Solving the housing crisis that plagues the Bay Area will demand Herculean resolve and enterprise if cities continue to welcome job-generating high-tech companies to set up shop.
As is well-documented, the sharp increase in the number of jobs in Silicon Valley and San Francisco has caused a painful housing shortage, especially in affordable homes, that has led to the displacement of a growing number of residents, some leaving the area, others ending up in shelters, and still others living in their vehicles or on the street.
San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley noted at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting that between 2010 and 2014, the county saw an increase of 55,000 new jobs, but of only 2,000 new housing units that's nearly 28 jobs for every new housing unit.
While Hercules had 12 years to accomplish his labors, local leaders and lawmakers must move with more urgency as we face the human cost this growing jobs-to-housing imbalance is exacting.
County leaders appear to be taking that call to action seriously. Late last year, the county formed the 55-member Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force to study the problem and draft recommendations. The task force reported to the Board of Supervisors late last month with recommendations on how the county can work with local communities to encourage steps toward easing the housing crisis.
They include urging cities to enact development impact fees to fund affordable housing, and put in place new rules to ease the process for homeowners wishing to add second units on their property.
The county, the task force said, could also lobby Sacramento for new laws allowing local cities to pool their affordable housing funds for joint projects, making the effort to locate and construct the housing more effective.
In addition to creating the task force, the county has taken other steps. The supervisors approved the county's own development impact fees to support affordable housing rules that went into effect last week. And county officials met late last month with apartment building owners and property managers to plan a strategy that would help more people with Section 8 vouchers which support very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to find housing.
Also last month, the supervisors created a new fund that will offer loans to those willing to buy existing affordable, multi-family rental housing if they commit to keeping existing tenants and retaining below-market rents for at least 30 years.
This month, the supervisors are poised to put a measure on the November ballot that would bolster funding for affordable housing in the county. Options include an extension of the county's existing sales tax.
But supervisors appear receptive to the option of a bond measure a strategy that is gaining favor in neighboring counties, including Santa Clara County, whose voters will be asked to approve a $950 million bond this fall. In our neighboring county, leaders determined that revenue generated by a $950 million bond could be combined with state and federal grants to raise about $3 billion for affordable housing projects.
San Mateo County leaders have been taking determined, good-faith steps toward incrementally addressing the local housing crisis that is damaging our communities. But with a problem of such scale and consequence, small steps ultimately might not do the job. A bond measure generating hundreds of millions of dollars, leveraged to attract hefty grants from other sources, to actually build new affordable homes might be the giant step needed to make a real difference.