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Housing Element Toolkit


California is facing an extreme affordability crisis that is driven by the interrelated housing shortage, economic inequity, and climate crises. We are not building enough housing at any income level. When we don’t create enough homes, prices go up and working class and low-income families are forced to live far away from where they work or grew up. This continued upward pressure on the cost of housing means that Bay Area residents are having a harder time finding safe housing and purchasing even a modest home.

California is short over 3.5 million homes, according to a
by the McKinsey Global Institute, which forces more workers to become super commuters—people who have to drive more than 90 minutes to get to work. The lack of affordable housing close to jobs also increases pressure for sprawl development closer to the fringes where urban infrastructure intermingles with
. That’s exactly where wildfire risk is more pronounced, and the fastest growing land use in the Bay Area.

What’s at Risk
Housing Affordability:
The limited supply of homes drives up the cost.
This continued upward pressure on the cost of housing means that Bay Area residents are finding it harder to afford to rent or own a home while balancing other financial obligations.

Legacy of Racist Zoning:
The compounding crises of climate change and housing affordability disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color. The current Bay Area housing shortage is due, in part, to systemic racism and racist zoning practices, such as redlining and single-family zoning. Generations of racial disparities in wealth exacerbated by federally backed lending practices that discriminate against communities of color have resulted in the majority of single family homes being white-owned. Increasing housing supply and density is a powerful tool to address housing affordability, segregation, and reduce
. Cities need to actively plan for diverse housing options that are accessible to people of all backgrounds and income levels, adopting the principles of
These practices perpetuate an ongoing system of implicitly racist housing policies that financially penalize people of color and make our communities even more segregated.

High Vehicle Emissions:
Sprawl and scattered development patterns influence greenhouse gas emissions. Auto-centric development patterns force people to rely on high-emissions personal transportation due to a lack of proximity to jobs and housing.

Extreme Climate Disasters:
Communities all across the Bay Area have already felt the acute impacts of climate change. Flooding and wildfires have led to the devastating loss of homes, jobs, and, tragically, lives. Continuing to build new housing in areas at high risk of climate change disasters will only further limit the region’s housing supply in the long run, while threatening communities and precious natural assets, such as wetlands and forest land, that are crucial in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Critical Actions to Take Now
Increase density within existing communities in non Fire Hazard Severity Zones and away from flood zones.
By building more homes in already established urban areas, we avoid paving over trees and habitat that serve as heat sinks and carbon banks, all of which provide high-value climate benefits. It is critical to support growth in safe infill locations and streamline the permitting process when appropriate, while still allowing for a public process, requiring environmental review, and rewarding jurisdictions that meet housing goals.
Ensure Fair and Inclusive Zoning Policies that Make Housing Accessible to Everyone. This can be done by permitting more growth in high-resource communities and reducing or eliminating single family zoning and other exclusionary zoning in areas that are not prone to fire and flood risk.
It is critical to ensure wealthy communities are zoned for and build their fair share of both market rate and affordable housing by not locating affordable housing exclusively in low-income neighborhoods. Throughout these zoning changes and all processes it is critical to prioritize people of low income and communities of color in housing policies and outreach.
Prepare Communities for Climate Impacts and Require Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Resilience in Future Developments.
Local jurisdictions must be better equipped to help communities struck by natural disasters rebuild and respond rapidly and inclusively. Housing should be built in a manner that protects current and future communities. Integrating green infrastructure into new development and redevelopment is a necessary investment in climate resilience and public health that will reduce energy consumption and the costs of extreme heat and flooding to cities and health care systems. Cities should require developers to integrate green infrastructure into development and the public right-of-way adjacent to developments at a level that exceeds water quality mandates. It is critical to implement improvements to move or protect critical public assets threatened by sea-level rise or rising groundwater as well as require and incentivize green infrastructure in future developments and, when possible, use green infrastructure as a preferred alternative. When applicable it is also beneficial to consider permit streamlining for new housing that exceeds current green infrastructure requirements.
Enable community involvement in decision making around climate resilient development.
This can be done by offering compensation for meeting attendance, providing transportation and childcare to public meetings, and giving residents and community-based organizations ample time to provide feedback on proposals and documents. By embracing these best practices in planning processes, infill development has the opportunity to rejuvenate parts of the city that currently contribute negatively to GHG emissions, urban heat island, and pose fire and flood risk without leading to further displacement.
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