Fed up with soaring prices that are increasingly putting home ownership, or even a decent rental, out of reach, Bay Area residents overwhelmingly say they want more housing built, according to a new poll. But it better not make their commutes worse.
Residents said they support everything from new single family homes to housing for the homeless in their communities, tossing aside NIMBY concerns that sometimes throw a wrench in building plans. But there were limits to their enthusiasm. Respondents balked at building anything that would cut into the Bay Area’s cherished open spaces or funnel more people onto crowded local freeways and public transit, making their treks to work longer.
The responses, in a five-county poll conducted for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and this news organization, left some housing advocates hopeful that public sentiment is shifting in favor of building more housing. But the survey also illustrates the hurdles the Bay Area faces in solving its housing shortage.
“I think as more people personally experience the crisis of the lack of affordable housing, we’re seeing public support gradually move upwards, including support for bringing new affordable housing into people’s own neighborhoods — which is a new trend in the 27 years I’ve been working in the field,” said Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of housing nonprofit California Housing Partnerships. “This feels like something different and new that is happening now.”
Tyler Young is one of many Bay Area residents feeling the impact of the region’s housing crunch first-hand. The 31-year-old lawyer moved his family to Dublin from San Francisco in 2015 when his landlord decided to raise the monthly rent by $700, asking $5,000 for a two-bedroom apartment near AT&T Park. Now Young, his pregnant wife and 2-year-old son rent a condo in Dublin for $3,000 a month.
“I do think it’s a serious issue,” Young said of the housing shortage. That’s why he supports building housing of all types, including in his own neighborhood.
“I welcome as much development as can happen,” he said, “but I understand that there are people who don’t feel that way.”
Of the 900 registered voters surveyed, 64 percent said they favor building significant quantities of new housing, and 53 percent said they would support new construction even if it changed the character of their neighborhood. But fewer than half — 46 percent — were willing to sacrifice open space for new development, and just 30 percent said they would support new housing that brought more people onto local roads and transit systems, making their commutes worse.
When speaking generally, 89 percent of people supported both building more low-income housing and more housing for the homeless. A slightly smaller percentage would welcome those developments into the communities where they live and shop and where their kids go to school. Seventy-eight percent of respondents supported building low-income housing in their own neighborhood, and 69 percent supported building homeless housing in their neighborhood.
Those numbers seem high to Laura Foote Clark, executive director of the pro-development organization YIMBY Action, but she said that support won’t necessarily translate into more building permits. Saying you support housing in a survey is one thing, she said. It’s quite another to show up at city meetings or email local elected officials to voice that opinion.
“There’s two fundamental problems,” Clark said. “Those people are not necessarily aware of how to engage with government in order to express that point of view. And then the second big problem is housing takes place in a particular place. So everyone might be supportive of housing in general, and then when you propose a specific project, that general support sometimes wanes.”