Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 1, 2016

Easy to be hard

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

And right on cue Governing Magazine has a piece titled: Why Affordable Housing Is Hard to Build.  The piece talks about what could work:

There is one way to create affordable housing without spending much public money, and that’s through mandatory inclusionary zoning. It’s a simple idea: You just require a developer to promise a fixed number of affordable units in order to get a project approved.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of this to financially strapped communities, but it’s a risky game. If you set the mandate too high, projects don’t pencil out and buildings don’t get built. If the developer agrees to participate but there’s a high ceiling on income eligibility, then the project may be a nice gift to a few middle-income families but do virtually nothing for the poorer ones who need help the most.

But then the limitations if developers are able to in-lieu fee their way out of actual construction of the units.

And even though the City of Alameda has had some measure of success with its inclusionary housing ordinance, for some people it’s too little to make an impact for people who really need housing right now.  The thing about it is, much like the rent control ordinance that will eventually make its way to the ballot in November, tools like the inclusionary housing ordinance is not meant to completely solve the housing shortage in Alameda, but rather provide a small measure of relief for a small portion of Alamedans.  While ideally it would be great if a unicorn developer could be found to develop huge swaths of affordable housing that wouldn’t get challenged by every NIMBY in Alameda, it’s simply not the reality.

If Alameda is really serious about solving the housing shortage, it shouldn’t be seeking a one sized fits all solution like rent control or nothing, inclusionary zoning or nothing, affordable housing developments or nothing, etc and so forth.  We should be attempting all solutions: a robust second unit ordinance, relaxed parking minimum, density bonus, and more to ensure that families in Alameda can continue to afford to live here.



  1. Or we could accept the fact that not everyone gets to live in Alameda and we should protect our island from over developing and rent regulations that would cause investors to stop investing . For those of you with tons of facts , but no skin in the game… It does not matter what you are philosophical about if you can’t make it happen:

    Comment by Master Blaster — June 1, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    • Profound thought, MB. Don’t say I never give you props.

      Comment by vigi — June 1, 2016 @ 9:25 am

  2. Re Easy/Hard

    “If Alameda is really serious about solving the housing shortage”, “…more to ensure that families in Alameda can continue to afford to live here.”

    If the families you speak of are already “in Alameda” and living here, where’s the housing shortage?

    Comment by jack — June 1, 2016 @ 9:50 am

  3. @1: MB, there IS a finite limit to the number of people that Alameda’s infrastructure and resources can support, but we can share with more people than we do now if we adopt smarter ways to use the resources we have. And we will have to do this anyway, with climate change, limited fossil fuels and air quality, and other concerns. But pulling up the drawbridges and claiming entitlement to “our” island is not an ethically viable option. After all, “you can’t take it with you.” (When was the last time you knew someone who could take their property and worldly goods with them to the Great Beyond?)

    @2: Jack, the exorbitant–and often successive–rent increases of 20-35% per year (far higher than the increases in salary or wages, and far higher than increases in the cost of living or the costs of maintaining properties) have driven many families out of Alameda over the past several years. Those families–often workers with good jobs, but also retirees on fixed incomes who have worked hard all their lives–face a dearth of housing choices within range of their schools, friends, medical providers, churches, and workplaces. The crisis is regional and statewide, not just here. Alameda has helped create it–just like most communities–by slowing the rate of construction of all types of housing, especially multifamily housing and other affordable housing types.

    The so-called “free” market is not “free” but it IS broken, because it no longer provides any semblance of a fair or equitable distribution of resources (like housing) to those who need it.

    If you have secure housing, you might think that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But most regional leaders in business, government, and academia have known and said for decades that the Bay Area housing market is disastrously broken and we are in a crisis. To paraphrase the philosopher, “no city is an island unto itself…”

    Comment by Jon Spangler — June 1, 2016 @ 10:54 am

    • Of those who have been forced to leave Alameda, how many would return if they could? People find lives and happiness living in other places. If you really want to fix our broken market and create a true free market, you have to be willing to allow nature to take its course. People will live where they can afford to live and will probably be happier without the constant worry about how they will cobble together the next rent payment. They might even have money left over to go out and do something they always wanted to do but couldn’t afford while living in an area that is beyond their means.

      Comment by Nancy Hird — June 1, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

      • Such a lack of empathy, Nancy- I can say with complete truthfulness that when I am driven out (and that should be soon) – I will be forced to leave all of my adopted family, friends, doctors, my charity work and my entire life that I worked hard to establish after 22 years here. My situation will not be unique- so many would return if they could but they can’t due to attitudes like yours. If you have not looked around and seen your friends driven out – then you are very fortunate or very sheltered.

