The Vanguard and local residents have focused on the local housing problem in Davis – the lack of student housing and lack of both big “A” Affordable Housing and also small “a” affordable housing. But Davis is hardly alone or even the worst off community in the state – unaffordability is a growing concern statewide and there is a movement afoot that might have direct local impact.
The New York Times on Monday reported, “A full-fledged housing crisis has gripped California, marked by a severe lack of affordable homes and apartments for middle-class families. The median cost of a home here is now a staggering $500,000, twice the national cost. Homelessness is surging across the state.
“The extreme rise in housing costs has emerged as a threat to the state’s future economy and its quality of life. It has pushed the debate over housing to the center of state and local politics, fueling a resurgent rent control movement and the growth of neighborhood “Yes in My Back Yard” organizations, battling long-established neighborhood groups and local elected officials as they demand an end to strict zoning and planning regulations,” the article reports.
Legislation from Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, is one of 130 housing measures introduced this year. It “would restrict one of the biggest development tools that communities wield: the ability to use zoning, environmental and procedural laws to thwart projects they deem out of character with their neighborhood.”
Two of the latest infill projects in Davis, on B Street and the Trackside project, among others, could be directly impacted by such legislation.
The Times reports, “It is now the subject of negotiations between Mr. Brown and legislative leaders as part of a broader housing package intended to encourage the construction of housing for middle- and lower-income families that is also likely to include the more traditional remedy of direct spending to build more housing units.”
The Sacramento Bee notes the work of Brian Hanlon who is suing cities and counties that he says “aren’t complying with state housing law that says it’s illegal to deny or scale back affordable housing projects that meet local zoning designations and other land-use rules.”
Now he’s decided lawsuits are not sufficient, so with backing from Silicon Valley, Mr. Hanlon “is starting a new political and housing advocacy venture in Sacramento called California YIMBY – or ‘Yes in My Back Yard,’ a riff on the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ phrase that characterizes neighborhood opposition to development projects.
“It’s an emerging political movement demanding more housing construction across California, affordable or not. Pro-growth advocacy groups have formed groups from Santa Monica to San Francisco to Sacramento.”
On Friday, the New York Times reports, “Over the past two years the rising cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere has created a budding movement of pro-development ‘Yimby’ (yes in my backyard) groups that advocate for building more housing in hopes of easing exploding rents and home prices. On Friday a group of 200 or so activists from around the country, as well as Britain and Canada, will convene in Oakland for the ‘Yimbytown’ conference.”
The Times notes, “The conference is another sign of momentum for the Yimby movement, which has clashed with the Bay Area’s liberal establishment. A year ago most Yimby groups were tiny ragtag operations, but today they are pushing bills in Sacramento and have attracted enough money from Silicon Valley and elsewhere that many activists have been able to quit their day jobs to do politics full time.”
On July 5, The Atlantic points out that traditional adversaries are forming common cause: “Out of a desire for more-equitable housing policy, some city dwellers have started allying with developers instead of opposing them.”
The article notes, “Many progressives object to developers’ business model, which depends on building new units and charging as much as possible for them, even if that makes them unaffordable for longtime residents.
“But there are signs that this adversarial relationship is starting to give way to a more cooperative dynamic. In cities across the country, some residents that might once have protested new construction are welcoming developers, pushing governments to allow them to build more and more housing.”
The article notes, “With more housing, the thinking goes, the cost of rent in thriving cities like San Francisco, Boston, and Portland will not rise so quickly, which will allow more people from different economic backgrounds to live there and share in the prosperity of the local economy.”
That is precisely what some people believe needs to happen in places like Davis.
Yesterday Next City talked about “6 Ways Affordable Housing Developers Are Fighting NIMBYism.”
The publication notes, “Despite an acute affordable housing crisis in many U.S. cities, getting new homes built for low-income people remains a giant challenge.” Moreover, “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will instantly change such residents’ minds.”
First, be proactive. “Corianne Scally, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute who has extensively studied NIMBYism, has found that neighborhood opposition typically occurs very early in the development process. As a result, she says affordable housing practitioners need to engage ‘early and often.’”
Some of the recent projects have attempted to engage early – many have told the Vanguard that their efforts have produced disappointing results.
Second, Use Respect, Not Stereotypes. “At those community meetings and in subsequent interactions, it’s critical to show respect for residents and their anxieties. “We have to try to avoid self-righteousness as much as we can,” says Richard Thal, executive director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp. in Boston.”
“For most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, if someone was building a multifamily development in our neighborhood, we’d be nervous,” say Chris Estes, president of the National Housing Conference. Next City reports, “He’d prefer affordable housing advocates stop using the word NIMBY altogether: It’s a stereotype that can be just as pernicious as the one about ‘those people’ who populate affordable housing.”
From our viewpoint, calling people names like “NIMBY” is a good way to make people defensive rather than open to change.
