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Finding a Way Home
By Cecily O’Connor
This summer, officials are expected to adopt Plan Bay Area 2040, the region’s land use and transportation roadmap. While the plan advances environmental goals and transportation system improvements, more work is needed to resolve a confounding Bay Area problem: affordable housing.
That’s why regional agencies are forming the Committee for Affordable and Sustainable Accommodations (CASA), a task force that will draw up a housing implementation strategy to accompany Plan Bay Area. CASA will identify actions to fix plan targets moving off course, focusing on displacement risk, access to jobs, and the high costs of rent and mortgages facing low-to-middle-income households.
“The Bay Area is an amazing place to live,” said Leslye Corsiglia, co-chair of CASA and executive director of SV@Home, an advocacy group. “It has beauty and is one of the most successful places in the world for innovation and opportunity — yet we have failed in providing sufficient housing for people who live here,” she added.
Plan Bay Area grew out of California Senate Bill 375, the state’s 2008 climate change legislation requiring California’s 18 metropolitan areas to integrate land use and housing into regional transportation plans. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) lead efforts to update Plan Bay Area every four years. In a crucial step toward adopting the next update this summer, the agencies approved a “Final Preferred Scenario” last fall, establishing forecasts for transportation and housing needs through 2040 while addressing population growth and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Plan Bay Area scenario earmarks more than $300 billion in revenue to operate, maintain, and modernize the regional transportation system. It also meets intended environmental targets, including protecting open space and guiding expansion within existing urban growth boundaries. However, housing affordability is a sticking point.
“The math shows that, in terms of affordability, we are moving in the wrong direction,” said Ken Kirkey, MTC’s planning director. “Over the course of time, we will see those with incomes in the lower half of the spectrum spending two-thirds of their income on housing and transit,” he explained.
CASA’s formation is the result of a request from groups (such as the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, Greenbelt Alliance, and Public Advocates) that asked MTC and ABAG to delve deeper and create a strategy that resolves affordability issues.
“Our hope is that it will address a number of topics covered by [Plan Bay Area] like housing affordability and open space protection, while creating more transit choices for Bay Area residents,” said Matt Vander Sluis, head of Greenbelt Alliance’s Homes and Neighborhoods initiative.
Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, will serve as CASA’s co-chair with Corsiglia. Individual task force members have yet to be selected, but will likely represent a cross-section of advocacy groups and business interests, among others, Corsiglia said.
One of the biggest issues they will address is the tendency for low-income residents to be priced out of the market. Low-wage earners are expected to spend 67 percent of their income on housing and transportation costs by 2040, according to the Plan Bay Area scenario. That’s up from 54 percent in 2005.
In addition, CASA will consider population growth and other factors influencing the local economy and quality of life. The Plan Bay Area scenario estimates the number of households in the region will jump by 820,000, hitting 3.4 million in 2040, up from 2.6 million in 2010. Employment will grow by 1.3 million jobs, reaching a total of 4.7 million over the next 23 years. By comparison, the 2013 iteration of Plan Bay Area forecasted 660,000 new households and 1.1 million jobs by 2040.
Stated more bluntly, job creation is happening faster than housing supply can respond. Regionally, one house was built for every eight jobs created between 2011 and 2015, according to MTC. Certain areas along the Peninsula are experiencing even greater gaps, with one housing unit built for every 15 jobs.
Limited housing production is one of several factors contributing to displacement risk, which increases 9 percent under the Plan Bay Area scenario. Other drivers include wage polarization, as well as rising demand by high-earners for homes in gentrifying low-income neighborhoods close to transit and amenities, according to a 2015 ABAG white paper, Addressing Displacement in the Bay Area.
While displacement has occurred in San Francisco for some time, it’s now more common in places like Oakland and within Sonoma and Contra Costa counties, said Miriam Chion, director of planning and research at ABAG.
“The concern about displacement is substantial throughout the region,” she said.
To address this and other housing issues, Corsiglia said it is important to focus on factors such as density and location. Not only does the Bay Area need more investment in transit-oriented development, but planners should also maximize infill development opportunities within existing urban areas, a goal that fell short in a recent high-profile project. Corsiglia cited a Palo Alto development on Maybell Avenue as an example in which plans to build five dozen low-income senior housing units and 12 family homes were scrapped in favor of 16 large family homes. Local voters rejected the first proposal by defeating 2013’s Measure D.
“We got 16 units instead of 72,” Corsiglia said. “We have to be better about that,” she declared.
CASA’s efforts could inspire legislation, incentives, and funding solutions that reward smart growth to ensure the Bay Area becomes a more sustainable and affordable region.
“Local election results in the Bay Area show that residents want more affordable homes and protected natural and agricultural lands with a functional transit system,” Vander Sluis contended. “It’s time for our regional agencies to take the next step in providing the region what its voters want,” he added.
Cecily O’Connor covers transportation for the Monitor.