are many who would like to try. You can, however, enact policy decisions like de Blasio's that make it possible for residents of all income brackets to inhabit a city. After all, no one but the most ruthless capitalists want to live in a city full only of extremely rich people and the homeless.

But for all the positive news coming out of New York, there's still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding affordable housing initiatives in San Francisco, where income inequality is reportedly worse than in Rwanda. According to SF Gate, only 1,000 units built in 2014 were "below-market rate," out of a total of 4,000 new units. Both of those numbers fell short of the city's housing goals.

Under ballot measure Proposition K, the city will look to construct or rehabilitate 30,000 housing units over the next five years, but only half of those are recommended to be deemed "within reach" for middle-class residents -- which the city defines as individuals making $101,950 a year -- to say nothing of low-income San Franciscans. And these are merely recommendations, not mandates. Moreover, there are few mechanisms or standards in place for monitoring whether or not these goals are being met, although a bill introduced this week by City Supervisor Jane Kim aims to change that.

Affordable housing is not a panacea to keep rents from rising. As more and more wealth is created in San Francisco, and more opportunities arise for high skilled workers, it will continue to be an attractive place for people with money to live, and rents will react accordingly. But affordable housing mandates are a much more productive solution than throwing rocks at Google buses.

[Image Credit: Franco Folini on Flickr]