February 13, 2023 Housing Action Coalition

Holding NIMBY Cities Accountable

A multi-unit property located within the mission district on Thursday, March 3, 2022, in San Francisco , Calif. San Francisco legislators and housing activists were at the forefront of pushing for a new state law to increase density in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. But now that the law, SB9, is on the books, city leaders are considering a host of proposals that would let San Francisco go its own way. On one hand, the city’s proposals would allow for more density by permitting homes citywide to be converted to fourplexes. That said, San Francisco’s plan would gut a key piece of SB9, by requiring that all projects still go through the city’s lengthy design review process, which makes projects susceptible to drawn out challenges from neighbors.

In the housing world, the word of the year for 2023 is accountability.

For far too long, NIMBY cities have been able to stand idly by while the Bay Area’s need for new housing has grown more and more severe. Anti-housing elected officials, backed by a coalition of NIMBY single-family homeowners and others have abused the power of local control to block, restrict, and prevent the construction of much-needed multi-family housing.

And as our housing shortage worsens, jurisdictions across the Bay Area continue to either neglect or intentionally avoid the responsibility of building their fair share of housing.

It’s easy to laugh in incredulity at the lengths certain cities will go to avoid building new housing; like when Woodside declared their city a mountain lion sanctuary in a deliberate attempt to avoid complying with housing laws; or when; or when Orinda included a 1-foot-wide sliver of land as a potential site for new housing in their housing element.

But these shameless ruses are no laughing matter. The result of NIMBY cities abusing local power and failing to comply with state housing laws is a Bay Area region that’s rife with homelessness, income inequality, clogged freeways, and pollution from long commutes.

As it stands today, California needs to add between 1.8 million to 2.5 million new homes by 2025. Those numbers are staggering, and certainly won’t be met if historically anti-housing cities like San Francisco or Piedmont are allowed to maintain the status quo.

San Francisco, for example, is mandated by the state to build 82,000 homes over the next eight years. Reaching this goal would require a radical jump in construction—in the past couple of years, SF has been building an average of 2,000-3,000 homes. And new housing applications have stopped as projects in the pipeline have stalled due to financial infeasibility.

Thankfully, California’s Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD,) and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, have started to crack down on NIMBY cities that are failing to build their fair share of housing.

In August of 2022, the state department announced its first-ever policy and practice review of San Francisco’s housing approval process to analyze why SF has such an arduous and lengthy approval process.

Additionally, organizations like HAC and YIMBY have been heavily involved in the city’s housing element process—organizing volunteers to help identify places to build and making sure government leaders are doing their due diligence to submit a smart, good-faith plan for how they’re going to contribute to the state-mandated goal of building 441,176 new units of housing over the next eight years.

For the state of housing in the Bay Area and California, the mounting pressure to build is a source of optimism. Under the watchful eye of HCD, and the persistent advocacy of grassroots organizations, our hope is that cities across our region will start actively addressing the severe demand for new housing.

This is not only a good thing for housing affordability, but will also help address our climate crisis, make educational opportunities more equitable, and help employers attract and retain workers.

If we want to create a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous region, building housing is a great place to start.

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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