Author: Richard Davis

Housing solutions fizzle in legislature

By Ethan Elkind, September 3, 2020

“Housing policy is at the center of all of our major societal problems in the United States.

“Expect worsening racial injustice and segregation, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic inequality until the state can meaningfully address” housing production.

“Why can’t we address the high cost of housing, particularly near transit and jobs? There are two culprits: high-income homeowners who support exclusionary local land use policies that restrict housing supply, which prevents others from moving into their communities and deprives them of the educational and economic opportunities that come with living in these areas. Second, the state and federal government are unwilling to provide sufficient public subsidies for affordable housing (though the scale of the need at this point is simply massive, especially given the country’s inability to build housing at a reasonable price).”

A dozen “housing bills from the original legislative ‘housing package’ in January did not survive.” The few that passed include:

AB 725 (Wicks): requires that no more than 75 percent of a city’s regionally assigned above-moderate income housing quota can be accommodated by zoning exclusively for single-family homes, with the remainder on sites with at least 4 units.

AB 1851 (Wicks): requires local governments to approve a faith-based organization’s request to build affordable housing on their lots and allows faith-based organizations to reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

AB 2345 (Gonzalez): increases the density bonus and the number of incentives available for a qualifying housing project.

SB 288 (Wiener): temporarily exempts from CEQA review infill projects like bike lanes, transit, bus-only lanes, EV charging, and local actions to reduce parking minimums, among others, until 2023.”

Read the full article here. (~3 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

NACTO: Despite pandemic, micromobility is here to stay

By Chris Teale, SmartCities Dive, September 2, 2020

“Shared bikes and e-scooters saw 136 million trips in 2019, up 60% from 2018, according to new figures released by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

“Despite drops in ridership, NACTO noted that micromobility served a valuable purpose as cities looked to respond to the pandemic, as most operators made services free for essential workers. Micromobility also played a role as a tool of ‘civic engagement and social change’ during the nationwide protests for racial justice, illustrating the versatility of micromobility use.

“Compared to what we saw in 2019 and earlier, rides are now more spread out, with different commute patterns, more errands by bike, as well as increased recreational/social riding,” NACTO wrote, suggesting the figures show that the transportation modes are set to grow in popularity.”

Read the full article here. (~1 ½ minutes)

Return to the October issue here.

San Jose passes new fees for funding affordable housing

By Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, September 2, 2020

“After years of controversy and debate, San Jose is finally imposing new development fees that many residents believe are long overdue and could help remedy the housing crisis that large businesses and developers, in part, created.

“The council decided in a split 7-4 vote to begin charging commercial developers with linkage fees to fund affordable housing projects.” The four dissenting councilmembers, “sided with dozens of residents and housing advocacy groups that argued the fees were not high enough to make a significant impact.”

“The funds generated by the fee, which the city estimates will bring in roughly $14 million over the next three years, will be used to build and fund affordable housing projects — a category that the city is severely lacking.

“The new commercial development fees will become the second recently added affordable housing funding stream for the city. In November, voters passed Measure E — a tax on the sale of San Jose properties worth $2 million or more — that city leaders have vowed to put toward building affordable housing and addressing the city’s homeless crisis. City officials estimate the new tax would generate at least $22 million during a recession year.”

Read the full article here. (2 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

Lafayette’s controversial ‘Terraces’ apartments approved

By Sam Richards, Bay City News Foundation, August 25, 2020

“After 9 1/2 years of plans and revisions, dozens of contentious public meetings, a ballot measure and threats of lawsuits, the controversial 315-unit Terraces of Lafayette apartment project was approved early Tuesday morning by the Lafayette City Council.

The city council approved the project 4 to 1. Vice Mayor Susan Candell dissented due to concerns over the fire evacuation plan, while other council members said they trusted assurances by the Lafayette police and fire departments.

“Council members also were concerned about the city being sued for violating the terms of SB 330, the state Housing Accountability Act, by delaying an approval to yet another hearing.

