Terner Center Blog: No Limits

Legislation for Information: Sacramento’s Role in Filling Housing Data Gaps

Posted on by Carolina Reid and Echo Bergquist

As California’s lawmakers return to Sacramento next week, it is worth paying attention to current legislative efforts to improve access to data that can inform our understanding of the state’s housing crisis. While the final package of housing legislation is still to be determined, some of the original bills -- including SB 35, AB 1397, and AB 879—have the potential to improve housing data quality throughout California.  

Why focus on data?  Despite the severity of California’s housing crisis, and the importance of the housing sector to the overall health of the state’s economy, we lack basic data on many critical aspects of housing production and supply.  Seemingly simple questions—such as how many new units of affordable housing were built in cities across California in the last five years—are surprisingly difficult to answer.  While creative efforts to fill these gaps do exist—including crowdsourcing apps, mapping efforts, and data-sharing by private sector firms—for some data gaps, legislative fixes might be best.

Better data would enhance our work as a research institution and would bolster the effectiveness of advocates and private sector leaders. Better data through legislation would also directly benefit legislators themselves. It would enable our elected leaders to create effective evidence-based policy and to mobilize on crucial housing issues such as homelessness among veterans.

A Missing Piece: Housing Production in California

As alluded to above, one of the critical data gaps that legislation could help address is the lack of information on where, how much and what type of housing is produced each year, as well as the affordability restrictions on each property. Currently, that information is surprisingly hard to gather, if it is collected at all. While some cities like San Francisco make their development pipeline data public, many compile this information in a manner that makes it difficult to obtain and cumbersome to analyze.

Steve Spiker, Research & Technology Director at the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, encapsulated the issue in a recent interview. In the current state of affairs, he said, various public agencies obtain and retain housing data in inconsistent formats, and some housing data are so inaccessible and difficult to use that even public agencies themselves have resorted to buying repackaged public data from private entities.

One specific opportunity for improvement is with the Annual Progress Report (APR) that each city or county must submit annually to California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to report on their annual housing production. These reports are intended to show how well the jurisdiction’s housing stock and production is meeting local and regional housing needs as outlined in the Housing Element of their General Plan. APRs should provide robust data on cities’ housing production, including the extent to which cities are building units affordable to very low, low, and moderate-income households. In practice, though, they rarely achieve this goal.

Improving APR data quality and reporting is a top priority for legislators in Sacramento.  Several of the original proposed bills aim to broaden the scope of reporting jurisdictions by extending the reporting requirement to charter cities, which are currently excluded from submission requirements. Of California’s 482 cities, 121 are charter cities, including major population centers such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. Although some of them submit APRs of their own volition, a blanket mandate would significantly bolster the chance of getting statewide data from APRs.

Other proposed changes include better information on the number of housing units proposed, produced, and denied broken down by level of affordability; more uniform identification of parcels of land available for development; increased granularity and richness of the data on vacant parcels; and the inclusion of a specific analysis of the balance between an area’s jobs and housing. The latter is an issue that is particularly vexing in California’s large metro areas which continue to produce high-quality and high-paid jobs while failing to produce housing at the same pace.

Collecting better data on production and affordability is also a key component underlying SB 35 (Wiener), which proposes a streamlined approval process for affordable housing. The main principle of Wiener’s bill is similar to Massachusetts’ Chapter 40B, which smooths the approvals process for affordable housing and allows developers to appeal to the state in jurisdictions where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is affordable.  In addition to its implications for housing production, SB 35 would mandate annual reporting on the issuance of entitlements, building permits, and certificates of occupancy. This could provide new transparency into the local entitlement and permitting process. With these requirements, SB 35 could help pinpoint with better accuracy the factors that delay and stymie housing development.

