Following the recent legislative defeat of Senate Bill (SB) 827, Silicon Valley at Home (SV@Home) brought together supporters and opponents of the bill at an Affordable Housing Week forum on May 17 to discuss the future of affordable housing in California.
Moderated by San Jose Mercury News Reporter Louis Hansen, the panel featured State Senator Scott Wiener, who authored SB 827, as well as Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, Cupertino Vice Mayor Rod Sinks, and Jason Rhine, legislative director of the League of California Cities.
SB 827 would have facilitated the construction of higher-density housing near transit in California, but the bill was opposed by tenant rights groups, who feared that lower income residents would be displaced, and affordable housing advocates who felt that the bill’s affordable housing provisions were weak.
While the panelists sparred intermittently over tensions between state government and cities in controlling local development, there was consensus that they shared the same overall goals for solving California’s housing crisis. They also agreed that they needed everyone to pool their resources and skills to meet those goals.
The panelists also agreed that transit-oriented development, a core component of SB 827, remains key to planning housing projects.
Rhine and Sinks suggested that the state create incentives to reward cities that build housing with transportation funding.
In response, Wiener noted this point of overlap between the various sides, stating that there is a need to broaden the tent to be as inclusive as possible of people who are concerned about transit.
There remained disagreement, however, on how much say the state government should have over local development decisions.
Both Wiener and Fishman argued that the state had an indispensable role in setting and enforcing housing requirements, especially to address the destructive legacy of exclusionary zoning.
While Senator Wiener expressed openness to allowing for local flexibility in implementing the requirements for residential development outlined in SB 827, he emphasized that cities have to be held accountable to certain standards
Vice Mayor Sinks captured another area of mutual agreement and potential for shared action: the importance of changing community attitudes toward affordable housing. He highlighted the values that our communities share, including a desire for a strong public school system and ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, and the need to connect those values to how we educate the public about the importance of housing.
Providing housing opportunities for people of all incomes and abilities enriches communities in innumerable ways, and Sinks observed that making this connection was key to changing the hearts and minds of residents on land use decisions, and this would ultimately help bridge the divide between local control and state-level action.
SV@Home will continue to engage with Senator Weiner and other partners to seek common ground.