Coming to Terms With the Bay Area's Housing 'Death Spiral'

Prospects for solving the Bay Area's severe housing shortage look far off. Action on the state level may be one way to approach this crippling collective action problem.
September 12, 2017, 7am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Jorg Hackemann

Facing some of the nation's highest prices, the Bay Area has become ground zero for the housing crisis. SPUR president Gabriel Metcalf writes, "The problem was that we needed to figure out where all the newcomers could live without pushing existing residents out. And in this fundamental task of urban governance, we have failed terribly."

Tracing the problem's history, Metcalf defends his organization. "SPUR began sounding the alarm in the late 1970s. Following a citywide downzoning and the early signs of gentrification in some San Francisco neighborhoods, it was clear that the city was headed for a housing shortage."

Ideally, Metcalf writes, the Bay Area would build more housing "at all income levels." To get there, he cites putative policies that encourage density, make places more walkable, fund affordable housing, and defend residents from displacement. Quite a wish list, to be sure.

Metcalf acknowledges the issue's entrenched difficulty, calling the housing shortage a collective action problem with no easy local solution. He wants to see solutions that reach beyond the Bay Area. One example: a new state-level framework for housing approvals, "one that strengthens state housing targets for regional and local governments and makes infill housing easier to build, along with reforming the tax system by letting cities keep more of the residential property tax and rewarding cities that build densely enough in transit-oriented locations."

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Published on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in SPUR
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