Soaring property values have dramatically transformed our district from the way it was just a generation ago. Many parents are faced with the stark reality that if their grown children want to get their own place, they must move out of the Bay Area entirely. Seniors on fixed incomes are feeling pinched.
The statistics reflect what we all feel. A decade ago, about 45% of Bay Area families could fit a home purchase into their budget. Now, just 22% can afford it. To put that into perspective, roughly half of U.S. households have enough income to buy a home. In the 1960s, Bay Area homes cost twice a typical family income. Now, it's nine times.
There is no magic bullet, but there are steps that can make staying here easier for working families:
Crack down on greedy companies that snap up residential homes and then rent them. I will introduce legislation that imposes restrictions on deep-pocketed companies such as Blackstone that outbid working families for hundreds of residential homes with all-cash payments and then rent them out at a fat profit, depriving hardworking Bay Area families of the dream of homeownership.
More ADUs. Alameda County recently launched a pilot program to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family properties. This is a step in the right direction. I will support legislation to incentivize the installation of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to increase the available supply of housing. I will also reduce unnecessary regulations on their construction and constitution.
Incentivize developers to build more affordable housing. Most cities in our district impose in lieu fees on developers who don't include enough affordable housing units in their building projects. The fees are deposited into a dedicated account that can only be tapped for affordable housing projects. Fremont recently boosted its in lieu fee, strengthening the incentive for developers to build more affordable housing from the get-go. I will work with other municipalities in the district to take a closer look at their in lieu fees so incentives are aligned toward the construction of more affordable housing units.
More community bridge housing (tiny homes). These structures can be constructed cheaply and speedily as transitional housing for individuals who need a roof over their head. They are not meant to be a permanent solution, but they are a sturdy bridge from homelessness to housed.
Remove artificial barriers to housing construction. I will enable local elected officials to judiciously cut through the thicket of government regulations that unnecessarily restrict the speedy construction of new housing. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was intended to balance the societal benefit of construction projects with their environmental impact. However, it has been commandeered by special interest groups to artificially restrict the supply of housing. My plan will provide wavers for CEQA approval to expedite shovels in the ground.
Zoning flexibility. This does not mean single-family housing should be eliminated. Rather, there should be a wider distribution of housing than the status quo. For example, a whopping 94% of residential land in San Jose has been zoned as single-family. We can and should have more multifamily units. This approach would not necessarily lead to a reduction in the quality and character of neighborhoods. 70% of new apartments being built are luxury grade or one notch below it. With that being said, zoning changes alone will not solve the affordable housing crisis. And there are legitimate concerns about increases in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, parking difficulties, and noise. This approach can be effective in moderate doses but has diminishing returns if applied excessively.
Beyond SB 9. Senate Bill 9, which came into effect at the beginning of this year, allows homeowners to split parcels zoned for a single home in half so as many as two housing units can be built on each. For example, a detached suburban home can be split into two separate units. There are exceptions to SB 9, such as single-family parcels in historic districts. San Jose is considering a proposal that would go beyond SB 9 and put an end to single-family zoning restrictions in historic districts. Another proposal would go beyond duplexes and allow for triplexes and fourplexes. If these proposals pass, I will closely monitor the effects to determine if similar legislation should be introduced at the state level.
Dense, mixed-use housing near public transit. This approach has the advantage of increasing the supply of housing while mitigating concerns about aggravating traffic congestion and air pollution. I had stints in the Boston area and Washington, DC for several years, and was amazed by how easy it was to get around without needing a car. In fact, it was more of a hassle to have a car than to use public transit. I also found that living in denser housing led to a greater sense of community among residents. Bay Area neighborhoods were built with a car-centric approach decades ago, and shifting to an environmentally friendly model would require lots of changes, such as greater availability of public transportation. But overall, I see lots of promise in this approach.
None of the above steps will definitively vanquish the problem of affordable housing in the Bay Area. Any politician who tells you otherwise is making false promises. The chief cause of the affordable housing crisis is a geographical concentration of wealth generation that is unprecedented in the history of the world.
Nevertheless, there is much we can do to mitigate the strain on working families in our district. I will work closely with government agencies, other legislators, local elected officials, and community groups to chart a way forward.