California currently has a deficit of over 2.5 million homes in our state, and every city is going to have to step in and do its part to close that gap.
That’s the key takeaway from the housing plan recently released by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which sets a target for the number of homes we need to make sure everyone in our state has affordable and safe housing.
Unfortunately, too many of our cities are still resisting the opportunity and the need to collectively solve our housing crisis. While a few California cities are acting in good faith by meeting or exceeding their state housing goals, some cities seem totally disinterested in the issue. They have failed to build housing for decades and willfully ignore state laws designed to create more housing that we need to address the housing shortage and affordability crisis.
In some cases, anti-housing activists, mostly made up of wealthy landlords, are abusing environmental laws to delay or completely block housing construction.
At Berkeley, these groups have used their past successful efforts to block student housing as a pretext to force the University of California to restrict enrollment of new students. As a result, more than 3,000 students now face an uncertain future as the university struggles to resolve the legal ramifications of the “not in my court” lawsuit.
The town of Woodside found an even more creative (albeit unsuccessful) way to twist environmental laws to block houses. Faced with the prospect of allowing duplexes, Woodside claimed the entire town was a protected habitat for mountain lions.
These efforts to block off urgently needed housing have very little to do with protecting the environment and everything to do with preserving the status quo: expensive, exclusive cities with no roads for workers to live near their jobs. , their schools, their leisure activities and their services.
Meanwhile, our working families continue to face ever-increasing challenges to their existence in our state. According to the Housing and Community Development report, the average renter’s salary of $25 is well below the $39 needed to pay for an average two-bedroom apartment. With 45% of Californians living in rentals, the refusal of high-income communities to build more housing is a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately, the state is taking steps to ensure that all cities plan and build the homes we need. While anti-housing cities may find affordable and middle-income housing distasteful and speak out against any state surveillance of their housing plans, these cities have made their own beds. Now they have to sleep in it.
On the other hand, cities doing their part demonstrate the benefits of building more affordable housing. Recently, Sacramento became the first city in California to earn the state’s “pro-housing designation” for its housing-friendly policies. This designation gives Sacramento an advantage when it comes to obtaining state funds for affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure, as well as federal tax credits for affordable housing projects.
Emeryville, where I serve on the city council, has been called one of the “most YIMBY” (meaning housing-friendly) cities in California. We have made great strides with our below market housing program and are focused on building more deeply affordable housing.
Safe and stable housing is the foundation of a healthy life. We recognize this and urge other cities in our region to do the same. Here in the East Bay, a 15-minute ride can easily pass through five towns. But many of them leave their responsibility for housing on the doorstep of housing-friendly cities like Emeryville, forcing longer commutes and perpetuating inequitable and exclusionary housing practices.
We need to make sure every city in California is doing its fair share. This requires state oversight — and consequences — for jurisdictions that block housing, as well as incentives to encourage cities to legalize more housing. In Emeryville, we prefer carrots. But we also realize, for some cities that are opposed to housing, it will have to be the stick.
Courtney Welch is a member of the Emeryville City Council and former Director of Policy and Communications for the Bay Area Community Land Trust. His play first appeared in CalMatters.org.