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."
San Francisco residents were more likely to back building housing of all types, including low-income and homeless housing, than their neighbors in surrounding counties. Respondents younger than 40 were more likely to favor development than their older counterparts. And 81 percent of apartment-dwellers supported building significant quantities of new housing in the Bay Area, compared to 59 percent of people living in single-family homes.
That's not surprising, said Sydney Bennet, senior research associate at real estate website Apartment List. People renting apartments typically hope to buy a home one day, so they support new development that could lower home prices, she said. But homeowners, who worry about the value of their house falling or their neighborhood changing, have more to lose when new buildings go up.
"People who are homeowners and have lived in the same neighborhood longer may be more attached to that character," Bennet said.
The opinions of renters are becoming increasingly important as home ownership falls out of reach for more people. The region's proportion of renters grew by about 5 percent over the past decade, while the percentage of homeowners dropped in kind, according to a report by New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
Some Bay Area residents can't afford even to rent, like 60-year-old Guadalupe Negrete, who has lived in San Jose her whole life. Since her husband's death four years ago, Negrete, a former bank teller, has survived on widows benefits. After losing the home she owned and then bouncing from rental to rental, she's spent the past 10 months living in her station wagon with her terrier, Bella.
"For a woman 60 years old, that's not the greatest thing," Negrete said. "I didn't stay in San Jose 60 years to end up this way. This is ridiculous."
About the poll: The poll of 900 registered voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties was conducted by J. Moore Methods Inc. Public Opinion Research for Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area News Group. Silicon Valley Leadership Group provided funding for the poll with significant financial support from Facebook. The poll, conducted from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9, has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percent.
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