Bay Area housing crisis: Advocates call for action and creative solutions

SAN FRANCISCO — A forum Thursday on the Bay Area’s egregious housing situation — the high prices, the scarcity of new construction — brought together academics, developers, real estate agents, government officials and housing advocates, all in the name of seeking creative solutions to the crisis.

It was both a cry for help and a call to action.

“They have their crazies. We need our crazies,” said panelist Laura Foote Clarke, executive director of YIMBY Action, which advocates for housing growth. Yes, that’s YIMBY, as in “Yes In My Backyard,” and the “they” she referred to was the other side — the many and often well-organized “Not In My Backyard” NIMBY opponents of housing development and densification in neighborhoods around the region.

Held at LinkedIn San Francisco in front of an engaged audience of about 175 people, the forum was titled “California Housing Crisis: Examining the Impact on the Bay Area.” It was sponsored by the Center for California Real Estate, a spinoff institute of the California Association of Realtors, and the Bay Area Council. And while it brought many voices to the table, the NIMBYs were missing in action. Perhaps they weren’t invited.

Much of what was said has been said before.

The fact that service workers and the middle class are being displaced from the region and that a minimum household income of $179,000 is now required to qualify for a median-priced Bay Area home. The fact that hiring has slowed because so many potential employees can’t afford to move to such an expensive region — Katie Ferrick, director of community affairs for LinkedIn, cited “a 17 percent decrease in the speed, the velocity of hiring, by Bay Area employers.”

There is also the fact that between 180,000 and 200,000 new housing units would need to be built each year in order for the state to keep up with its growing population — “and we’re not coming anywhere close,” said Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, as well as a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

There is “a structural disconnect” between Sacramento policymaking and local policymaking on the matter of housing, said Jonathan Scharfman, general manager of Universal Paragon Corp., which has been trying for 12 years to build on the 684-acre Baylands site in Brisbane. That’s how long planners of the controversial project have been seeking approvals — a showdown between regional and local interests over what would be a major new mixed-use housing development near transit.

“When you have 150 municipalities throughout the Bay Area, it’s difficult to have a unified voice,” said Scharfman. He condemned “the stonewall of local control” that he said creates a maze of regulatory hurdles and costly impact fees for developers.

Scharfman said that at some point a reckoning must come — and that an overhaul of Prop. 13 “is long overdue” in order to uncork property tax revenues and help fund local efforts to build affordable housing and improve schools.

The chances of that happening?

“Slim to none,” said Liam Dillon, a reporter who covers housing for the Los Angeles Times and spoke later on a different panel.

He did, however, say that state lawmakers — who have introduced scores of bills to address the housing crisis this session — seem to be getting behind several key bills. One would streamline regulatory processes for new development, another would create a multi-billion-dollar housing bond measure and yet another would institute a permanent funding source for new affordable housing by introducing a $75 fee on many real estate transactions.

There is “a lot of momentum to get them passed” in the coming weeks, he said.

Matt Regan, senior vice president of public policy and government relations for the Bay Area Council and one of the moderators, ended the forum by telling the audience to get behind the momentum.

“Laura Clark is organizing the YIMBYs,” he said. “You guys need to be organizing at the local level.”

Article source: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/24/bay-area-housing-crisis-advocates-call-for-action-and-creative-solutions/

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