Catherine Bracy
Oct 30, 2017 · 8 min read

News about the Bay Area’s housing crisis has been nothing if not alarming lately. The region’s economy has lost thousands of jobs in the last two months, in large part because of the housing crisis. Napa and Sonoma counties, already experiencing extremely low vacancy rates, have lost thousands of units of housing due to the recent wildfires and there are signs of price gouging for those looking for shelter. And there is persistent racial bias at the heart of our unequal housing system.

But there are also glimmers of hope. There has finally been significant legislative movement at the state level to address the crisis. Mayors of the Bay Area’s major cities are stepping up to lead on solving the crisis. And, through the MTC’s CASA initiative, stakeholders from across the housing and political spectrum are putting their differences aside to come together to forge region-wide solutions. We are better positioned now than we ever have been to achieve the solutions we need to get out of the affordability crisis.

At the TechEquity Collaborative we know that the world we want to see — where a tech-driven economy in the region is creating broad-based opportunity for everyone rather than fostering inequality — is only possible if it’s affordable for everyone to live here. That’s why we’re prioritizing the housing issue in our work over at least the next year. We’re looking at the next state legislative session as a big opportunity to create the conditions where we can dramatically increase the supply of housing while strengthening protections for those who are currently being pushed out.

In advance of the legislature re-starting its work in January, we’re taking the time to articulate the principles that will guide our work so we can hit the ground running in the new year. We’ve outlined those principles here. You can also find them on our website.

An important note: We think the tech community, which has not traditionally engaged on local policy issues, has a unique responsibility to step up right now. We also think tech has a lot to add to the conversation. But we will always be focused on doing our work in partnership with others who have been fighting for housing justice much longer than we have.

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The tech economy has driven massive growth in the Bay Area over the last decade. For some, this growth has created unprecedented windfalls. For too many others, it has meant exacerbated inequality and displacement, and the erosion of some of our most vulnerable communities.

We believe the housing crisis, specifically the region’s inability to build enough housing at all income levels to keep up with our population growth, along with persistent and systemic racial discrimination, are at the root of this problem. Since 2011 the region has created over four jobs per unit of housing, driving up costs at a rate that makes it impossible for many to keep up. Communities of color, which have been intentionally left out of growth cycles of the past, are acutely affected by the crisis.

In order for a growing economy — driven in large part by the tech industry — to benefit more people and to lift up communities that need it the most, we must find solutions to this increasingly urgent issue.

This document outlines the TechEquity Collaborative’s approach to engaging with the housing crisis, both the advocacy campaigns we will undertake and the partnerships we will build around those campaigns. These principles also represent a statement of values for our member base (primarily tech workers). It is a living document that will be re-evaluated and revised periodically, in consultation with TechEquity’s housing committee and our housing advisory board.

Guiding Principles

We believe the following to be true:

  1. Housing is a human right. Housing should be treated like the fundamental human survival need that it is, alongside food and water. We consider access to housing for all residents — regardless of income level — to be a marker of civilized society. To fail to meet this need is a tragedy and a shame.
  2. There’s room enough for everyone. No one should be made to feel unwelcome in the Bay Area. Bay Area residents pride ourselves on our progressive, inclusive politics and those values should extend to those who want to make this region their home. This includes newcomers and long-term residents, old and young, and all races, classes and creeds. Newcomers also should respect the perspectives of residents who have been here for decades, and seek to understand the culture, people and history of this place they now call home.
  3. Housing shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Too often different factions in the housing fight view a win by another faction as a loss for theirs. Affordable housing developers sometimes get pitted against anti-displacement activists. Local governments play hot potato with responsibility for tackling the crisis. Piecemeal policy solutions are presented in the absence of a larger vision for how they fit together to end the housing crunch — and interest groups are left fighting for scraps. We must create a different political dynamic that eschews either/or decisions and embraces a both/and approach. We must recognize that our fates are intertwined and adopt a spirit of collaboration if we are to break our political gridlock. The Bay Area can protect its current residents while welcoming newcomers. Building the Bay Area of tomorrow and defending the rights of existing residents do not have to be mutually exclusive goals.
  4. We must make policy with an eye toward the future and not the past. Though we must be informed by our history, and place value on the character of our neighborhoods, we cannot cling to the past as we look to make policy. Our population is growing, our economy is changing, and our climate and natural resources are under stress. Making policy that assumes we live in a prior century will hurt everyone. We also need to embrace, and not repel, the companies and workers that make up the industries of the future. New, innovative people and ideas are necessary to solve this crisis. California has always been a place for entrepreneurs, and we should continue to nurture innovation and human progress, leaving no one behind in the new economy.

Policy Goals

Build more, at all income levels, with a priority for affordable housing

We have to build more housing. Period.

