"We’re not starting from scratch," Moss said. "There have been some really important policy changes that have happened, and now we need to be looking at implementation."
In the last three years, California has more than doubled the amount of affordable housing it funds (PDF) — from just under 7,200 units in 2019 to around 24,600 in 2020, and 19,000 in 2021 — according to the California Housing Partnership. But, the partnership said the state is still woefully short of the nearly 120,000 annual affordable units it estimates the state would need to build to meet residents' needs.
As homelessness continues to grow and housing affordability worsens, residents in disparate communities used this year's local ballots to put forward additional solutions, said Sarah Karlinsky, senior adviser with SPUR, an urban planning nonprofit.
"There’s a lot of anxiety," she said. On one hand, homeowners are concerned about changes in their neighborhoods; on the other, tenants "are at the whims of the rental market and are experiencing a lot of destabilization," she said.
Here are the housing measures Bay Area voters considered:
Voters in San Francisco and Berkeley supported measures to tax property owners who keep their units empty for extended periods.
In San Francisco, more than 54% of voters approved the measure, compared to 63% in Berkeley.
The two measures are slightly different, but they spoke to the same frustration: Why should homes and apartments sit vacant as homelessness continues to grow and rents continue to soar?
Berkeley Vice Mayor Kate Harrison, who introduced the measure in her city, said she wasn’t surprised, because the measure is aimed at incentivizing landlords to free up more housing and address blighted properties.
"People in Berkeley are tired of seeing vacant properties while they see their own children not being able to afford to live here. And they see people lying on the street homeless," Harrison said. "And, they understand that high housing prices are creating real deprivation for tenants."
That same message resonated with voters in Oakland in 2018, when 70% of voters approved a vacancy tax. That wasn't the case, however, with a third measure on this year's ballot in the Bay Area adjacent city of Santa Cruz, where more than 56% percent of voters rejected a measure to tax empty homes.
David Garcia, policy director for UC Berkeley’s Terner Center, said that might be due to the nature of Santa Cruz as a vacation destination.
"You may have a lot of people who have second homes or are Airbnb hosts and things like that, who view this as maybe restricting what they could do with their property," he said.
Either way, he said the results for this year's empty home taxes could encourage other cities across the state to try for similar measures.
"It'll be interesting to see how the passage or failure of these vacancy measures will impact housing situations in these three cities and the likelihood that we may see other similar measures in other cities in the future," he said.
Voters in Oakland and Richmond gave tenants a boost with support for measures that strengthen renter protections.
In Richmond, voters appeared to approve a measure that further limits how much landlords can raise rents each year. The measure passed with nearly 59% of voters in favor.
Aime Ajche, a renter in Richmond, said she was grateful the measure passed, even if it came too late to forestall the rent increase she received in August. The single mom of a 2-year-old son has already given her landlord notice she would be moving out.
“If the rent hadn’t gotten so bad, I would have thought to stay here longer," she said, adding that she'll be moving into a studio apartment with her son. "[It's a] few hundred dollars less and something that I know I can afford.”
In Oakland, voters were asked whether to approve stricter rules dictating when landlords can evict tenants. The measure passed with nearly 67% of the vote in support.
Isaiah Toney, deputy director of campaigns for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said the results show voters recognize cities need more tools to keep renters stably housed.
"It's definitely not a 'fix everything' kind of measure," he said. "Our hope is that there will be fewer evictions and that folks are able to stay put and anchor themselves in their neighborhoods."
The measures come as statewide and federal eviction protections have lapsed and evictions in the Bay Area are increasing. Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director for advocacy organization the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said there's still a lot more work to be done statewide.
"We have cities that have no protections, like Fresno," she said. "We’ve got unincorporated areas that house the most vulnerable parts of our community that have no protections."
Producing more housing
Voters returned mixed results for how they think their cities should approve new housing.
In Menlo Park, a ballot measure to require a citywide vote for any changes to what can built in single-family neighborhoods failed by a more than 22-point margin.
Pam Jones, a Menlo Park homeowner opposed to the measure, said it would have only exacerbated racial inequities in the city by redirecting any new development into areas that already allow denser housing, which tend to be communities of color.
"I'm more relieved than excited," she said, "relieved because this is the Menlo Park that I know we really are."
In Brentwood, a ballot measure requiring residents to vote on changes to what can be built at parks and on golf courses did pass. Voters approved of the measure with more than 64% in support.
Both measures were reactions to proposed housing projects. In Menlo Park, residents put Measure V on the ballot after failing to reach consensus on the scale of a 90-unit affordable apartment complex that would give priority to teachers and staff of a neighboring school district. In Brentwood, Measure Q (PDF) came after a developer introduced a plan to convert a golf course into housing for seniors.
As the state requires cities to build more housing, these types of reactionary ballot measures to limit growth may become increasingly common, Garcia said.
"Maybe you’ll see more in the future," he said, "as it really kind of sinks in to some communities that there is a significant change in the way projects are zoned and approved because of changes in state law."
In San Francisco, voters considered two competing ballot measures — D and E — that both sought to streamline approvals of certain types of affordable housing construction. San Francisco is the slowest city in California when it comes to issuing permits for new housing — a fact that’s prompted state officials to launch an investigation into the city’s approval process.
Proposition D, supported by SPUR and Mayor London Breed, appeared headed toward defeat with 51% of votes opposed. Proposition E, which was supported by a coalition of county supervisors, also failed, with 54% opposed.
Fishman said the similarities between the two measures likely confused voters.
"When we confuse voters, when there isn't a community consensus about what to put on the ballot, and then you have two competing measures, voters don't like that," she said. "In some ways they're saying, 'Go back and do your job, legislators, and come up with some consensus solutions."
Approving affordable housing
Three Bay Area cities — Oakland (PDF), Berkeley (PDF) and South San Francisco (PDF) — all got the green light from voters to build affordable housing.
The measures were necessary because of a rule added to the state constitution in 1950, called Article 34. Rooted in racist fears, it requires residents to vote to approve the development of any "low-rent" housing in their communities, an obstacle that has hindered lower-income housing construction for decades, said Oakland City Councilmember Carroll Fife. She introduced the measure in Oakland this year.