Despite Opposition, Bay Area Officials Endorse Ambitious Affordable Housing Plan

Oakland, and the Bay Area in general, is one of the areas hit hardest by California's housing shortage. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A panel of Bay Area elected officials endorsed an ambitious housing plan early Friday morning that advances a broad set of proposals to address the region’s affordability crisis.

After nearly three hours of heated public comment, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) executive board voted 21-9 in favor of the Committee to House the Bay Area Compact, referred to as CASA.

The 10-point plan recommends a broad mix of strategies, from regional rent caps to denser development near transit centers.

Friday’s vote was nonbinding: Most of the ideas need approval from the state Legislature before any actual changes take place. Some of them, including a mandate for denser housing around transit and emergency aid for tenants, have already been introduced as bills in Sacramento.

But the vote to direct ABAG president David Rabbitt to sign the compact was nonetheless controversial. Dozens of elected officials and members of the public packed into the meeting to criticize it as government overreach and a misguided effort to force suburbs to become more dense.

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"That the CASA committee could come up with a product that 97 percent of Bay Area cities think is a terrible idea proves that a public agency is capable of building consensus," said Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf, who opposes the plan. "Unfortunately it's not the kind of consensus we really want."

The divide also foreshadows the balancing act state lawmakers now have to perform, as they consider turning these proposals into enforceable policies.

Leslye Corsiglia, a Silicon Valley affordable housing advocate who co-chaired the committee that created the CASA plan, noted that while far from perfect, it represents a set of compromises that will hopefully address the Bay Area's growing housing crisis.

"I know that for everyone involved, there are things that everyone likes, and things that they hold their nose at," she said.

Since the Great Recession ended in 2010, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but constructed only 106,000 housing units, the compact notes, an imbalance that's led to widespread displacement and crippling congestion, as more residents are forced to move farther away from their jobs. The 15-year plan calls for producing 35,000 housing units a year in the Bay Area, with about 14,000 of them affordable to lower-income households. It also recommends preserving 30,000 affordable units, and protecting 300,000 lower-income households from displacement.

Corsiglia group's, the Committee to House the Bay Area, includes elected officials, developers and tenant advocates charged with creating a "15-year emergency policy package to confront the region's housing crisis head-on."

Central to the plan, which took upward of 18 months to draft, is the recommendation to create a regional housing entity with the authority to levy taxes and issue bonds to fund the construction of new affordable housing units, as well as administer the financial aid outlined in the compact.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission director Steve Heminger, who also signed the compact after his board overwhelmingly approved it in December, said he hoped the new agency would be created in time to place a revenue-generating measure on the 2020 ballot.

"We need a significant amount of new authority and new revenue to deliver on a solution to the housing crisis," Heminger said. "And for that you gotta go to Sacramento."

The compact endorses state action to create minimum density requirements near transit, (similar to Senate Bill 50, recently proposed by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco) and increase the number of projects eligible for expedited review.

It also proposes a regionwide cap on rent increases, and recommends creating a supply of emergency cash and legal assistance to tenants facing eviction.

An amendment added by Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez asks state lawmakers to go further in protecting tenants -- including a request that the just-cause eviction provisions in the plan take effect immediately, rather than after a one-year waiting period.

The plan's backers hope the 10 proposals will be pursued concurrently in the state Legislature, although there's little guarantee that will happen.

Heminger argued that grouping the individual proposals together gives them a better chance of becoming law.

"The waters are pretty stormy in Sacramento when it comes to this subject," he said. "I think it’s probably better in a storm to be in a boat and not in the open water."

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