Bay Area Housing Crisis: Many Bay Area small towns caught between pro-housing advocates and residents who do not want change

ByKristen Sze and Jennifer Olney via KGO logo
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
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The Bay Area's population is up more than 8 percent since 2010 and that's driving up rent and home prices. It's obvious we need more and cheaper housing fast.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 News is committed to Building a Better Bay Area and giving more attention to issues that affect our quality of life. All this week we are looking at the Bay Area's housing crisis. The region's population is up more than 8 percent since 2010 and that's driving up rent and home prices. It's obvious we need more and cheaper housing fast. But where to put it and how to pay for it?

Once a month in Oakland, members of a grassroots called East Bay for Everyone gather to work on their action plan to get more housing built fast. Their guiding principles include the statement "density is good." The group is pushing for more types of housing in every category, but especially affordable units.

The group, which has more than 1,000 members, is led by a dedicated core of volunteers looking for solutions. They are working with local city leaders, lobbying Sacramento, and planning for the next election cycle as they hope to get more pro-housing candidates elected.

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"I am here because this group is treating the housing crisis like it is solvable rather than just an act of nature that we must all suffer under," said volunteer Ernest Brown.

Another volunteer, Tommaso Sciortino, said he joined because he "went to too many going away parties for friends who couldn't afford to live here anymore."

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Alison Grady said she is part of the group "because the Bay Area should not be a place for only exceptionally wealthy people."

Solving the region's housing crisis is a daunting challenge. In the past eight years, the Bay Area has added 750,000 new jobs, but only 100,000 new homes, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. State statistics show most cities and counties are following state requirements to plan for housing growth, but only 3 percent are on target to actually build the housing they need.

"As a region, we have failed when it comes to producing housing, when it comes to protecting our residents who are being displaced when it comes to preserving affordable housing that we need to preserve," said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco.

That is why Chiu thinks it is time for a regional solution. He has introduced a bill that would give Bay Area regional agencies authority to increase affordable housing by putting tax measures on the ballot, then, if approved by voters, distributing the money to appropriate programs.

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Many housing advocates like the idea of requiring all cities to be part of the solution.

"We can't have communities just deciding to opt-out," said Darrell Owens of East Bay for Everyone. "We're all in this together, there's a regional housing crisis."

But many small-town residents see it differently. Susan Kirsch of Mill Valley is the founder Livable California , a group that supports local planning. Kirsch worries the regional approach will force small suburban towns to build high-density housing in areas where neighbors do not want it.

Kirsch is concerned about increased traffic and housing that might change the character of small towns and leave residents asking "what happened to my view and where is the little neighborhood coffee shop or the neighborhood hardware store? With the bigness of regional planning coming in to just bulldoze over those quality of life issues that people really cherish."

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Kirsch believes the big tech companies and communities surrounding them should share the bulk of the responsibility for building housing and the cost.

"Those small cities have not had a responsibility to create the problem, nor should they, in many of their opinions, be taxed to solve it," Kirsch said.

A.B. 1487, Chiu's bill that would give regional agencies housing authority, has already passed the assembly, so the next move is up to the state Senate.

Take a look at ABC7's latest stories and videos about efforts to Build a Better Bay Area.