A Crisis Means Opportunity
Last month, the Mercury News published stories about a burned out house in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood that sold for more than $900,000 and a condemned house in Fremont that fetched $1.2 million. These stories are vivid reminders of the Bay Area’s housing crisis and exemplify the dilemma faced by our residents, where even families earning six figures have trouble finding a decent place to live.
A new study by the California Housing Partnership found that Bay Area residents need to earn more than four times the minimum wage or about $60 an hour to afford Bay Area rents. And even that might not be enough. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development classified a family of four earning $105,000 as low income.
But in every crisis there is opportunity, and right now we have two options: (1) allow the housing crisis to fester, turning the Bay Area into a gated community, where only the wealthy can live, or (2) start laying the foundation for economically diverse communities through the development of affordable housing, so that all people have a chance for success.
Option one seems oddly un-American. Option two is closer to what the promise of America represents. So how do we get there?
First, we need a more regional approach to the housing crisis. Luckily, there is no shortage of ideas, and some are already hard at work on the problem. CASA—the Committee to House the Bay Area—is working on regional solutions that would increase residential production, preserve existing housing, and protect current residents facing displacement. CASA will complete its work later this year. Check it out: https://mtc.ca.gov/our-work/plans-projects/casa-committee-house-bay-area
We need our local communities to step up with solutions. Many are. San Jose has a plan to add 25,000 new homes, including 10,000 that are affordable, in the next five years. Mountain View just approved the North Bayshore Precise Plan, which includes 9,850 new homes. Palo Alto just approved a progressive Housing Work Plan to significantly increase housing production, and, of course, there is the County’s Measure A, which voters approved last year to create more than 5,000 new homes, a significant percentage for homeless families and individuals.
We need help from the state. Our Bay Area Legislative Caucus was instrumental in passing an historic 15-bill housing package last year, which included Senator Bob Wieckowski’s bill to increase accessory dwelling units (granny flats) and Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 35, which is streamlining housing development in cities like Cupertino in exchange for making 50% of the units affordable. But more tools and more money must be forthcoming.
We need the assistance of the private sector. New start-up companies like RAD Urban and Factory OS in Vallejo are using modular construction techniques to reduce the cost of building safe, attractive homes for people of all income levels.
And we need you. We now have an emerging consensus that the housing crisis is bad for the Bay Area and California, and we need to offer ways for residents to do something about it. This week’s Affordable Housing Week provides that opportunity. The week is designed to educate, inspire, and engage the public about the housing crisis and what we can do about it with 27 different activities. Check it out: bit.ly/svhousingweek2018
To create opportunity from crisis, we must act locally, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, person to person.
Leslye Corsiglia is executive director of Silicon Valley at Home.