Should decisions about how we use land be made by government accountable to residents, or by profit-driven developers?
Developers’ number one goal is to maximize returns to their investors and will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal including proposing projects that cause school overcrowding, traffic, a lack of affordable housing, and negative impacts to the environment.
As a Fremont City Councilmember, I’ve seen firsthand how developers make campaign contributions to local elected officials and then get their projects approved in spite of the negative impacts on our communities. New unattractive and poorly planned subdivisions filled with million dollar plus homes are springing up everywhere we look. The thousands of new units being built have not resulted in greater affordability – on the contrary, fewer and fewer Bay Area residents can afford housing.
The solutions proposed by our regional and state leaders, like the ‘CASA Compact’ or the failed Senate Bill 50, advocate taking away local control to make it even easier for developers to get their way. Even though the explosion of new housing production has made the problems of lack of affordability, traffic, and overcrowded schools even worse, these leaders seem to believe that we should double down on this failed strategy by forcing unwanted development on our local communities.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) regularly provides cities with the number of housing units they should be building (called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA)).
In each eight-year cycle, the number of market rate units that are built usually far exceed the RHNA numbers, while almost no housing that would be affordable to teachers, retail workers, or others who make less than the approximately $300,000 in annual income needed to afford a median priced home in Alameda County is being produced.
For example, Fremont has already provided 227% of the market rate housing requirements, while only 18% of the affordable housing required has been built. This disparity will only get worse over the next four years as more of the Warm Springs development gets built. (See photo.)
Unfortunately, these numbers from the City of Fremont are similar to those of other local municipalities, and similar to those in prior eight-year periods.
When developers build market rate housing in Fremont, they are required to pay fees that go toward a fund that is used to subsidize affordable housing. Unfortunately, the funds generated by these fees are insufficient to come anywhere close to meeting the backlog of affordable housing that needs to be built.
Every new unit of market rate housing actually generates the need for MORE affordable housing. This was clearly shown by a Nexus study conducted for the City of Fremont. Yet the burden created by all the new expensive housing being built is falling on the taxpayers. For example, Alameda County recently passed a $200 million bond measure for affordable housing development.
The answer to solving the Bay Area housing crisis is not to give greater power to developers to impose yet more expensive, poorly planned housing developments on our communities.
Instead, we must insist that future development pays its fair share of the costs it creates including increased needs for affordable housing and improved infrastructure and schools.