Sweeping regional housing plan under construction

An ambitious regional housing plan aiming to create 35,000 new housing units throughout the Bay Area is raising concerns among advocates and some Bay Area officials over gentrification and a lack of local controls.

Born out of an 18-month planning effort amongst developers, elected leaders, transit officials, tech representatives and other stakeholders who joined forces as the Committee to House the Bay Area [CASA], the 10-part “Compact” plan was approved by the CASA steering committee on Wednesday.

Officials hope to eventually see the package of proposals —which focus on accelerating regional housing production while creating tenant protections, bolstering infrastructure and raising $1.5 million per year to support these goals — translated into state law. The CASA Compact is expected to move before the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission next for a vote.

Public support was mixed at Wednesday’s hearing, at which tenant advocates urged committee members to include stronger protections against gentrification and displacement and more local control.

“We have been working for years in the Mission District with the planning department towards equity outcomes and have significantly redone the entire functionality of much of the way that neighborhood planning works,” said Peter Papadopoulos of the Mission Economic Development Agency. “That kind of community involvement…thousands and thousands of hours, needs to be respected and it needs to create a safeguard for those communities.”

The plan proposes to protect 300,000 housing units for those who spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent; preserve 30,000 affordable units and produce 35,000 new ones, 14,000 of which will be set aside for low-income residents and 7,000 for those with moderate incomes.

The funding would be raised annually from taxpayers, property owners, developers, employers and local governments throughout the Bay Area through a series of proposed taxes and managed by a Regional Housing Enterprise, created under the plan and governed by MTC and ABAG representatives, among others.

The plan, which would affect over 100 Bay Area Cities in nine counties, includes regional eviction protections, a rent cap and looser zoning regulations near transit. It would also amend state law to facilitate the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and tiny homes, among other goals.

Not everyone is on board, however.

On Tuesday, the Los Altos City Council voted unanimously to oppose the plan.

“This compact as written is not feasible nor respectful to the local jurisdictions. It does nothing to help solve our traffic and transportation efforts and will seriously interfere with our ability to fund infrastructure and service,” said Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng. “Go back, engage with us, create something that is truly feasible without massive adverse effects on our ability to govern and provide service to our constituents. We oppose top down, behind-closed-doors planning.”

Lee Eng told the committee that the plan would make housing “more expensive” by “effectively upzoning significant areas.”

But proponents of the plan applauded CASA, which is co-chaired by TMG Partners CEO Michael Covarrubias, MTC executive director Steve Heminger, executive director of Silicon Valley at Home, Leslye Corsiglia, and San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell for reaching compromises on key housing and transportation issues among stakeholders who rarely sit in the same room.

Elected officials including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf both supported the plan overall, but were critical of its impacts on vulnerable communities.

While Schaaf called for a tighter rent cap, she said that a proposed three-year period for “sensitive communities” to plan for the compact’s implementation needed to be extended.

“Basically more than half of Oakland is a sensitive area. And to actually execute that level of planning process in a three-year period, I am not sure we have the bandwidth or resources to do that,” said Schaaf.

Breed, on the other hand, was critical of the deferral period because delay often “means denial.”

“I don’t want us to see opportunities escape communities when it’s not necessary, in putting a blanket plan around areas where we know there are communities that are very sensitive and concerned about displacement,” Breed said.

Blackwell said the plan will likely go through a number of alterations once it is reviewed by state legislators. If implemented, the cities will have a number of opportunities to engage.

“You heard a lot of conversation about sensitive communities. So in sensitive communities there will be a local planning process,” he said. In other areas the plan talks about streamlining — the kinds of projects that will be streamlined are the ones that conform to a local plan. I think there are going to be a lot of places where there will be pretty robust community-level planning.”


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