“ ‘There certainly are legitimate reasons for the city to be asking for additional information, but (developer O’Brien Land Co.) could raise due-process concerns if things were extended,’ said Rob Hodil, an outside attorney hired by the city for this project.”

“The 315-unit Terraces of Lafayette project has been a sort of microcosm of the regional debate about how housing is planned and developed. Project supporters, many from far beyond Lafayette, say this dense residential development, about a mile and a half from the Lafayette BART station, represents the sort of transit-friendly housing called for in regional planning efforts including Plan Bay Area 2050.

“Opponents, including the local ‘Save Lafayette’ preservation group, said the large development is inconsistent with the city’s semi-rural character. Other critics contended the development would foul traffic near key commute routes, would be in an area vulnerable to vegetation fires, and would violate the city’s general plan.”

Read the full article here. (~ 4 min.)

Return to the October issue here.

Decades of racist housing policy left neighborhoods sweltering

By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, The New York Times, August 24, 2020

“In cities like Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Portland and New York, neighborhoods that are poorer and have more residents of color can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city. 

“And there’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment.

“ ‘It’s uncanny how often we see this pattern,’ said Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University and a co-author of [a recent study (open access) linking formerly redlined neighborhoods with hotter summer temperatures]. ‘It tells us we really need to better understand what was going on in the past to create these land-use patterns.’

“Heat is the nation’s deadliest weather disaster, killing as many as 12,000 people a year. Now, as global warming brings ever more intense heat waves, cities like Richmond, Virginia are drawing up plans to adapt — and confronting a historical legacy that has left communities of color far more vulnerable to heat.

However, city-led climate adaptation plans can be politically charged. “Some researchers have warned that building new parks and planting trees in lower-income neighborhoods of color can often accelerate gentrification, displacing longtime residents. In Richmond, city officials say they are looking to address this by building additional affordable housing alongside new green space.”

Read the full article here. (~14 min.)

Return to the October issue here.

SF sees historic shift in housing inventory

By Andrew Chamings, SFGate, August 15, 2020

“Online real estate company Zillow released new statistics shining a stark light on the issue this week. Their ‘2020 Urban-Sub­urban Market Report’ reveals that inventory has risen a whopping 96% year-on-year, as empty homes in the city flood the market like nowhere else in America.

“The astronomical cost of owning a home in the San Francisco city limits — which has been sky high for over a decade now, since the second tech boom — had to break at some point, and the coronavirus seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“ ‘When comparing the principal city to its surrounding suburbs, the San Francisco metro area does break the mold…Whereas in similar cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., declining or flat inventory is a consistent trend within and outside the city limits,’ the report states.”

Read the full article here.

Return to the September issue here.

SF finally approves 1,100 homes at Balboa Reservoir

By Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 2020

“San Francisco’s west side will get its biggest influx of housing in decades, after the Board of Supervisors approved more than 1,000 new units on the 17-acre Balboa Reservoir site August 11.

“Developers Bridge Housing, AvalonBay, and Mission Housing will build 1,100 units of housing, 550 of them affordable, on the property, now used for City College parking.

“Of the 550 affordable units, 150 are for City College teachers and staff. The project includes a community center, 4 acres of open space, a child care center for 100, and $10 million for transit and infrastructure improvements.”

Read the full article here.

Northern News covered this development in May 2020.

Return to the September issue here.

New research: Advancing environmental justice while rebuilding existing locally unwanted land uses

By Miriam Solis, Planetizen, August 11, 2020

Unlike most studies that focus on conflict around siting locally unwanted land uses, Prof. Solis examines the redevelopment of existing locally unwanted land uses (ELULU). She considers the case study of San Francisco’s Southeast Treatment Plant, located in Bayview-Hunters Point, a historically Black neighborhood. She considers the “at once fickle and stubborn” consequences of urban infrastructure rebuilding, and how the process might advance certain environmental justice outcomes.