Third, Activate Supporters. “Rallying those who are in favor of the project might seem obvious, but it’s a frequently overlooked tactic, says Michael Spotts, a senior analyst and project manager with Enterprise Community Partners.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the failed Nishi Project was they used student interns and paid workers rather than community members to do the primary engagement.
Fourth, Craft the Message Carefully. “The National Housing Conference recently held a communications conference in Minneapolis focused on affordable housing messaging. They acknowledged that the term ‘affordable housing’ often conjures images of crime-ridden public housing complexes — and they also discussed the fact that many Americans struggle with affordability but aren’t eligible for assistance, and therefore don’t necessarily support it for others.”
It is interesting that one of the downfalls of Nishi turned out to be the lack of affordable housing. What most people perhaps don’t know is that affordable housing in Davis starts at the low levels, at people making $30,000 a year, and goes up to $70,000. There was an article over the weekend that, in Silicon Valley, there are people making six figures who qualify for affordable housing. Not exactly the stereotype that people might think.
Fifth, Leverage What We’ve Got. “Personal stories of community members who need affordable housing can be incredibly powerful, say advocates. But again, tailor the story to the audience.”
Sixth, Think Bigger, and Encourage Neighbors to Do So, Too. “Neighborhood opposition to affordable housing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s enabled by many things, including a regulatory environment that often forces developers to repeatedly consult local government and citizens.”
They point out, “A new movement, aptly dubbed YIMBY (or Yes in My Backyard), is afoot to change that environment. According to Laura Foote Clark, executive director of San Francisco’s YIMBY Action, the group is focusing on removing some of the low-density zoning that limits multifamily housing in many parts of San Francisco, and streamlining the permitting process.”
Finally, Robert Shiller on Monday asks, “Why Do Cities Become Unaffordable?”
He notes, “Inequality is usually measured by comparing incomes across households within a country. But there is also a different kind of inequality: in the affordability of homes across cities. The impact of this form of inequality is no less worrying.
“In many of the world’s urban centers, homes are becoming prohibitively expensive for people with moderate incomes,” he continues.
“The consequences are not just economic. People may be forced out of cities where they have spent their entire lives. Leaving amounts to losing lifelong connections, and therefore can be traumatic,” he continues. “As such people depart, an expensive city gradually becomes an enclave of high-income households, and begins to take on their values. With people of various income levels increasingly divided by geography, income inequality can worsen and the risk of social polarization – and even serious conflict – can grow.”
Why do residents of some cities face extremely or prohibitively high prices? “In many cases, the answer appears to be related to barriers to housing construction.”
While there are natural barriers, many are also political. “A huge dose of moderate-income housing construction would have a major impact on affordability. But the existing owners of high-priced homes have little incentive to support such construction, which would diminish the value of their own investment. Indeed, their resistance may be as intractable as a lake’s edge. As a result, municipal governments may be unwilling to grant permits to expand supply,” he writes.
Where is all of this headed? The first place it appears to be headed is to Sacramento, where the legislature may pass some of these bills like Senator Wiener’s.
The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday writes that “perhaps the most remarkable sign of the crisis is that the Legislature is at long last on the brink of doing something about it.”
They note, “State Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to rein in some of the worst antibuilding excesses of the state’s cities and towns survived its latest committee vote in the Assembly last week. Scores (of) more housing-related measures are in the works, but Senate Bill 35 is the most relevant — and controversial — because it goes after the stubborn roots of the state’s daunting dwelling shortage.”
SB 35, they write, “would streamline approval of urban, multiunit developments that meet zoning, affordability and other standards in communities that aren’t meeting local housing needs. While the state has been carefully assessing those needs for decades, its lack of means to enforce them allows local officials to regard perpetual shortfalls with a shrug.”
“All cities in our state need to create housing if we are going to meaningfully address California’s housing shortage,” said Senator Wiener. “We need to be producing 180,000 units of housing a year in California, but we are producing less than half that, which is inflicting real damage. Our housing shortage is harming our environment, economy, health, and quality of life.”
SB 35 would change the authority of RHNA (Regional Housing Need Allocation). Under SB 35, “if cities aren’t on track to meet those goals, then approval of projects will be streamlined if they meet a set of objective criteria, including affordability, density, zoning, historic, and environmental standards, and if they meet rigorous standards for construction labor.”
The situation reminds me somewhat of Prop. 13. The legislature knew that the cost of rising taxes was a problem, but they delayed a solution for too long and the voters solved it through the very draconian Prop. 13.
SB 35 might be the bill that completely alters the landscape, not only in California but in Davis.
As the Chronicle puts it, “Wiener’s bill gives lawmakers another chance to do their jobs and begin to address California’s most pressing problem.”
The LA Times adds, “Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has proposed putting some sharp teeth to the law. His bill (SB 35) would require cities that have fallen behind on their housing goals to streamline approval of certain residential projects, barring them from requiring any additional environmental review or city council vote.”
It may well be coming and it will change a lot here in Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting