Communities must focus on policies that prevent displacement of residents, preserve existing housing and increase housing affordable to lower-income residents.
By Khanh Russo
Khanh Russo is the vice president of policy and innovation for the San Francisco Foundation.
Suzanne Dershowitz, Special to CalMatters
Suzanne Dershowitz is a staff attorney for Public Advocates.
We can build a Bay Area where all can work, live and thrive in vibrant communities, but we must change the policies that are pricing out families, increasing homelessness and making the state unaffordable to our children. The first step is to join local efforts to expand housing choices and increase housing affordability.
Every Bay Area community has until January to update its housing plan (city officials call this the “housing element” of the city’s general plan, the legal document that guides development). Well-thought-out housing plans can prevent displacement of residents, preserve existing housing, increase affordable housing and reverse racial and economic segregation.
To create a plan, a community must engage a diverse set of stakeholders to identify specific housing challenges and priorities. A strong housing plan then proposes the policy and practice solutions needed to tackle those challenges.
For example, a rapidly gentrifying community can prevent displacement by passing rent stabilization and just-cause eviction policies. It can help spur affordable housing creation by imposing housing impact fees, which require new market-rate housing developers and/or new commercial or retail developers to contribute funds for affordable housing.
A community could fast-track affordable housing permits or donate public land to developers of affordable housing.
To solve our regional housing crisis, local governments must:
- Focus on community and equity. In creating their housing plan, communities are explicitly required to improve fair housing and directly address disparities rooted in race and exclusion. People with low incomes, people of color, people with disabilities and others whose housing needs are not being met are asked to participate in the planning. Local governments should listen to these voices and shape their housing plans to address their most urgent concerns.
- Community groups must be advocates. Representatives must show up at planning sessions and advocate for more affordable housing, stronger tenant protections and policies that ensure that the teachers, firefighters and people who are rooted in their community can stay. Helpful tools can be found at housingelementtools.org.
To break long-standing patterns of exclusion, the state needs to:
- Enforce regional housing goals. The Legislature has provided new tools to ensure that all cities and counties contribute their fair share to meeting our housing needs. There is a long history of local — and often exclusionary — communities thwarting attempts to address our housing crisis.
- Foster Innovation. Encourage communities to innovate in how they create the new housing units required under the state’s rules (known as Regional Housing Needs Allocation). The system is designed to ensure each community has a mix of housing types and affordability so that a wide range of Californians can afford to live there.
- Enforce compliance. The state must use its oversight powers to ensure that communities expand housing choices and increase housing affordability equitably. Those that fail to create housing should be referred to the state attorney general.
The regional housing allocation process determined that the Bay Area must build more than 440,000 homes in the next eight years. Overseen by state and regional agencies, the process was thorough and emphasized factors that will help our region grow equitably and sustainably. For example, the regional process focused on getting more housing near jobs and transportation, increasing economic inclusion and advancing racial justice.
As overwhelming as the housing crisis feels, we are hopeful that our communities, working together, can address this issue.