By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Reading the study out of Berkeley yesterday it seems to me that SB 9 will not lead to people’s worst fears with regards to the destruction of single family neighborhoods. SB 9 also will not solve our housing crisis, but if the projections are correct, it will lead to additional units being built.
But reading the comments, it’s clear that any solution will be opposed. And every change will be a battle – at least locally.
There is – as one commenter pointed out – a history that single family zoning has been used as exclusionary zoning. One of the big problems today – and this gets to the point about structural racism – at this point I don’t believe that most people are opposed to zoning changes because of fear of others coming into their neighborhood – although we do see that attitude with respect to concerns about putting affordable housing into existing neighborhoods, even though in places like Davis, affordable housing could mean people making $25 to $60 thousand per year.
The problem with single family zoning is that it de facto keeps low income people out of neighborhoods which in fact and not by law, excludes many low income people and by extension people of color.
That’s systemic or structural racism and not necessarily based on individual level bias.
A few things really struck me though. One person rejecting the notion that “that in and of itself is racism,” wrote, “I see it as densism. We don’t want it more dense, not any direct exclusion of a group that has a lower percentage of people who are able to afford homes.”
Again – that view has a disparate effect on housing.
But there is an even bigger problem. This particular person does not want additional density. That is one mechanism to reduce costs of housing. You simply have small units which makes the housing less expensive. You add to supply which at the very least will slow the growth of housing costs.
How do you then address affordability? Well this particular person is also against subsidized big “A” affordable housing. So now you have cut out two possible remedies to affordability – affordability by design and affordability by subsidy.
Now this person is opposed to Measure J. But while Measure J is constraining supply, without increasing density you are not going to produce affordability through the market alone.
Bottom line there is I don’t see how we can address the concerns about affordability and without addressing affordability, you have exclusionary housing de facto if not technically de jure.
That is not the only problem here.
A lot of people in Davis are generally opposed to peripheral housing, but believe we can solve our housing shortfalls through density and infill. There are some who are opposed to solving through density and infill and instead would like to remove Measure J and allow more peripheral development.
But there is at least one commenter – maybe more – who is opposed to both infill/ densification and Measure J. It appears that they argue that California is not growing anymore and therefore, we don’t need to add housing. Or if we do add housing, add it in communities that want to grow.
The problem here – (A) housing in not affordable and you cannot address affordability without new housing. (B) Most experts believe that the population decline was a one-off. And that population will rebound after last year’s decline, even though the overall growth rate is slow. (C) Growth is uneven with people moving out of the expensive areas like the Bay Area and towards less expensive areas like the valley and the foothills.
If you look at point (C) one of the key problems is that housing unaffordability is driving the population movement and declines in some areas.
Bottom line: growth is a function of affordability and affordability cannot be solved without additional housing supplies.
Finally one commenter appears to oppose SB 9 because of concerns about near-neighbor effects of densification.
The analysis in the Berkeley study would seem to preclude much of that concern. It is not very cost-effective to redevelop on a large scale and their model finds that very few existing single-family homes will be redeveloped in this way.
Moreover, while you can under the terms of SB 9 create split lots and duplexes by-right, there will still be existing zoning protections on size and scale that should be sufficient along with simple economics to protect existing homeowners.
There is a clear tension here between the need to allow less economically advantaged people to have access to housing they can support and protection for those who already own housing in their neighborhoods.
This sets up a battle between those who having housing and those who don’t.
It seems to me that we can offer some forms of protection while still allowing for us to begin to break down the exclusive zoning policies that have created dramatic disparities in wealth and acted as de facto barriers for people of color and lower and middle income people to have access to reasonably affordable housing.
In short it is not clear to me what the near-neighbor impact actually is assuming you can reasonably control size and scale of the new housing.
What is clear to me is that we are now stuck in a place – at least in Davis and probably elsewhere in the state – where no matter what we do, someone is going to oppose it.
So then what?