12 Dec 18
Santa Cruz Sentinel
SAN FRANCISCO — In a bold new plan to tackle the Bay Area’s housing crisis, regional leaders are calling for a cap on rents, protection against arbitrary evictions and new employer and property taxes to generate $1.5 billion annually to help create new housing, preserve existing housing and pay for other measures.
The proposal is the outcome of around 18 months of work from some of the region’s heavyweights when it comes to planning for, approving and building housing: the mayors of the Bay Area’s three largest cities, tech giants, transit agencies and advocates, environmentalists, champions of affordable housing, tenants’ rights organizations, labor groups and developers alike.
In short, a lot of people who all agree the region needs more housing but often argue about the best ways to get there, said Leslye Corsiglia, the executive director of Silicon Valley at Home, an affordable housing advocacy organization, and co-chair of the working group, called CASA, or the Committee to House the Bay Area. Convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the region’s transportation planning agency CASA formed to address the housing crisis in a holistic way, Corsiglia said.
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“For all these years, we’ve been handling the housing crisis city by city and also in lots of different silos and not seeing eye-to-eye on the solutions,” she said. “We can see where it’s gotten us.”
Where it’s gotten us is astronomical home prices and precious hours spent on ever-lengthening commutes, said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the MTC. Nearly 190,000 workers from outside the nine-county Bay Area commute into Silicon Valley and the Tri-Valley every day, and more than 220,000 East Bay residents cross toll bridges to get to the Peninsula, according to the MTC. And there’s increasing recognition, he said, that the twin demons of worsening traffic and ballooning housing costs plaguing the Bay Area are intrinsically linked.
“That made this something we couldn’t ignore,” he said.
That led to a 10-point, 15-year “emergency policy package” approved by the CASA committee Wednesday. But it’s really just the first step. From there, the committee will take its ideas to legislators in the hopes of turning them into law, meaning it could be a full year on the most optimistic time schedule before the first polices are enacted.
The good news is the CASA committee represents a broad spectrum of interests, said Michael Covarrubias of TMG, a development corporation. Developers sat down with anti-gentrification activists. Affordable housing advocates heard from tech companies. Labor unions met with city officials.
Some members of the committee said there weren’t enough protections for tenants or that those protections should come before increasing housing production. Others said there wasn’t enough money to preserve existing housing. Still others, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, said there wasn’t enough emphasis on producing housing at all income levels. Despite that, they still managed to produce a suite of solutions they all could agree on — even if only reluctantly — an outcome that was baked into the process, said Fred Blackwell, the CEO of the philanthropic San Francisco Foundation.
“We are searching for the uncommon common ground,” because, he said, “The status quo is quite unacceptable.”
But that doesn’t mean the plan, which emphasizes the preservation of existing housing, the production of new housing and the protection of tenants vulnerable to displacement, was not without its critics.
Other elected officials who were not on the committee are already rallying against it. The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved a letter rejecting the compact, said Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng. She, along with another member of the council, blasted the committee for its “closed door” meetings, lack of attention to transportation infrastructure and its top-down attack on local control.
“This compact as written is not feasible or respectful to local jurisdictions,” Eng said. “It will have the opposite of the desired effect and make housing more expensive by effectively up-zoning significant areas.”
Those sentiments were shared by Novato City Councilmember Pat Eklund, who vowed to fight the plan in the legislature, where it will likely manifest as a series of state bills.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”]Some of those bills will only impact the Bay Area, and some will cover the entire state, but Corsiglia said the idea is that all of these policies will eventually be implemented together. That includes region-wide just cause for eviction protections, a cap on rents, emergency rental and legal assistance for people facing evictions, the loosening of local control on building heights near transit, reforming the permitting process for new residential buildings, the creation of a regional housing authority with the power to purchase and lease land and, of course, some $1.5 billion annually in new taxes on employers and the public to help pay for it all.
Some bills have already been proposed this year that incorporate the recommendations from the CASA committee, including a proposal from state Sen. Scott Wiener to add more housing near transit. SB 18, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would expand rental and legal assistance to help residents fight evictions and stay in their homes. And AB 11, from Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would allow cities and counties to create agencies similar to the former redevelopment agencies that were dissolved during the Great Recession.
“I look forward to supporting this,” Chiu said. “We’ll soon be having a deeper conversation about how to move forward this vision of a regional strategy.”
A ten-point plan for housing the Bay Area:
Just cause for eviction: After a tenant has lived in a building for at least 12 months, they would no longer be vulnerable to arbitrary evictions. They could still get evicted if they fail to pay the rent, violate the rental agreement, create a nuisance or engage in illegal activity, if the owner is moving in or removing the building from the rental market, the building is unsafe or for demolition.
Emergency rent cap: Rent increases would be capped region-wide at the consumer price index plus 5 percent, per year. There are some exceptions for passing along the capital cost of repairs to renters or if the landlord had not raised the rent in prior years.
Emergency rent and legal assistance: Any tenant facing eviction could have access to a lawyer, unless the landlord or master tenant bringing the eviction action is living in the same unit as the tenant being evicted. And, low-income tenants facing eviction could receive emergency rent assistance, with the total amount of assistance capped at between $5,000 to $10,000.
More tiny homes: Technically, they’re called “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs, but the idea is to make it easier for people to build homes of fewer than 500 square feet on their properties.
Taller buildings near transit: This proposal is similar to a law state Sen. Scott Wiener introduced last year and revived this year. The newest iteration would require cities to approve buildings up to three stories high along high-frequency bus corridors and up to around six stories high near BART, Caltrain or other fixed rail stations.
A better permitting process: Establishes standards for permitting residential projects that already conform to the city or county’s underlying development standards, or zoning codes. It also requires more transparency and consistencies about how fees are set and enforced.
Fast-track certain projects: Streamlining, streamlining, streamlining. This would create a faster way for projects to get reviewed, as long as they meet a set of criteria, including already complying to underlying zoning, exist in an already-urban area, and setting aside a portion of the units to be affordable to middle-class residents, generally defined as making between 80-110 percent of the area’s median income. In exchange, the qualifying projects would be eligible for reduced taxes, reduced parking requirements and a density bonus.
Unlock public lands: Make it easier for public agencies to develop their land for affordable housing. Create a database listing all publicly owned land in the Bay Area, limit approval process to no more than two years, and deploy 10 percent of available public land to affordable housing on an annual basis.
New taxes to generate $1.5 billion annually: Generate new revenue from a broad range of sources, including employer taxes, property taxes, vacant parcel or home taxes, general obligation bonds, sales taxes and more.
New, regional housing authority: One regional entity that could purchase, lease and sell land, monitor and report progress toward the region’s housing goals, provide incentives and offer technical assistance. This entity would not regulate or enforce housing policies, but it would be able to dole out regional money for housing.