'The Future Is Not Pretty:' Bay Area Politicians, Tech Leaders Hash Out Housing Solutions

Friday, January 25, 2019
Marisa Kendall
San Jose Mercury News

With new options on the table to solve the Bay Area’s housing shortage, local elected officials and employers need to pick their favorites and make them happen.

That was the message behind a gathering of 200 politicians, corporate leaders, developers and transit providers in Mountain View on Friday. Attendees heard from three panels of housing heavyweights about a range of options: from multiple housing bills in the works, to dozens of ripe-for-development properties owned by VTA and other transit agencies, to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s challenge to local tech companies to invest in housing. At the end of the event, each attendee was asked to commit time and money to at least three specific solutions, which they wrote down on a piece of paper and turned in to organizers.

“The future is not pretty. Our present is not pretty,” Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC, told the crowd. “If you don’t like what traffic looks like today, just you wait if we don’t deal with this housing question.”

“The future is not pretty. Our present is not pretty,” Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC, told the crowd. “If you don’t like what traffic looks like today, just you wait if we don’t deal with this housing question.”

Heminger spoke at LinkedIn’s office during the Housing Solutions Forum organized by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The event built on momentum that’s growing as Sacramento, Bay Area tech companies and local foundations are ramping up their efforts to produce more housing. On Thursday, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and several local partners launched a $500 million affordable housing fund — the Bay Area’s largest to date.

Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, kicked off the event with a plea: “Let’s find areas to work together today for the common good of the citizens in our communities.”

The Leadership Group will follow up with attendees and encourage them to honor their commitments, Guardino said.

A major topic of discussion Friday was a 10-point housing plan recently approved by the Committee to House the Bay Area, or CASA. That plan, drafted by 50 stakeholders including local officials and transit agencies, calls for an emergency rent cap, just cause eviction protections, new zoning rules near transit hubs and other changes. Those ideas will translate into 15 new bills, drafts of which will be ready by next month, two CASA leaders said Friday.

“We are full speed ahead. We’re ready to go,” said CASA co-chair Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of SV@Home. “And we’re going to need a lot of help.”

Heminger also hopes to get at least one CASA initiative on the 2020 ballot.

Sen. Scott Wiener warned “the pushback is coming” from local cities unhappy with the group’s goals, and called on those in the audience Friday to rally behind the 10-point plan.

Wiener also was optimistic about Sacramento’s chances for imposing new renter protections this legislative session.

“We’re going to see a big push for more tenant protections at the state level, which has really stalled out for so many years,” he said. “I think there’s actually more opening this time.”

The increased activity from state officials has local companies breathing a sigh of relief, said Menka Sethi, global mobility manager of Facebook, which has contributed to housing development through its Catalyst Housing Fund.

“We in the private sector can fund, fund, fund all we want, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t get the housing built,” she said. “So it’s refreshing to see true stepping-up from the public sector.”

Panelists also stressed the importance of building housing around transportation hubs, and attendees heard from representatives of BART, VTA, Muni, Caltrain and other major Bay Area transit providers.

VTA owns 25 sites that could be developed into up to 6,000 homes, including 2,000 affordable units, said Nuria Fernandez, general manager and CEO of VTA. But half of those properties are not zoned for residential use, meaning the transit agency needs city governments to re-zone the parcels.

BART owns 250 acres that could be turned into housing. Most of that land is used as parking lots, BART chief planning and development officer Val Menotti said. The challenge is convincing residents and BART riders to give up their parking and accept new development in their community.

Some of the housing industry experts who participated in Friday’s discussion walked away feeling hopeful. Elaine Breeze, vice president of development for SummerHill Apartment Communities, was excited to see so many voices from different sectors participating in the discussion. That variety of viewpoints will lead to better solutions, she said.
It’s an exciting time in the Bay Area, Breeze said, adding, “There’s just a lot of energy around housing.”

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