Finally, there is some action on the regional housing crisis. The CASA Compact is the first document that spells out a plan to solve the Bay Area’s housing shortage.
The policy package is sure to be controversial, and it will not be universally accepted in cities across the region, but there should be nothing for local governments to fear about the plan. Petaluma in particular could benefit from adopting these policies.
The plan, from a consortium of regional governments, businesses and labor groups, acknowledges that housing in the Bay Area has become too expensive for many to afford, mainly due to a lack of new building.
There are many reasons for a lack of new housing construction, but one major impediment has been local opposition. One way to think of it is cities saying, “Sure, there is a housing crisis, but let’s put the new homes in some other city.” Another way of thinking about it is residents who say, “I own a house, so there is no housing crisis.”
That is great for homeowners who bought houses in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when new houses were plentiful and cheap. But do you like traveling to Austin, Texas, or Boulder, Colorado to visit your kids and grandkids because they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area communities where they grew up?
The CASA Compact “is about what kind of place our kids and grandkids will live in.” The forward-looking document lays out plans to make the Bay Area housing market more inclusive within the next 15 years. Some of those plans include just cause evictions for renters, a region-wide cap on rent increases, and rental assistance for low-income tenants.
Critics of the plan claim that the more controversial parts of the proposal take away local control of housing policy. It doesn’t. What it seeks to do is work to remove regulatory red tape that has held up good projects and added cost that developers pass on to the future residents.
Petaluma has already implemented some of these proposals, including streamlining accessory dwelling units and requiring inclusionary affordable housing. The compact would set regional standards for minimum zoning around transit and tighten the approval process for projects that meet applicable zoning requirements.
Local residents will still be able to define the future of their cities through General Plans, but it is no longer acceptable to say, “We don’t want any more growth.” If there is a regional transit stop, like Petaluma’s future east side SMART station, then residential development around the station will be expected to meet a minimum density.
The idea is to create walkable developments that don’t require residents to own a car, which will reduce the impact on traffic that many fear would come with new development.
The CASA Compact is a policy prescription for Bay Area cities of the future. Petaluma should get on board and make a significant impact in solving the housing crisis.