Bay Area housing allocations must fight displacement, expand opportunities

Illustration of a large, newly-built house overshadowing the older, established neighborhood behind it
Emily Bi/File

Related Posts

The Bay Area is poised to make decisions that will determine the housing outcomes for generations to come — either resulting in greater equity and opportunities across the region or potentially leading us down a path to increasing racial segregation and displacement. 

This month and next, the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, will be making key decisions concerning the distribution of future housing development “allocations” across the 101 cities of the Bay Area.

The purpose of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, is to ensure that every city and county does its fair share to accommodate the region’s population growth over the next eight years. The RHNA allocations are comprehensive mandates for all housing development across all jurisdictions in the region. It sets expectations for housing development for everything from very low-income households — which includes housing for people experiencing homelessness — to middle-income housing to market-rate housing.

This allocation has significant influence over the planning process and locations of housing projects in every city across the Bay Area.

Under the current RHNA cycle, which guides housing development for the years 2015-2022, historical patterns of racial segregation have persisted. It has allocated huge housing development expectations to “the big three” inner cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — far above the regional share of households in those cities, while allocating a far lower share to the region’s suburban jurisdictions.

ABAG is in the process of updating the RHNA for its next cycle, which will guide allocations for the years 2023-2030. We see this as an opportunity — now is the time to adopt a more enlightened regional housing vision that will ensure inclusivity and prosperity by combating racial segregation. This vision must do two things: open housing opportunities for everyone, in all Bay Area cities big and small, urban and suburban, and also minimize displacement pressures in gentrifying communities.

While no methodology is perfect, ABAG’s proposal, called Option 8A in the RHNA recommendations, emphasizes allocating new housing in “high opportunity areas.” Option 8A would allocate affordable homes to jurisdictions that have been identified as having quality jobs, adequately resourced schools and minimal pollution. High-opportunity jurisdictions that are mostly zoned for single-family homes would have to zone some portion of their land area for multifamily housing in order to meet very low- and low-income housing development allocations.

With the ABAG Executive Board considering the methodology Dec. 17, anti-development interests are applying pressure on the board to pass a different methodology. Our organization, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, along with the regional 6 Wins for Social Equity Network and dozens of other housing justice advocates, are strongly urging ABAG to reject these attempts to undermine the allocation process that would allow suburban jurisdictions to continue exclusionary policies that do not require areas to increase low-income housing zoning.

A majority of ABAG’s Housing Methodology Committee members also support an important “equity adjustment” to Option 8A. This adjustment ensures that every high-opportunity jurisdiction receives a share of the region’s very low- and low-income housing development allocations that is at least proportional to the city’s share of the region’s total number of households.

It is essential that we push the ABAG Executive Board to adopt that much-needed equity adjustment to Option 8A.

Reversing regional segregation is not just about opening opportunities in the suburbs; it is just as much about fighting accelerated gentrification in urban areas. Even with the adoption of Option 8A, there are significant implications of this new Bay Area RHNA for gentrifying communities that we must not overlook. In the midst of the current debate over methodology options, the “best” RHNA methodology will still more than double the pace of market-rate development in urban neighborhoods.

If this RHNA process does not acknowledge the disparate impact on sensitive communities at the local level — and if SB 35’s by-right market-rate development ends up exacerbating risks of gentrifying “hot market” communities of color — we will see regional segregation and displacement continue to increase at a faster rate than the region is able to open new housing opportunities in some high-resource suburban areas. This would be a perverse outcome of the RHNA update that no amount of methodological tweaking could mitigate.

We must fight back against accelerated gentrification in core urban communities while also advocating overall increased housing development across more of the Bay Area’s 101 cities.

For the moment, this decision on adopting the Option 8A RHNA methodology will play a significant role in how our region moves forward out of this pandemic-induced recession and into a more equitable future. We need every jurisdiction in the region to be equally committed to meeting regional housing needs, while also providing more housing options for low-income individuals and people of color. 

Addressing these two issues — opening opportunities in high-resource areas and combatting urban displacement — will be key to allowing current and future generations of Bay Area residents the opportunity to choose their community based on their needs, preferences and access to resources and not have their futures constrained by their race or economic background.

Fernando Martí and Peter Cohen are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations and members of the 6 Wins for Social Equity Network.