In summary

Everyone’s favorite podcast on California housing policy and politics was live at the Public Policy Institute of California this afternoon.

As the name implies, “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” is never short on problems to discuss. 

The two hosts, Matt Levin of CalMatters and Liam Dillon of The Los Angeles Times, offer a regular take on the many (many, many) housing woes that bedevil California: Why is homelessness such an intractable problem in California’s biggest cities? What can state lawmakers do to rein in rising rents? And what exactly is the best term for an accessory dwelling unit?

This afternoon, at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, the two reporters tried to find some answers. 

Their guests were Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, and Candice Gonzalez, a Silicon Valley housing developer, and the event was billed as an effort to “solve the California housing crisis.”

Or, at the very least, have a really interesting discussion. You can watch the whole thing here.

Schaaf, whose crane-studded city is on pace this year to build more housing units than its much larger neighbor, San Francisco, praised Oakland’s use of “cabin communities,” small clusters of renovated sheds that have provided ready-made housing for Oaklanders otherwise living on the street.

She also lauded Oakland’s vacant property tax, which fines homeowners for leaving their houses or apartments empty in the midst of a housing shortage. 

A similar “Empty Home tax proposal was floated today in a new housing plan from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Schaaf had some particularly sharp words for local activists who resist new development, whom she derided as NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard). 

“When NIMBYs masquerading as progressives say we shouldn’t develop, we shouldn’t build new housing, they are really hurting the very cause that they are purporting to serve,” she said. All three panelists were skeptical of the argument, often put forward by opponents of new apartment buildings, that the construction of new market rate housing increases rents nearby. 

In that — if little else — Schaaf shares the view of Ben Carson, the Trump administration’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, who toured San Francisco yesterday on a visit alongside President Donald Trump.

“One of the big problems, and nobody wants to talk about it, is NIMBYism,” Carson told reporters yesterday. “Not in my backyard. O.K. to do it over here, but don’t come anywhere near me.”

But on other issues, all three hosts took exception with the administration.

On Monday, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors put out a new report, “The State of Homelessness in America.” Among other things, the report suggests that police should play a more active role in getting people off of the street. 

“I guess I now know how the climate scientists feel,” Kushel said when asked to comment on the report. “None of these things work unless you have a place to put people.”

She also took particular issue with the report’s characterization of permanent supportive housing — subsidized housing with social and health services attached — as ineffective.

Asked if Gov. Gavin Newsom is likely to succeed in his ambitious campaign pledge to build 3.5 million new units of housing across the state by the end of his time in office, no one on stage was optimistic. 

“He just needs a little bit more time,” said Gonzalez.

YouTube video

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...