Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 27, 2017

Housing as a public benefit

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

I totally didn’t write about this piece in the LA Times because I was heading out of town the very next day when it dropped.  It is about California’s housing building drought which has essentially brought us to the present where the severe housing shortage in major job centers has caused displacement and uncertainty for large swaths of families among our most vulnerable.


California’s housing affordability troubles have contributed to the state’s poverty rate, which is the highest in the nation. It also has burdened millions with high rents and, according to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, created a more than $100-billion annual drag on the state economy by lowering disposable incomes and limiting construction jobs.

Ben Metcalf, the state’s top housing official, has said the affordability problems are as bad as they’ve ever been in California’s history. And the state is expected to add an additional 6.5 million people over the next two decades.

The primary driver of the affordability problem is a lack of home building. Developers in California need to roughly double the 100,000 homes they build each year to stabilize housing costs, according to the McKinsey study and reports from the state Department of Housing and Community Development and nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

This is important to note because most communities, Alameda included, insists on the need for jobs, jobs, jobs without the understanding that the lack of homebuilding also stymies the economy.  That people are still going to move to (or stay in) their jobs in the Bay Area and California the only thing that our lack of homebuilding does is to push those who can least afford it farther and farther away increasing their burden in order to maintain the quality of life for the privileged few.


[D]ecisions made by California’s cities and counties are important, too, and many of those local governments have made it even more difficult to build new housing.

More than two-thirds of California’s coastal communities have adopted measures — such as caps on population or housing growth, or building height limits — aimed at limiting residential development, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. A UC Berkeley study of California’s local land-use regulations found that every growth-control policy a city puts in place raises housing costs by as much as 5% there.

These additional concessions are seen at nearly any City Council meeting dealing with development when you hear folks like Trish Spencer talk about the “people’s property” and attempting to extract more and more concessions that put all of the burden on new residents — because those costs are passed on to the homebuyer or renter — who already are burdened with higher property taxes.   There was a spot of brightness at the last City Council meeting when discussing public benefits (yet another set of concession designed to extract as much as possible out of developers but starts tipping projects into the infeasible category) when Vice Mayor Malia Vella announced that she believed housing in and of itself to be a public benefit.

It’s pretty tragic that we live in one of the wealthiest areas in the State of California. Where lots of fairly progressive, empathetic folks live who probably care about the national level politics like the attempt to repeal health care and the announcement that transgendered individuals will no longer be allowed to serve in the military.  But even though our hearts may bleed for the those in Trump country who may have their insurance taken away, we seem to have lost compassion for our neighbors who can no longer afford housing.  We’ve lost empathy and the willingness to find a solution for members of our community who must decamp to a city two hours commute away because the community they love has grown completely unaffordable.  We can no longer see the growing number of tent encampments lining the streets of Oakland or recently relocated from the Jean Sweeney Park area because our quality of life and our view corridors and whether we’ll be stuck in the single occupant vehicle for two extra minutes during peak commuting is a much more important topic to fixate on than those that have no permanent shelter.



  1. “We can no longer see the growing number of tent encampments lining the streets of Oakland…”

    What you never leave the Island or are you so preoccupied with Trump and metaphors you can’t see beyond your progressiveness? Maybe you should leave your walled compound once in awhile just to see what your current bellyaching is all about.

    Comment by jack — July 27, 2017 @ 8:31 am

  2. So what’s the answer? If we agree it’s to build more houses, what compromises are we willing to make to increase the population density and what additional infrastructure do we need to to support the additional occupants? And how do we fund it?

    If it’s done in an organized manner starting with local political leadership producing an agreeable plan. Then coordinating it at the adjacent city, county, state and federal level – it would take years for it to come to fruition – due to the divergent opinions and interests, and probably not result in what was originally agreed and in the meantime …

    We are stuck with – a “let the market decide”, “only the strong survive”, muddled mess of self interests competing for a slice of the pie, in which the political leadership is in it for themselves, lacking an altruistic philosophy or vision.

    Comment by Adrian — July 27, 2017 @ 9:08 am

    • Curious, what does such a plan look like to you? And how do you define “agreeable” in the context of your comment?

      Comment by jkw — July 27, 2017 @ 9:34 am

    • The Bay Area has third-world infrastructure. And completely balkanized government. I doubt the problems can be solved from city level up as it’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma problem (see election of populist mayors without any coherent agendas here in Alameda and in Berkeley–one on the right, one on the left). The state needs to solve this one.

      Comment by BC — July 27, 2017 @ 9:52 am

  3. It took us 40 years of piss-poor housing policy to get to this mess. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and take the time needed to reverse it. I’m willing to compromise these outdated nostalgic notions of small town suburbia in the world’s biggest job market to ensure that the 50% of our population that is cost burdened have more housing opportunities. Why are we more concerned with the standard of living for folks who have stable housing than we are worried about the standard of living for those who are suffering in this housing shortage? Why do we need the approval of the upper classes to build the housing we need for populations that will always grow? It is in this way that anti-housing policies are only tools of oppression, that only benefit the standard of living for the rich.

    Comment by Angela — July 27, 2017 @ 9:38 am

  4. I have a question: does anyone know what Alameda is doing to woo companies here that may provide telecommuting jobs away from the immediate area? I’m not dismissing the need for housing here or saying “don’t like it, then move”, I just want to know if anything is being done to spread the wealth so that people can spend money in their cities, and hopefully help pay for the infrastructure failures happening there, and not die early from stress of having four hours of their day taken up by a commute. Those towns are dying. What are Alameda and nearby cities doing to help with that?

    Comment by mydogsrbarkin — July 27, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

  5. What can Alameda do to encourage telecommute jobs to go to the outer exurbs? That sounds like something the state should be doing. Bringing more jobs to the outer areas should be part of an over all housing strategy, but that isn’t going to prevent Alameda from the reality that it has to be a part of the solution and build housing. Part of living in Alameda is dealing with getting on an off island. That’s a choice that you just can’t get around, regardless of whether we build another tube. Hopefully, if we can do our part, and other cities do theirs, we can create more mobility so that people can move closer to where they work.

    Comment by Angela — July 27, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

  6. That doesn’t answer my question. I’m not asking whether Alameda should build housing or mobility to get on or off the island.

    I’m wondering if anyone knows of any effort on the part of the city, county, or state to encourage businesses to either offer more telecommute jobs closer to people’s homes or open satellite locations. If the answer is no, I get it. Just wondering. Off to Google it.

    Comment by mydogsrbarkin — July 28, 2017 @ 12:32 am

  7. Get businesses to move out to East Contra Costa county, plenty of old industrial land to build on, plenty of affordable housing. Let people work closer to where they can afford to live. The idea of the old suburbs staying suburbs is also outdated and unaffordable. Also takes the burdens off of the bridges and highways.

    Comment by michonnekatana — July 30, 2017 @ 8:20 am

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