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Bay Area cities sign off on sweeping plans to address Californians’ demands for fair housing

San Francisco and Oakland are looking to build more than 70,000 new homes by 2031.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco and Oakland, which are dealing with some of the most dire affordable housing crises in the state, approved new eight-year housing plans Tuesday.

Cities must prepare City Housing Elements to illustrate how they will meet the state's housing requirements and prove their compliance with state laws in order to preserve local land use control and compete for state-issued affordable housing grants. All California cities face unprecedented pressure to produce thousands of housing units within the next decade.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the city’s Housing Element on Tuesday, after initially approving the Element in a public hearing Jan. 24. Supervisor Matt Dorsey endorsed the finished plan, saying retaining state and federal funding for transportation and housing hinges on the plan.

The Housing Element sets in motion plans to create housing for the next eight years, and the one approved Tuesday is supposedly the first Housing Element in the city's history to have considered racial and social equity.

San Francisco, which has a population of nearly 835,000 including more than 5,000 unhoused people, aims to create 46,500 new affordable housing units by 2031.

The plan aims to recognize a right to housing, to advance equitable access to housing, to eliminate homelessness, and to offer reparations for discrimination through expanded housing options. The city is also proposing to expand public land through private partnerships and by developing a land acquisition program, making way for inexpensive long-term leases of land developed for high affordability.

Supervisor Dean Preston has also proposed a new law to allow the courts to intervene if San Francisco fails to meet the housing target: The Affordable Housing Accountability Act comes after San Francisco only reached roughly 50% of a goal to create 16,000 affordable housing units between 2015 and 2022. 

Preston said if approved, the ordinance will allow a nonprofit whose mission is to “advocate for housing for low-income people to file suit, take this out of the political realm and into the legal realm, which unfortunately may be needed to make sure our city lives up to our promises on affordable housing."

Oakland city leaders also unanimously signed off Tuesday on a comprehensive Housing Element to last through 2031. It promises to address urgent community needs like protecting residents from displacement, improving existing housing and expanding affordable housing opportunities and resources for the unhoused. 

Under the Element, Oakland will be required to build 26,251 new housing units by 2031 to meet its fair share of the state’s housing needs. The city's population is nearly 450,000, and it has more than 5,000 unhoused people. 

The Housing Element presented plans for the majority of new housing — more than 11,000 units — to be priced for households earning “above-moderate” income. The rest will be 6,511 priced for very low-income households, 3,750 for low-income households and 4,457 for moderate-income households. The Element includes plans to rezone some areas to add density, including near Bay Area Rapid Transit stations and main transit corridors.

Although not required by state law, the city developed a racial equity impact analysis in conjunction with the Element to identify whether people of color could be disproportionately affected by any negative outcomes of newly proposed programs and policies or have less access to benefits. The analysis highlights actions that could make housing in Oakland more equitable, and recommends cracking down on unjust evictions, supporting rent control, monitoring displacement of people from their neighborhoods due to rising housing prices, and implementing a Rental Housing Registry. 

The city received about 54 letters about the Element plan during November and December. The nonprofit East Bay for Everyone commended Oakland for reducing parking requirements and increasing building height allowances in areas of North Oakland but said the city should increase zero parking areas around major transit corridors to make room for the construction of new housing.

East Bay Housing Organization wrote that the Element's Fair Housing Assessment lacks analysis of income disparities by race and ethnicity. It said the city’s proposed elimination of single-family zoning does not remove all restrictions or describe how exclusionary zoning maintains patterns of segregation, and does not provide adequate zoning to support more affordable multi-family housing. The definition of "affordable" is housing that a person can afford with one-third of their monthly income.

“Given the extreme racial disparities in wealth and income (which are themselves the result of many decades of discrimination in education, employment, and public policy), an increase in missing middle housing may not have a significant impact on patterns of racial segregation,” the organization wrote.

Some residents opposed the Element’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase and Community Opportunity to Purchase Acts, which would open up housing purchase opportunities to more residents, including special interest developers, and offer housing assistance. The Acts would change the current process by which some purchasers can choose to quickly transfer housing only to family members or a neighbor.

But several commenters argued that people should be able to pass their properties to family members or neighbors in the same way they currently can in order to prevent housing discrimination and segregation and deed restrictions. Resident Nha Vu claimed the Acts would bog down hopeful homebuyers with red tape and delays.

Councilmember Carroll Fife, who advocated for the swift adoption of the Acts' polices, said the Oakland Housing Authority’s homeownership program "has not been functional for years" and she has seen discrimination against Section 8 holders despite state and city laws. 

The California Department of Housing and Community Development will issue Element certifications by March, so the city can adopt code amendments during the summer. There will be more hearings on new amendments and Tuesday's approval does not mean the city cannot continue to work on the Element, which is a living document. 

“It’s the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

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