Prof. Solis provides two approaches for planners to strengthen their environmental justice efforts: “First, they ought to consider ELULU relocation and decentralization options, resisting the tendency to presume that a facility must be redeveloped. Second, planners need to couple redevelopment, relocation, or decentralization with anti-displacement efforts.”

Read the full article summarizing the research here.

Access Prof. Solis’s article in Journal of Planning Education and Research here (paywall)

Return to the September issue here.

Portland passes the ‘most pro-housing reform’ to low-density zones in US history

By Michael Andersen, Sightline Institute, August 11, 2020

“Portland’s city council set a new bar for North American housing reform [on August 12th] by legalizing up to four homes on almost any residential lot.

“Portland’s new rules will also offer a ‘deeper affordability’ option: four to six homes on any lot if at least half are available to low-income Portlanders at regulated, affordable prices. The measure will make it viable for nonprofits to intersperse below-market housing anywhere in the city for the first time in a century.

“And among other things it will remove all parking mandates from three quarters of the city’s residential land, combining with a recent reform of apartment zones to essentially make home driveways optional citywide for the first time since 1973.

“It’s the most pro-housing reform to low-density zones in US history.

“The ‘Residential Infill Project,’ as it’s known, melds ideas pioneered recently by Minneapolis and Austin and goes well beyond the requirements of a state law Oregon passed last year.

“A rendering, by Alfred Twu, of the housing options Portland’s residential infill project would legalize.”

“Policies like this serve as a sort of force multiplier for nonprofits that are, like Habitat for Humanity, already developing modest homes at below-market prices.

“Just as importantly, it makes it feasible for builders like Habitat to gradually scatter such projects through all Portland neighborhoods. It lifts a de-facto ban on new affordable housing from much of the city.

“In the last two years, the Democratic Party has rapidly come around to the position that a diversity of housing types and prices in every neighborhood is good. Its presidential candidate’s platform reflects this: Joe Biden says the federal government should withhold various grants from cities that don’t take steps toward the standard Portland is about to set.”

Read the full article here.

In Bloomberg CityLab, Laura Bliss reported:

“Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler praised the new upzoning law as a response to the city’s disparities, past and present, if not necessarily a complete one. City analyses have found that a few of Portland’s low-income neighborhoods could face slightly greater housing pressure under the new plan. That was one reason that outgoing commissioner Amanda Fritz said that she opposed it at Wednesday’s hearing, calling hers, ‘the saddest vote I have ever cast on this council.’ ”

Read Laura Bliss’s coverage of Portland’s housing reform here.

Return to the September issue here.

Report: Single-family zoning dominates Bay Area housing, presenting barrier to integration

By Marc Abizeid, UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, August 11, 2020

“The report, the fifth and final installment of UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute’s “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area” series, reveals the correlations between neighborhoods with restrictive, single-family zoning, non-single-family zoning, and their levels of segregation.

“In a first-ever for the Bay Area, the researchers mapped every jurisdiction in the region to show their proportion of single-family zoned housing. The illuminating set of maps of 66 cities across six Bay Area counties shows the regions and proportions of the cities that are zoned for single-family homes, other residential zoning, and non-residential zones.

“Because single-family zoning is a barrier to lower-income people of color, the report advocates for the loosening of restrictions on multi-unit housing as a first step in a set of remedies to the Bay Area’s widespread problem of segregation.

“Additionally, the report recommends a set of policies which data shows can promote or preserve integration when properly implemented.

“The report’s analysis of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) shows that jurisdictions where RHNA is not enforced are whiter and more likely to have a higher proportion of single-family homes than the jurisdictions where the program is implemented.

“Alarmingly, it shows that overall, segregation will continue to rise in the region, as has been the case in most counties over the past several decades.

“Using those predictions, the report suggests goals to reverse this trend.”

Click here to the full report “Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 5: Remedies, Solutions, and Targets.”

Find links to the other reports in this series, as well as an interactive map of housing segregation in the nine Bay Area counties, here.

Read the full press release here.

Return to the September issue here.