We need to build 180,000 new units of housing every year to keep up with population growth. Over the past ten years, we have averaged only 80,000 units per year. Breaking the gridlock that creates this restriction of supply will require:

  • Providing more capital for affordable housing development. When the state legislature eliminated California’s local redevelopment agencies, they removed a primary source of funding for affordable housing developments. Redevelopment agencies were required to spend twenty percent of their funds on affordable housing — which amounts to $1 billion in capital for these projects that no longer exists. Though recently-passed local bond measures, like Measure A1 in Alameda County and Propositions A and C in San Francisco, provide much-needed new capital for development, it is far from enough.
  • Reducing the costs of development. Right now, it costs almost $600,000 to build one unit of housing in San Francisco, and $420,000 to build one unit in the East Bay. The high cost of housing makes it harder for developers to secure the financing to fund a project and, when projects do go forward, high costs are passed on to renters or homeowners.
  • Streamlining permitting processes. One of the main drivers of the high cost of housing is the length and complexity of the permitting process. Low-income development that requires permission from more than one municipal board adds at least five percent to the cost of a project. In order to reduce costs, and bring more units online faster, we must make the approval process easier and curb abuse of regulations such as CEQA which opponents use to restrict development.
  • Reforming land use rules. There are too many onerous restrictions on how land can be developed in the Bay Area, and not enough incentives for municipalities to zone for housing instead of retail or office space. We should pursue policies that encourage housing as a development priority. We should also promote density, especially near transit, not just to bring the cost of housing down but to reduce the strain on our environment — and our well-being — caused by long commutes.
  • Unlocking public land throughout the region. Throughout the Bay Area, various public agencies hold and manage public land, some of which is ideal for housing. Land is one of the key resources that can bring the cost of development down. We should establish bold goals for building a mix of affordable and market rate housing on government-owned properties.

Protect vulnerable communities

Often lost in the conversation about solutions to the housing crisis is attention to how we can help the most vulnerable residents stay in their homes now. The housing we need to build to make up the shortfall will take years to come online, even if we break ground on every project tomorrow. In the meantime, more and more vulnerable residents will be displaced, pushed into homelessness or so far out of the region that they can’t reasonably access the employment opportunities our booming economy creates.

We have to prioritize solutions to the displacement crisis as much as we prioritize increasing new housing supply. This means:

  • Enhancing tenant protections. Many cities have enacted “just cause” policies (meaning landlords can only evict tenants for a good reason) and provide support for tenants who are facing eviction but these resources are not universally available. We should make sure that renter protections — that weigh the needs of small mom-and-pop landlords — not only exist but are accessible to the most vulnerable tenants, increasing the likelihood they can stay in their homes.
  • Enforcing fair housing laws and preventing discrimination. The federal Fair Housing Act and other laws prevent discrimination in the sale or leasing of housing, but it is rarely effectively enforced. We should invest in solutions that will prevent housing discrimination and increase awareness among residents of their rights. We also need to lower barriers for formerly incarcerated residents who are often unfairly barred from housing upon their release.
  • Converting existing housing stock to permanently affordable units. The City of Oakland has championed a policy that incentivizes affordable housing developers to purchase apartment buildings from private landlords and convert the units to permanently affordable housing. This approach is not only more cost effective, it adds to the affordable housing stock much more quickly than building new units.
  • Exploring reforms to rent control regulations. The Costa-Hawkins law prevents any housing built in California after 1995 from being subject to rent control. This means landlords can increase rents on new units of housing as much as they want. While there are compelling reasons to believe rent control can lead to restricted supply, we should seek out middle ground solutions that protect renters from exorbitant year-over-year rent increases while at the same time incentivizing new development.

Acknowledge the racial bias inherent in the housing system

Underlying both of these policy priorities is a need to acknowledge that current settlement patterns and housing systems are built on a legacy of racism. Any work on housing policy must take this history into account, and support efforts to undo the effects of decades of government-sanctioned segregation and lack of investment in communities of color (particularly black communities). This means racial impacts must be included in decisions about the location and prioritization of developments and that we should favor projects that bring benefits to existing community members. We also must hold communities that have traditionally practiced exclusion in their zoning and housing policies to account, and pursue policies that can add housing opportunities for all income levels in these places.

TechEquity Collaborative

The TechEquity Collaborative advocates for a tech-driven economy in the Bay Area that works for everyone. We are a membership-driven organization made up of individuals and companies that share our values.

    Catherine Bracy

    Written by

    Executive Director of the TechEquity Collaborative. Some things I love: civic tech, dogs, and Tottenham Hotspur

    TechEquity Collaborative

    The TechEquity Collaborative advocates for a tech-driven economy in the Bay Area that works for everyone. We are a membership-driven organization made up of individuals and companies that share our values.

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