It’s like every other day there’s another article about what’s wrong with the inequality of the Bay Area and what can be done to fix it. The most recent one comes from Richard Florida at City Lab, talking about a report that was recently released by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute is a self-described think tank and supported by the Bay Area Council, a business sponsored public policy advocacy organization. Highlights from the City Lab article.
The Bay Area has also failed to build anywhere near enough housing to accommodate its growing population. Since the mid-2000s, the region has seen an overall decline in the number of annual housing permits. From 2012-2013, only 193 new housing units were made available per 1,000 residents.
The Bay Area must do several things to address its housing crisis, according to the report. First, the region must overcome outmoded zoning and building codes that suppress development. Areas zoned for hotels and retail, for example, could be rezoned for much-needed housing. The permitting process must also be radically streamlined to allow for the construction of new housing. And housing density should be increased substantially, especially in priority areas and neighborhoods. At the same time, the region needs to increase construction of smaller, affordable units and reduce construction costs. Cities should not just be encouraged, but mandated to add units that include affordable housing.
The report calls for substantial new infrastructure to reduce congestion and commute times, and to facilitate the development of housing—including more affordable housing—around transit hubs.
To remedy this, the report calls for a new, integrated body for financing infrastructure that would receive seed funding and then loan money to public sector entities. This proposed body would have the power to design and build projects of its own and utilize private sector capital as well. Additional proposals include instituting a regional gas tax or a new fee on vehicle miles traveled (something Governor Jerry Brown already plans to implement by 2017). The report also suggests lowering the voter threshold to secure approval for these measures.
This is one of the recommendations that have been discussed over and over again:
The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process needs real teeth. Connecting state and regional government transportation funding allocations to housing production goals can provide an incentive for cities to meet their RHNA obligations. Actual housing production needs to be consistent with local and regional plans within a reasonable timeframe. Otherwise there need to be real consequences. such as loss of local approval authority, state mandated “by right” approvals of housing projects, the creation of more “by right” zoning districts, or the creation of a regional hearing body to approve housing developments.
But as we’ve seen in Alameda even businesses: Matson, Container Project, and hotel development on Bay Farm faced considerable pushback by some members of the City Council when it comes to sheer aesthetics or simply not understand the market for commercial leases. If our own City leaders allow their ignorance to stand in the way of approving business development, which should be a no brainer, the expectation that cities like Alameda will go along quietly and not throw up other land use regulation roadblocks is naive. As long as we have a City Council that is able to delay or deter a project based on subjective aesthetics alone, there will never be progress toward either encouraging business or accommodating housing.