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Number of SF building permits up, but not by much

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Even San Jose is building more relative to its previous yearly average

The San Francisco skyline at dusk with streetlamps reflected in the bay. Nickolay Stanev

The good news: San Francisco will issue far more building permits than usual this year. But determining whether or not that amount of entitled construction is enough depends on your expectations.

Real estate site Trulia’s latest construction report took a creative approach to quantifying construction in 84 major cities and surrounding areas, comparing the projected level of new building by the end of 2017 to what it calls the “historical average.”

That is to say, how many building permits the same cities issued on average since 1980.

In the case of San Francisco (or more accurately, San Francisco and San Mateo County, which the report merges together for reasons having to do with the U.S. Census), the 35-plus year average comes out to 3,221 permits/year.

This year’s projected total adds up to 4,571, amounting to almost 142 percent of the norm.

That’s tenth in the nation, which has got to be considered a handy uptick at least.

Andrew Zarivny

On the other hand, it’s also a result unlikely to please anybody—those clamoring for more housing will lament that tenth place is not good enough. (San Jose, for example, has ramped up building more, with nearly 155 percent of its average projected and coming in eighth place.) While those who think too much is happening too fast will fret.

Note that not all building permits amount to new construction or new housing—earlier this summer, Paragon Real Estate Group estimated that the city should add more than 2,700 new units this year and 1,509 next year

Note also that, while Trulia economist Ralph McLaughlin based the historical average on building permit data from past censuses, the full 2017 figure is an extrapolation and projection based on permits issued in the first half of the year.

Finally, the report itself acknowledges that beating the usual average is a somewhat elastic standard, since certain cities—McLaughlin singles out San Francisco—have very low averages anyway.

For a different perspective, consider population: With an estimated early 2017 population of nearly 1.64 million, SF and San Mateo counties will issue one permit per 358 or so residents this year, if McLaughlin’s predictions hold true.

Compare this to Austin, Texas, which comes in first on the Trulia rankings for permit performance. The larger Austin metro area has just over 2 million people, and McLaughlin anticipates 29,872 permits, one per 67 residents or so.

On the other hand, San Jose’s larger Santa Clara County area has some 1.9 million residents and 9,224 projected permits. That’s one per every 205 people—not Texas numbers, but still enough to beat out its neighbors to the north handily.

Jeremy Borkat