May 2, 2024 Corey Smith

The Path Toward Building the Affordable Housing We Need

May is Affordable Housing Month! While this month provides an opportunity to celebrate the progress the pro-housing community has helped achieve, May is also a stark reminder of the challenges our region and state still have to overcome. As it stands, the Bay Area needs to build 180,000 affordable homes by 2031. At our current rate of affordable housing production, we’re on track to fall embarrassingly short of that goal. 

It’s hard to chalk all of these shortcomings to local and statewide housing policy. In recent years, the pro-housing community has celebrated major wins legislative wins to make it faster and easier to get affordable housing approved and entitled. Laws like AB 2011 and SB 423, have broken down NIMBY barriers and eliminated some of the bureaucracy that, for years, have prevented California from building the affordable housing it needs.

With that being said, reforming our land-use policies isn’t a silver bullet. There are several missing pieces required to solve our affordable housing crisis. Funding, for example, is critical to building the affordable housing we need.

Affordable housing production has been underfunded for decades at all three levels of government. I will say, there is optimism that the funding we need is coming. In San Francisco, Proposition A passed passed in March, generating $300 million for the creation of affordable housing. There is an even more ambitious initiative set to be on November 2024 ballot, as the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) are aiming to put a regional bond measure that would create $20 billion in funding for affordable housing that would be distributed across the Bay Area’s nine counties. This is a potentially transformative effort that could radically change the landscape of affordable housing in the Bay Area. 

Last month, I got the opportunity to travel to Vienna, Austria with a cohort of pro-housing advocates to learn about their housing system. With clean streets, bustling urban centers, and staggerily low rents, there’s a lot the Bay Area and California could learn from the Austrian capital. As I walked along the city’s cobbled streets, I was impressed with not only the abundance of small apartments, but also how much new housing was in process of getting built. To quote Adam Briones from California’s Community Builders,  “just look at all the cranes.” 

The foundation of Vienna’s housing success is a housing policy that ensures all residents can find a safe, stable, and affordable place to live by concentrating funding toward building new hoems. For example, in Vienna 1% of all salaries are taxed, which provides a consistent funding stream for housing production. A product of their aggressive, build-first approach, is a far more equitable society, where residents have safe, stable, and affordable homes. It’s no wonder why Vienna is ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world. 

As we grapple with an affordable housing shortage in the Bay Area and California, I hope we can learn from Vienna and implement the pro-housing approach that has made the city so successful.  

Corey Smith

Corey Smith is HAC's Executive Director and can be reached at

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