450,000 new homes for the Bay Area —where will they go, and who will decide?

450,000 new homes for the Bay Area —where will they go, and who will decide?

By Debra Ballinger and Poncho Guevara

Last month, the State of California released the Bay Area’s next Regional Housing Needs Determination (RHND) which says our region must plan for 450,000 new homes over the next eight years. That’s about 2.3 times larger than the current RHND.

We organize in two different places in the Bay Area—one suburban, one urban—yet both face a housing crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color and is exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

We are concerned that the eye-popping total RHND will conceal the most important goal: that 57% of those homes (256,500) must be truly affordable for the hundreds of thousands of people and families left behind in the last three decades.

Let’s work together to ensure that they have stable, affordable homes. We can do it if we make true affordability the goal of planning and development processes in every city.

Now is the time for our region to step up, because only halfway through the current RHND, the Bay Area has already completed 126% of the market-rate development goals, but only 21% of the total below-market housing goals.

Why does the “RHNA” matter?

Each city receives a Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) which is a share of the RHND.

Concord is a somewhat typical suburb of the region with a population of about 130,000 residents. Its current RHNA is 3,478 homes . More than half of those homes must be affordable, yet Concord has only permitted 1.4% of its affordable allocations. Concord is home to immigrants who are increasingly displaced because of skyrocketing rents made more unaffordable by high rates of COVID and job loss.

Despite our advocacy for more affordable housing on vacant city-owned lands, the city has focused on developing market-rate homes. With one luxury complex nearing completion in downtown Concord and a second one under construction close to BART, the city must now focus on housing for our essential workers.

San Jose is one of the three largest urban cities of the Bay Area with over 1 million residents, but operates like a suburb. Its current RHNA is a whopping 35,080 homes, of which nearly 21,000 need to be affordable. The city has a large population of homeowners in spread-out neighborhoods who are resistant to any new housing near them. This forces development into the areas that have historically been home to communities of color and lower-income residents. The planned Google development near Diridon Station gets all the headlines, but every major development project in recent memory has happened in these areas, driving housing costs out of reach for working families. Meanwhile, the city continues to site rare affordable projects in the same neighborhoods, stressing outdated infrastructure and further segregating a city where working families and other low-income neighbors face instability.

What are the solutions?

We believe the larger RHND will help ensure that exclusive cities will do their fair share and commit to building more homes that are affordable to working families.

For a suburb like Concord that means keeping lower income residents and people of color in Concord by prioritizing city-owned land for affordable housing.

For San Jose that means building density in Willow Glen, the Rose Garden and west San Jose, and committing to affordable projects in every council district. But we also know that a larger RHND will increase the market rate development pressure in already-at risk communities. We are concerned that the RHND can cause more gentrification and displacement in suburban and urban communities.

In the end, it is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) that will decide where these 450,000 new homes will go in the Bay Area.

We urge ABAG board members to allocate significant shares of affordable homes in all Bay Area suburban and urban cities, and minimize market rate housing in cities where residents are at risk of displacement.

The COVID crisis has exposed just how critical housing is for our communities. We all should be looking forward to how we build a stronger Bay Area that is just, affordable, and inclusive so we can recover and thrive together.

Debra Ballinger is director of Monument Impact, a nonprofit organization in Concord, CA serving immigrants, refugees and low-income community members and Poncho Guevara is director of Sacred Heart Community Service, a community organization based in San Jose, CA

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