Consider the following statistics, released June 14 in a report jointly authored by TransForm, an Oakland-based nonprofit that says it supports "systemic changes in transportation and land use that simultaneously address climate change and inequality," and the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Council, a San Mateo-based nonprofit focused on supporting housing development and affordability for residents and workers in the county.
Since 2010, congestion-related traffic delays in the region have gotten 80 percent longer, says the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Locally, more than 20 percent of people out of 338 who participated in a survey who work near El Camino Real and around Caltrain stations from Palo Alto to San Bruno said they had quit or lost a job because it was hard to get to work. Forty percent of the people who commute to San Mateo County from another county make less than $50,000 annually. And between now and 2024, it's expected that almost half of the new jobs created in the county will pay less than $65,000 a year, with the bulk of those paying under $30,000.
At the same time, it's estimated that people need to earn an annual income of $118,800 to afford to rent the average two-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County. As of April 2018, the median single-family home in San Mateo County cost $1.6 million. To buy that home, a household would need to earn $383,000 a year. To buy a median condo, the report says, a household would need to earn $225,000 a year.
The report, called "Moving San Mateo County Forward: Housing and Transit at a Crossroads," culls data from a wide range of sources and tells the not new, but increasingly nuanced, tale of how the Peninsula's twin problems – a stunted, costly housing supply and jam-packed roads triggered by major job growth in the area – are inextricably linked. The report also includes recommendations for what regional authorities and local jurisdictions should do to address those problems simultaneously.
Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council, says that because the problems of traffic and housing are so linked, policymakers should also take this into account.
"We could spend billions on transportation and actually have traffic get worse if we don't build enough affordable homes," she said in an interview.
"The goal overall is to think about transportation and housing holistically."
The report's release comes at a time when the county is considering bringing a half-cent transportation sales tax before voters on the November ballot, and includes some ideas for how that money might be spent. One policy recommendation is to distribute that new county transportation money, if approved, to cities based on their past track records in approving affordable housing.
The county could also take steps to support affordable housing development in areas where infrastructure enables car-free mobility -- places where there's public transportation, pedestrian and bike-friendly areas, and proximity to jobs and shopping.
The report's authors also recommend the county put at least 10 percent of the funding in the measure toward improving infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians, and to continue or increase its support for affordable housing.
The report also states that the county could set as its transportation priorities the following: increasing funding for SamTrans services; supporting new signals or lanes that let buses move faster than regular traffic; making fare more affordable for low-income service workers; and improving the speed, frequency and reliability of existing transit services.
People use public transit when it exists and is convenient, the report's authors assert. They say that, according to a report by the American Public Transport Association, ridership increased 25 percent in two years after Caltrain launched its baby bullet express service in 2004. Ridership is now 150 percent greater than it was in 2004.
But solutions don't just lie with the county, the report asserts.
Transit agencies like Caltrain can prioritize affordable housing for their properties, which could change how those sites are developed over time. They recommend that 25 percent of any housing developments permitted on Caltrain property be designated for rent at below the market rate.
Cities can adopt land-use policies that support housing affordability near transit, Stivers said, noting that cities generally tend to have more power over land use than traffic and transportation. The report recommends cities adopt impact fees and inclusionary housing, both of which Menlo Park has; streamline the approval process for backyard housing units; and create policies that protect people from getting displaced from their communities.
"Housing policy is transportation policy," Stivers said. "Separating them doesn't get the results we need."