A Better Housing Plan

Activists won commitments from Bay Area planners to find ways to build more affordable housing in the region.


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Stevi Dawson says the plan is a “stunning turnaround.”

Carl Posey

When Bay Area planners released a draft proposal earlier this year for guiding the region’s affordable housing needs for the next two decades, housing activists expressed alarm. Even the region’s planners admitted that their proposal would do little to address the Bay Area’s extreme affordable housing shortage.

But after months of meetings and negotiations, advocates for affordable housing are claiming victory in shaping a recently adopted revised plan. The final version of Plan Bay Area 2040, developed jointly by the Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, “included all our recommendations,” said David Zisser of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates. “We’re very pleased.”

Activist Stevi Dawson, a resident of St. Patrick’s affordable housing development in West Oakland, was more effusive: “It was a stunning turnaround,” she said. “I’m delighted that they listened to the community.”

When One Bay Area, a joint project of MTC and ABAG, first projected results from its long-range plan, it predicted “achievements in many areas falling short, and moving in the wrong direction in certain areas,” said Dave Vautin, a senior planner at MTC.  Specifically, planners expected low-income households to pay even more for housing and transportation—up from 60 to 67 percent of their income (experts say people should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing). Planners forecasted more affordable housing in job-rich areas—but only 3 percent more.

The revised plan commits regional agencies to look for ways to generate revenues for affordable housing development and preservation; expand affordable housing programs that have shown success, such as the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing program; use transportation grants to local governments as leverage to create incentives for promoting affordable housing and preventing displacement; and develop a strategy for building affordable housing on public land near transit.

Zisser said in addition to Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and the rest of the 6 Wins Network, the environmental group Greenbelt Alliance, and the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California were central to the effort to strengthen housing policies. In addition, some low-income residents traveled hours by public transportation to testify at commission meetings, and a few, like Dawson, became active participants in the whole process. Vautin of MTC said their involvement was significant: “We always think it’s valuable when we have people talking about the issues who experience them in their lives.”

At the last MTC meeting before the vote, for example, Dawson spoke from experience about the importance of promoting anti-displacement policies as well as constructing affordable housing. “My daughter became homeless at the end of December.” Dawson said. “Landlords shouldn’t be about to raise your rent $1,000 in a month. In Oakland they supposedly can’t but she lived in an unincorporated area of the county.” So when the rent increase came, “she moved out and into her damn car. She was in a shelter for a while. Now, she’s found a live-work place to share but she doesn’t really have her own space.”

The new Plan Bay Area 2040 also calls for additional incentives for local governments to adopt the kinds of anti-displacement policies—rent control and just cause eviction measures—that some cities already have. “It’s great to have a really robust policy agenda,” concluded Zisser, “but it’s only as good as the implementation.” The coalition plans to continue its advocacy at the MTC and ABAG and through CASA, a regional blue-ribbon “Committee to House the Bay Area” made up of leaders of business, labor, nonprofit, and public agencies.

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