Rich People in San Francisco Mad That They Have to Look at People Living on Boats

CC BY 2.0. Houseboats at paid moorings in Vancouver/ Lloyd Alter

The Wall Street Journal calls them "homeless" but they look "landless" to me.

Years ago I bicycled over the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito, Mill Valley and Tiburon, and decided that I wanted to live on a boat. In Sausalito. I thought the same thing in Vancouver, where houseboats are intermixed with regular boats. I looked at the houseboat Melissa just wrote about and thought it might be just fine in London too; in all of these places, a houseboat costs a fraction of conventional apartments or houses, even with mooring charges.

San Francisco's Houseboat Influx

But now, in San Francisco Bay, more and more people are living on boats without paying for the marina, just throwing a hook overboard and anchoring. According to Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal, it is becoming a serious problem.

The homeless population floating off the coast of wealthy Marin County, just north of San Francisco, has doubled in recent years to about 100, according to authorities. The ragtag collection of some 200 barges, sailboats, and other mostly decrepit vessels in which they live and store their belongings is a sign of an affordable-housing crisis in California that is being felt particularly acutely in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But this would be the Wall Street Journal talking, because they are not "homeless" – their homes just happen to float, and they just happen to be "landless." Some of these undocked floating homes are well-maintained and some are not. Some are doing it as a lifestyle choice, not because they are poor. They are what's known as "anchor-outs" and have been a "tradition since the California Gold Rush."

People who own multi-million dollar properties are furious that they have to look at these boats and barges, complaining that “they’re all filthy, because they have no place to bathe.”

The Legality of Anchoring Offshore

But anchoring offshore has traditionally been legal. People are trying to clear them out in Florida, where one boater says, “If you don’t like looking at boats at anchor, buy a house in Arizona and move there. Boats have been anchoring in your backyard for a lot longer than your home has been there. We have rights too.”

This is not dissimilar to the Tiny House movement, where laws have been in place to make it illegal to live in trailers or in buildings under certain sizes to keep out the riffraff. The difference is that there are no zoning bylaws on the water, and people have been doing this on boats forever. The biggest problem for tiny home people is that the building isn't tied to land, and in America, land ownership is everything. People living in trailers or boats are not welcome, unless they pay money to park them on somebody else's land.

Back in San Francisco Bay, the surrounding municipalities are trying to do something to clean it up, including some subsidised marina spaces or safer, authorised moorings, so that the boats don't break away or get in the middle of sea lanes. One can see that the boats might be an environmental and health problem if they are dumping their waste into the bay. Perhaps a little bit of regulation is in order.

But then I read the comments (this is the Wall Street Journal after all) where everyone is saying that "liberal values created this mess" and I really, really want to follow my dream and live in a boat in Sausalito, the ugliest boat I can find, and anchor it right off the fanciest house I can find.