        Comment by librarycat — June 1, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

      • Wow. The lack of coherent thought in this response is rather astounding. “If you really want to fix our broken market and create a true free market, you have to be willing to allow nature to take its course.” So…people have to move away because the market is broken (rents too high), but if the market weren’t broken, maybe they would have to move anyway because that’s nature taking its course. Because the market is nature? Perhaps they’d have more time for macrame or quilting if they lived in low-rent Lodi. Only if nature took its course, maybe they wouldn’t have to have move in the first place (lower rents). But maybe they’d be happier in low-rent Lodi in any case, and were in fact liberated by high rents. We have to be cruel to be kind. Is that a fair account of what you’re saying?

        Comment by BC — June 1, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

        • Nancy, we’ve spoken about this face to face and I give you credit for being earnest, but on this you sound a wee bit tone deaf. Just for starters, “If you really want to fix our broken market and create a true free market,…” There isn’t any such thing as a true free market. I don’t advocate for total socialism, but there needs to be regulations and the more greed people get away with the more regulation is required as counter balance. Just a natural fact.

          Comment by MI — June 1, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

  4. Which philosopher would that be, Jon? If you google “no city is an island” you get this= It’s a modern European idea.

    Comment by vigi — June 1, 2016 @ 11:28 am

  5. Jon in #3

    My #2 was a quote from her Doness. She seems to be the one who wants to ensure that people stay in Alameda. Frankly I don’t care where people live. I’ve met tons of people who used to live in Alameda and have absolutely no yearning to return to this semi-hokey strange village. To me it’s just purgatory on my way to the next.

    Comment by jack — June 1, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

  6. “The so-called “free” market is not “free” but it IS broken, because it no longer provides any semblance of a fair or equitable distribution of resources (like housing) to those who need it.”

    So Jon, you say, and I agree, the housing market in Alameda isn’t free but to suggest that somehow Alameda is an island unto itself and has the wherewithal to effectively circumvent market realities by somehow voting for edicts that circumvent the market is a suggestion that ignores history. Dictating fair and equitable distribution of resources as the goal for society may sound noble but the historic trail of leaders who sought that goal is littered with the bones of failed despots. Of course despotism on a small Island can easily be ignored by the greater populace but when one is part of that Island these attempts at “equitable distribution” smack of rule by tyranny and to suggest that citizens should have living priority by longevity smacks of elitism.

    Comment by Jack — June 1, 2016 @ 9:53 pm

  7. I think what Nancy is addressing has some validity. There was a time when you would have had to drag me kicking and screaming from Alameda. Now that necessity has forced me to live on the East Coast for the past year, I realize that I’m just as happy here as I was in Alameda. The weather changabilitiy and fluctuation in temperature is not the huge pain I thought it would be. It actually makes life more interesting. The beauty of the landscape here is breath-taking with many, many more varieties of flowers and trees to enjoy. The full glory of spring and fall, the wonder of a fresh snowfall on a crisp mornings are all things that Alameda misses out on. Strangers here are, in general, more courteous and friendly. It’s New Jersey, so that was a surprise.

    I’m closer here to many desirable travel spots and it’s less expensive to visit them. The food choices are different and in many cases amazing and much broader than in California in general (due I’m guessing to the proximity to Europe). Museums, theater, concerts, festivals,are much more numerous and so visiting them is not always as big a mob scene as it is in the Bay Area. Cost of living is actually lower here than in the Bay Area (not a lot, but it makes a difference). The point is, Alamedans are always convincing themselves that they live in the best place in the world and that no place could be better. Being unable to stay seems like a death sentence. It’s not. Nancy is right. You may well be happier somewhere else. I miss my friends, but many have already moved away or plan to in the next few years.

    I still own a home in Alameda which I rent out. It’s really my house I miss, not so much the town any more (I’m living in a small apartment), but even that could be improved upon. I’d like two car off street parking, a dining room, and a wooded lot. I won’t end up where I am now because property taxes are very high and they can go up dramatically from year to year, so I’m looking at other states for retirement. In the next few years, I will have to decide whether or not I want to ever live in Alameda again. I’ve been back to visit a few times and already, it’s changed a lot. Some things are better and some are worse but I’m surprised at how little I miss it and how when I go back, I don’t feel sad to leave. After 30 great years in Alameda, I’m okay with another 30 plus somewhere else. I may come back to live for a couple of years before finally selling out and leaving for good but that has yet to be determined. If I had to go back now, I wouldn’t be that happy about it. There’s still too much left here to explore and enjoy.

    I realize that this is just my experience and that some people may not share my attitude about things. The reality is that this housing problem will not be solved in time for most of the people fretting about it to be helped. Nancy’s suggestion that they investigate other options is not heartless. It’s actually very good advice.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — June 2, 2016 @ 7:53 am

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