Opinion: SB 827 would maximize housing near transit in California

California’s thriving economy continues to be the workhorse of American prosperity. In recent years, our innovative companies and highly-skilled workforce have propelled the Golden State to the sixth largest economy in the world.

However, there’s huge trouble on the horizon: We need to construct more homes for all Californians; if we don’t, we jeopardize not only our ability to attract and retain employees and their families, but also our state’s fiscal well-being.

Headlines across the country have been highlighting for months about California’s deepening housing crisis. Despite our economic muscle, we’re also home to the country’s highest poverty rate — due almost entirely to the sky-high cost of housing. And it’s not just low- and middle-income workers suffering from the daily struggle to make the rent. Even our most well-paid engineers are finding they can’t land an apartment anywhere near their place of work.

Contrary to a common misconception, the housing shortage and expanding commute times are not the inevitable consequences of job growth. Plenty of cities in the United States and around the world have managed to maintain strong economies without pricing out the majority of their workers. Not so in California. Between 2009 and 2014, California added an astonishing 77,000 more households than homes. We’re not even adding enough homes to accommodate our own children born in California, let alone job-seekers and others seeking a better life in the Golden State.

To add insult to injury, the housing crisis threatens to derail our world-leading efforts to address traffic pollution. We’re still mostly driving single-occupant gasoline cars and the pace of change in transportation systems is too slow. The California Air Resources Board says that the state must encourage more transit-oriented housing and employment centers, and give workers more alternatives to the private automobile, if we are to achieve our climate commitments.

Thankfully, we know what needs to be done to help alleviate pressure on our straining housing markets. State Sen. Scott Wiener’s Transit-Rich Housing Act, SB 827, offers the most significant step forward on housing, transportation, and renter protections in generations. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group strongly supports this bill and is working to see that it becomes law.

In its October 2016 report, “Closing California’s Housing Gap,” the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 1.2 million to 3 million new homes could potentially be built statewide within a half mile of transit hubs in California. So, by streamlining the construction of infill homes near existing public transit, we can ease our critical shortage of housing while encouraging shorter, more sustainable commutes. What’s more, encouraging residential density near existing transit can ensure more equitable access to public transportation — one of our most important, large-scale public investments.

Opportunities like Regional Measure 3 on the June ballot provide funding for more transit improvements like the BART extension to downtown San Jose, extending Caltrain into downtown San Francisco and rebuilding Diridon Station. SB 827 could also provide the tools to maximize that investment by ensuring cities build denser urban environments around those critical transit hubs. This is the formula to continue to build and grow in an existing urban area.

While adding desperately-needed homes will ease the burden for our most vulnerable neighbors, change will not happen overnight. That’s why Sen. Wiener’s thoughtful amendments that strengthen tenant protections and demolition controls, while honoring local affordability mandates, make this such a strong bill.

If we want a California where everyone can prosper, we need to start opening up our transit corridors to more neighbors. We urge the California state legislature to pass SB 827, and help us ensure that the California economic engine doesn’t stall out while trying to find a place to live.

Carl Guardino is CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

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