Affordable Housing in California: Hot Topic, Hot Potato

June 27, 2017
Written by: Lauren Jennings, CREW East Bay

The affordable housing crisis – it’s a burning hot topic across California, particularly in ‘high rent’ communities like San Francisco and San Mateo – and many voices are weighing in. Whether it be media outlets, legislative bodies or private citizens, there are many facets and agendas when it comes to this issue.

Affordable housing is also a hot potato. While some are concerned that decisions will be made quickly and in a vacuum reaping a multitude of unintended consequences, others say efforts now are too little, too late and we are living out the consequences of inaction. And many, while supportive of affordable housing growth in theory, don’t want it in their neighborhood.

But more and more – it is our neighbors who are being impacted. According to a recently released U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report, even some Bay Area households that bring in six figures a year can now be considered “low income,” with San Mateo and San Francisco among the highest in the country, and Alameda and Contra Costa counties not far behind. According to a housing report from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, nearly half of California’s renters are spending 30 to 50 percent (or more) of their annual income on rent.

The conversation isn’t solely about Section 8 or traditional low-income housing – it is about our teachers, first-responders, essential workers, even doctors – our neighbors, and people vital to the health and well-being of our communities.

Opportunities for Action

There are some notable relationships being forged where creative thinking and innovative partnerships are breaking through.

Legislators have stepped in, introducing a myriad of bills focused on housing (130 of them in the past year), among them Senate Bill 2, by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). This bill would put a new fee on real estate transactions to give the state a new pot of affordable housing money. SB 3 by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) would help fund existing affordable housing programs. Assembly Bill 71, by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) seeks to eliminate a state mortgage interest deduction for second homes to provide about $300 million a year for affordable housing programs. And AB 74 by Chiu wants to use state funding to boost local rental assistance and homelessness programs. Specifically for teachers, the SB 1413 Teacher Housing Act, as well as proposed legislation from Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) and  Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo), are designed to clear hurdles, streamline Education Code processes and provide financial assistance. There is a lot of activity – but where it all leads, and if it provides the right resources in a timely manner, is anyone’s guess.

Entities considered to be “land rich,” including schools and churches, are taking a look at possibly their most valuable physical asset – property – to see how it might be more strategically leveraged. And one initiative that is top of mind is exploring the repurposing of their property either to develop housing or use the proceeds of a sale to fund development.

Concerned community members are joining forces, such as Silicon Valley’s, to gain resources and support to pilot an innovative teacher housing model, that if proven successful, is intended to scale and be available for broader use.

And for-profit real estate and development groups are offering their expertise to help assess and identify the best opportunities for housing success.

All of this activity shows the intensity of the need, as well as a real desire to help bring solutions to the table. This activity is also confusing, and begs to be organized, explained and acted upon. One size does not fit all housing scenarios, and it presents an opportunity for those of us who are well-versed in land use analysis, policy and development to lend our voice and expertise to help drive smart and sustainable choices.

Lauren JenningsLauren Jennings is the Director of Operations for DCG Real Estate, a Dublin-based firm specializing in providing commercial real estate advice, planning and services to mission-based organizations (educational institutions, faith communities, non-profits and local government agencies) who are seeking to transform real estate assets into resources. Lauren has been a member of CREW East Bay since 2016 and can be reached at