Let's review how bad things are. California used to build enough homes for its growing population, but over decades we've fallen short by a staggering 3.5 million homes. San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Los Angeles are in the top seven highest-rent cities in the U.S. Here in Mountain View, median sale price of homes nearly doubled in the past five years; one-bedroom rents rose 35 percent in the past year. In Silicon Valley, a quarter of tenants spend more than half their income on rent.
Since 2010, the Bay Area has added seven times more jobs (722,000) than housing units (106,000). With nowhere to live near their jobs, Bay Area workers move further and further away. Hundreds of thousands suffer soul-crushing mega-commutes, and all of us suffer from traffic and car exhaust. Others pack themselves into residences in violation of safety codes or become homeless, sleeping in cars and RVs.
Cities have wielded their power over land use to say yes to jobs and no to housing. They believe it's in their own interest, because offices and stores boost local tax coffers, while residents consume costly services like schools. Each city wants some other city to be the bedroom community for its workers. This is irresponsible and unfair. When Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View add tens of thousands of jobs without housing, they drive up rents in East Palo Alto, where one in four students is now homeless.
How do cities restrict housing? First, they've actually made it illegal to build anything other than single-family homes in most residential areas, even next to the North Berkeley BART station. Second, new multi-family homes are delayed and downsized by years of discretionary reviews, burdensome fees, and frivolous objections, like a four-month study to confirm that a laundromat does not merit historical preservation.
The individual actions of hundreds of cities over decades got us into this mess. If we leave it up to individual cities, it would take them decades to fix it. And that's assuming they'll even try.
Fortunately, there is a way forward. After 18 months of deliberation, the blue-ribbon Committee to House the Bay Area produced the Casa Compact, "A 15-Year Emergency Policy Package to Confront the Housing Crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area." The compact's three pillars are produce, preserve, protect — produce more housing, preserve existing affordable housing, and protect residents from displacement. Specific provisions include tenant protections, funds for affordable housing, streamlining regulations that inhibit new housing, and focusing growth near transit to reduce traffic.
If enacted by the state Legislature, the compact will provide affordable housing opportunities for hundreds of thousands of our Bay Area neighbors of all income levels. Unlike the status quo of sprawl and mega-commutes, it will protect natural lands and save energy and water with walkable neighborhoods and green buildings — critical measures in California's fight against global warming. Unlike the status quo of local control, it will actually work, and it will be fair — each city will be held to the same standard and follow the same best practices.
Understandably, some local leaders are uncomfortable giving up even an ounce of direct control. Some residents support some provisions but feel uncomfortable about others. But if we wait for solutions to this systemic housing shortage that don't make anyone uncomfortable, we'll be waiting forever. And waiting is something that our neighbors paying half their income on rent cannot afford.
Jeremy Hoffman is a Mountain View homeowner.