I recently attended a joint meeting of several Southern Alameda County cities to hear about the CASA Compact.  This was a project conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).  The goal was to help address the lack of housing in the SF Bay Area.

The CASA Compact is not any official legislation but the main ideas it contains are likely to come before the California State legislature as Assembly Bill 50.

Unfortunately, in my opinion the CASA Compact is a giveaway to developers while doing not enough to provide affordable housing for Bay Area residents.  The Compact allows housing developers to develop high-density, market rate housing in ‘transit areas’.  These are defined as loosely as an area where one bus line comes by every 15 minutes.  This would be statewide legislation that would override local zoning ordinances.

While there may be requirements to build a small amount of affordable housing on site, most of the required units would be market rate developments.  As I have repeatedly said, and nexus studies have confirmed, developing market rate housing only exacerbates the affordable housing problem.

The Compact does mention a number of potential funding sources to build affordable housing.   However, these are all presented as potential funding sources.  It’s unclear if SB 50 will make any of these funding sources a reality.

So, in short, the developers are guaranteed that they will get to build a lot of new, market rate housing but actual funding for affordable housing is left up in the air.

There were some items for tenant’s rights thrown in but I don’t believe these will be very effective.  A just cause eviction order is included which would be a welcome change.  However, the rent increase limitations are given as 5 percent plus CPI (consumer price index) every year.  Since CPI is typically around 2 or 3 percent per year, this would result in a 7 to 8 percent increase every year while Social Security benefits typically only go up by the CPI.

Most of the local elected officials hearing this report expressed many concerns.  Some of these are:

  • The idea was presented as a done deal now on its way to Sacramento.  While MTC consulted the mayors of the three largest Bay Area cities, other localities (such as Fremont) where left out of the discussion.
  • Clearly, some cities have been better about allowing housing than others.  Fremont, as Mayor Lily Mei pointed out, has approved over 8,000 new units recently.  Yet, the CASA Compact doesn’t take any of this into account.  Instead, it provides a ‘one size fits all’ approach to all cities.
  • The idea that new development near a frequent bus line will necessarily be ‘transit oriented’ is laughable.  Unless planning is done to ensure true mixed-use, walkable development is done, these developments will likely only contribute to the sprawl and horrible traffic of the Bay Area.

Once again we see the influence of the residential housing builders on State government that will force unwanted development onto local municipalities.  If the goal is to produce better planned communities that provide affordable housing and get people out of their cars, there are much better ways to do this.