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San Francisco apartment construction at decade high, but it’s still not much

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We’re building one new apartment for every new resident. Just not all of them here

Although high-rise condos hog the spotlight, the majority of new units under construction in San Francisco are apartments. In fact, San Francisco will produce more new apartments in 2016 than it has in over a decade, and more than twice as many as last year, according to rental site RENTcafe.

But note that there’s a bit of an asterisk attached to those figures.

RENTcafe estimates that San Francisco’s apartment stock will increase by 9,362 units by the end of 2016. That’s more than we added the last two years combined (4,144 in 2015 and 4,746 in 2014). And it’s almost as many as we added over the entirety of 2010 through 2013.

In fact, that figure would be very nearly one new apartment for every new San Franciscan the city projects will put down roots in the city this year…if all of those units were actually coming to the city itself.

But RENTcafe is measuring new construction in the "San Francisco metro area," which is not just the city. Back in June, the real estate group Paragon and the San Francisco Business Times estimated a much more modest figure of 4,100 new rentals in the San Francisco proper.

RENTcafe has not yet responded to our requests to specify which cities it’s measuring here. Still, that construction is skyrocketing across the same region compared to the past decade is hardly insignificant no matter what.

Paragon analyst Patrick Carlisle points out that’s still a huge figure for the city. "Remember, for a few years there we basically stopped building apartments," Carlisle told Curbed SF.

Even so, we must ask: Is it enough?

Taking a look at the other 19 largest cities surveyed, Miami is building the most per capita, finishing one new apartment per 31 residents (based on 2013 census estimates). Seattle is the busiest builder on the West Coast, with one new unit per 48 residents. And San Jose is California’s biggest per capita builder at 170.

And San Francisco? Our 4,100 new apartments is just one per 204 persons. Only three cities managed to do less: San Diego (225), Chicago (324), and New York City (396).

Of course, the city has quite of a bit of non-apartment construction going on as well. And by any standard, our presently robust output is downright uncharacteristic. If you still can’t decide whether it’s enough, you can always just wait until you need a new place and then see what happens.