and that the building of new housing in downtown Berkeley will continue. Let’s build on this momentum, and get serious about addressing the massive housing shortage in our community that is hitting working families hard. Downtown is great, but we have to do an order of magnitude more to bring supply and demand into balance.
Only 18% of Alameda County families can afford to buy the average home. In San Francisco the average rent is a staggering 46% of the average household income. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family must earn $37.62/hour to afford the average 2 bedroom in San Francisco, and $30.35 to rent a 2 bedroom in the “affordable” East Bay. And the trend line is pointing way up.
For folks who want an overview of how we got in this situation, I highly recommend this article from back in April. It’s a long read and has a SF/tech industry perspective, but the dynamics discussed here apply to the whole Bay Area.
A few of the takeaways that I think are particularly pertinent to Berkeley:
Most voters (and politicians) have a strong incentive for keeping the status quo. For homeowners like me, a housing shortage means your home price appreciates. Free money! And for tenants in rent controlled units, increases in housing supply won’t reduce their rents since they’re not subject to the market. So politicians don’t have much of a constituency for building a lot more housing. Meanwhile, the folks who are forced to live further and further away and commute to service jobs here don’t get to vote in our elections.
Some “progressives” don’t believe in supply and demand. I’ve heard this at parties and online – people who say “the new condos are just for rich people”, or think that pro-development policies are a front for greedy real estate interests. Then there are the folks who have pet theories about how housing economics really work, which can feel eerily like talking with climate deniers. It’s actually pretty simple Econ 101 stuff – the rich folks will be at the front of the line no matter what, and if you don’t build the condos they’ll just take over middle-class housing. Build more housing and at least the line gets longer.
Well-off homeowners don’t like increased housing density. I get it. More traffic is annoying. It’s nice to have quiet, tree lined streets that feel safe for kids. When you buy a house you feel like you bought the neighborhood as it was, and don’t want big changes that will impact your quality of life. As a result, well-to-do homeowners often fight hard against new housing, as we saw in San Francisco where Proposition B jeopardized nearly 4,000 new housing units and $124 million in affordable housing fees, and was funded primarily by a single wealthy couple that live in a nearby condo complex.
All of these things make sense, but they’re not “progressive” — they’re making it impossible for working people to live here. The good news is that this is an area where local leadership has a lot of power to make a difference. This is not like climate change and corporate personhood and other issues that Berkeley likes to spend time on but doesn’t have a ton of control over. We are in charge here, and can make a major impact without raising taxes."