Planning groups get creative as demand for affordable Bay Area housing rises

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020
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As demand for affordable housing continues to rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, planning groups estimate the Bay Area needs to build 700,000 units.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The demand for affordable housing keeps increasing. The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), estimates the Bay Area needs to build 700,000 units.

Innovation could be crucial with the economy in what could be a prolonged slump due to the pandemic.

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"There are some opportunities to rethink what affordable housing developers should be focused on," said Sarah Karlinsky, housing policy adviser at SPUR.

Fostering innovation and new technology is behind Google last week, making a new $50 million housing investment, doubling its contribution to the Tech Fund at the Housing Trust Silicon Valley.

Their collaboration is already developing 93 units at 4th and Younger and 88 units on Bascom Ave., both in San Jose.

Affordable housing experts are reimagining the post-pandemic future and how that will change designs and features.

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"Should all new apartment complexes have a gym and a pool or, you know, maybe we need to have more outdoor space, more roof decks," suggested Prof. Carol Galante of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley.

However, the downturn could impact housing funds as federal, state and local budgets face belt-tightening.

More has to be done with less. Project approvals have slowed down.

"The permits are not being approved as quickly because people are working remote," noted Julie Mahowald, interim CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley. "But then, if there's more available labor or lower construction costs, that can speed things up, too."

One idea is not to build affordable housing from the ground up.

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"There may be opportunities to actually purchase existing multifamily buildings during this period and convert them to permanent affordability," said SPUR's Sarah Karlinsky.

Building along transit lines remains a priority as residents of affordable housing are more likely to be service workers, who can't work remotely.

With the downturn in retail, mixed use projects might repurpose store fronts for child care or community space.

In a follow-up story Tuesday, we'll take you to Vallejo where a new way of construction is cutting the cost of affordable housing in half.

"We found a new way to bring the costs down enough that many of these projects are feasible," said Rick Holliday, CEO of Factory OS.

We'll show you how modular construction could be a game changer.

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