Housing as the New Regional Infrastructure

My hometown, the great City of Oakland, sits directly in the geographic center of the San Francisco Bay Area region – arguably the global center of innovation.

Our region has been wildly successful at attracting investment and creating jobs, but has failed to produce enough housing. Between 2011 and 2015 the region added 501,000 jobs but only 65,000 housing units — that’s one home for every eight jobs.

The lack of housing has created tight competition to find a place to live within our city and throughout the entire Bay Area. Since 2011, apartment rents in Oakland have increased 52 per cent while the median home price has more than doubled.

For many Oaklanders, wages have not kept up with housing costs. The sky-high cost of living threatens the characteristics we value most in our beloved city – our social and economic diversity; an affordability where immigrants and working-class families can thrive; our culture of radical inclusivity.

In 2015, confronted with this growing housing crisis, we in Oakland convened the city’s first-ever Housing Cabinet, a mix of 110 policy experts, residents, advocates, affordable housing developers, elected officials, and community leaders.

The following year the Cabinet delivered the “17K/17K Plan” – a roadmap to protect 17,000 Oakland families from displacement and simultaneously produce 17,000 new housing units by 2024. The key themes: increase renter protections, increase affordable units within the existing housing supply, and produce new housing at all income levels.

Oakland voters responded by passing a bond to fund subsidized, affordable housing, and by voting to expand renter protections against evictions. Meanwhile, the City streamlined development and approval processes.

Last year, the City issued building permits for 4,284 housing units – six times the annual average over the previous 10 years.

Although we expect the new housing units and additional renter protections to stabilize real estate costs and enhance housing security for residents within our city limits, Oakland can’t solve the larger crisis on its own.

That’s why we need a regional approach. Our city’s goals are ambitious, but they will do little if our neighboring jurisdictions don’t do their part. The continued regional job growth will only continue to put housing pressure on Oakland.

Innovation thrives in urban regions because of two distinguishing characteristics — density and diversity. As the Bay Area loses its diversity, we risk losing our ability to innovate.

Earlier this year, I joined regional leaders to launch CASA – the Committee to House the Bay Area – to bring together public officials, the business sector, community-based organizations, and philanthropy, to create new strategies to address our region’s shared housing crisis.

CASA is already considering two potential game-changers: create a substantial and sustainable affordable housing funding system and set-up a new regional housing agency to coordinate housing policy and funding throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Our region has taken bold steps in the past to lay the foundation for continued prosperity and innovation. In the 1960s, faced with growing freeway and bridge congestion, the Bay Area collaborated in the formation of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

Now, the San Francisco Bay Area needs to lay the groundwork for a new kind of regional infrastructure – this time to solve our shared housing crisis.

In Oakland, we believe we can solve this housing crisis, but only if our neighbors join us.