In San Francisco, most people spend much more on housing than food. Does this mean that housing brings much greater value to people’s lives? No. If I were forced to choose between housing without food and adequate food without housing, I’d rather have enough food and take my chances as an unsheltered homeless person. In reality, I might decide that temporarily lacking food but keeping my housing would be better for my social status and prospects of improving my situation (the stigma of being homeless makes it harder to improve one’s socio-economic standing). But if I believed the situation would last over three months, I would choose food.
Why is housing drastically more expensive than food? Simple – people who control housing have more power to increase prices than people who control food.
Housing is much more than physical shelter. Climate-appropriate tents are cheap and provide sufficient shelter for survival. If physical shelter is all that is needed, that’s the solution. Sometimes, that IS the solution; many people in San Francisco lived in tents after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Another part of ‘housing’ is the social consensus that someone may reside in a particular spot. Away from others, social consensus does not matter; wherever there are others, social consensus is necessary. Otherwise, it’s dangerous to live there. Immediately after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the social consensus was that (some) people may live in tents. Now, there is a general social consensus that someone can pitch a tent on private property with the owner’s permission (but what is private property?) or in the safe sleeping villages (though some neighbors object). Otherwise, someone living in a tent pitched in San Francisco, lacking the protection of social consensus, is at much higher risk of being assaulted, robbed, or being forced to move. Continue reading