From The San Francisco Chronicle
Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu stepped into a political typhoon Thursday, when he introduced a state bill to create a Bay Area housing authority that would put tax measures on the ballot.
To Chiu and other housing advocates, this is the first step toward filling the state’s 3.5 million-home deficit, and developing communities in which families can afford to live near jobs, schools and hospitals.
“Right now, people have to drive farther to work, they can’t get their kids into good schools and they live far away from services,” said Matthew Lewis, spokesman for the pro-housing advocacy group California YIMBY. “We know, by every metric, that’s what is freaking Californians out.”
Chiu’s bill, AB1487, would create a new regional agency to raise funds for affordable housing construction — through, say, the sale of bonds accompanied by a tax increase, though those details still have to be worked out. If voters approve the funding mechanisms, they could generate $1.5 billion a year to be disbursed among the nine Bay Area counties. Communities would receive a portion of the money and still make their own land-use decisions.
But the notion of a new agency and more taxes infuriates some city leaders who say the government is running roughshod over local control.
Here’s a closer look:
The problem: Since the recession ended in 2009, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but built only 106,000 homes, an imbalance that’s had severe consequences. It’s raised the price of real estate, pushing people farther and farther away from the urban core, in search of cheaper housing. As a result, workers spend two or three hours a day commuting. More people are moving into rural areas and wildfire zones.
The crisis has deepened for decades. Though the state sets regional housing goals, it never penalizes cities that fail to meet them. For the most part, communities are left on their own.
Building housing is complicated, and cities have many tools to make it happen or not. Residents often object to new development, saying it mars the look and feel of their communities. Politicians resent the state intervening to tell them what to build and where to put it. Affordable housing is costly to build without subsidies, and developers won’t commit to projects that won’t make a profit.
The region is tightly interconnected, Chiu said, so a city council obstructing development in the South Bay puts pressure on Oakland and San Francisco. And, ultimately, the effects ripple, creating a severe economic split between homeowners and renters, and older and younger generations.
Most local leaders recognize this crisis. But many don’t want to cede their decision-making power to the state — or to a new regional body that represents another layer of government.
The proposed solution: Chiu’s idea for a regional agency called Housing Alliance for the Bay Area derives from a controversial 10-point plan that originated two years ago, when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments convened a panel of mayors, tech executives, tenant advocates and developers to tackle the crisis together.
Called Committee to House the Bay Area but nicknamed CASA, the panel put together an ambitious blueprint that calls for production of 35,000 homes a year, including 14,000 that are affordable to low-income families, and 7,000 that are affordable to moderate-income families.
The panel also called for preservation of 30,000 units of existing affordable housing, and protections for 300,000 households that are on the verge of getting displaced.
The document was intended as political ammunition for legislators, and several have picked up parts of it already — more than 200 housing bills were introduced this session.
Chiu’s AB1487 would create an agency to fund and shepherd the policies. It would introduce regional parcel or sales tax measures, spending the money on affordable housing production, rental assistance for tenants, and other forms of aid. It would help cities acquire land to build affordable housing and deliver reports on the region’s housing progress.
CASA estimates that the Bay Area needs to fill a $2.5 billion funding gap to meet its affordable housing goals. If it passes, AB1487 would provide more than half that money, and Chiu hopes that other state and local measures would provide the rest.
How it would work: Housing Alliance for the Bay Area would include members of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, members of the Association of Bay Area Governments and appointees of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has elevated housing as a top policy priority.
If voters approve the agency’s future funding measures, then 75 percent of the tax money generated by a county would stay within that county.
While the agency aims to build thousands of affordable units each year, it wouldn’t strip land-use authority from cities or counties, and it wouldn’t have the power of eminent domain to seize private property.
Why some cities object: Despite widespread concern about the housing shortage, some city leaders oppose a new layer of government bureaucracy making decisions on how tax money is spent. Many also felt alienated by the CASA process, saying it favored three big cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
“Moving forward with legislators, I’d love to ensure that other voices are heard besides the big three,” said Los Gatos City Councilwoman Marico Sayoc. She hasn’t taken a position on Chiu’s bill yet, but she already has some questions. Namely, how will the money be distributed? And if most of it comes back to the county, then why does it have to be diverted to an agency in the first place?
How it could get complicated: It’s still unclear what will happen if cities refuse to build. Right now there is no real mechanism for the state to override local land-use authority. When Newsom proposed withholding transportation dollars from cities that don’t meet their housing targets, he ignited a political flame war.
Chiu hopes that other zoning bills will address these questions, or that the governor will come up with a way to coerce housing production. He said he wants the Housing Alliance to provide desperately needed funding, but not serve as an enforcement arm.
“We want HABA to be a carrot, not a stick,” he said.