Legislative Action Can Make a Difference

Kristy Wang, Community Planning Policy Director at SPUR, has spearheaded an effort to assess the role legislation might play in filling housing data gaps. According to SPUR’s analysis, access to better-quality permitting and production data through legislative action could enable the public, researchers and media to hold jurisdictions accountable for producing their fair share of housing. It would also enhance the utility of the Housing Accountability Act, Housing Element law and fair housing law.

Better data are essential to understanding the links between housing supply, demand, and affordability, and will help us to develop better evidence-based policies to address the housing crisis.  As the housing crisis continues to exact real costs on both economic productivity and people’s well-being, it is heartening that lawmakers in Sacramento are finally paying attention. With substantive new legislation and better data-collection mechanisms for assessing that legislation’s effectiveness, we can take action to create better housing prospects for all Californians.


Modular Construction in the Bay Area: The Future is Now

This post originally appeared on the ULI San Francisco Blog on August 2, 2017. After years of abstract discussions and false starts, modular building may finally be gaining the momentum it needs to make an impact in the Bay Area. Why now? And why here? On Tuesday, July 18, the San Francisco District Council of the Urban Land Institute hosted “Modular Construction in the Bay Area: The Future is Now”, an event moderated by Terner Center for Housing Innovation Faculty Director Carol Galante. The panel discussion featured four leaders committed to bringing this innovative housing method to scale in the Bay Area: Developers Rick Holliday of Holliday…


Too Big to Hide: The Importance of Public Data on the Mortgage Market

Posted on by Carolina Reid and Echo Bergquist

Fair lending is the foundation of a thriving economy, both locally and nationally. Access to credit drives home purchases, revitalizes neighborhoods, and allows families to build wealth for future generations. Since the financial crisis, however, tighter credit standards have made it increasingly difficult to obtain a mortgage, especially for low-income and minority borrowers.  A key challenge facing policymakers is how to reform the housing finance system in a way that provides access to credit for a broad range of households, yet at the same time ensures that homeownership is sustainable over the long-term.  Striking this balance is critical, not only…


Jumpstarting the Market for Accessory Dwelling Units

This post originally appeared on the Berkeley Blog on May 23, 2017. It shares insights from our recently released report Jumpstaring the Market for Accessory Dwelling Units: Lessons Learned from Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.   ADU permitting explodes: Permits as a share of all residential permits. How did Portland, Oregon go from permitting two accessory dwelling units (ADUs) per month in 2009 to almost two per day in 2016?  Now, more than one of every ten housing units built in Portland is an ADU. Compared to other housing types, ADUs, or separate small dwellings embedded within single family properties, are…


Highlights from the Terner Center Promoting Affordability Conference

Though U.S. cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are important engines of the American economy, their rapid growth in jobs and populations has not been met with a comparable pace of growth in housing. The result? Increasing pressure on both the rental and for-sale housing markets, and skyrocketing costs of living for a larger and larger proportion of the people who live in these cities.  On Thursday June 1, the Terner Center hosted a special convening intended to delve into this issue, exploring solutions to that could help expand the supply of housing, lower the cost…


Rowing in the Same Direction? Aligning Sustainability and Housing Policies, Strategies and Goals

Posted on by Sara Draper Zivetz

Access to quality housing in stable neighborhoods is increasingly recognized as a fundamental building block for individual and family outcomes. Where you live, how much you spend on your housing, and how stable a place it is for you and your family has well-documented effects on economic prosperity, educational attainment, and health and well being, among others. Meanwhile, the location, design and affordability of housing is also deeply tied to issues of environmental justice and climate change. As related but distinct segments of the environmental field, housing and housing policy play an important though often under-discussed role in both issues:…


Balancing the tax code to relieve housing cost burdens

Posted on by Terner Center Team

Of the more than 21 millions renters in the United States who are burdened by the cost of housing today, more than 15 million can not access assistance they are eligible for, because there aren’t enough federal resources to meet their needs. In part, this is a result of skewed tax code that directs significant expenditures to homeowners and other policy priorities, and leaves the housing security and economic mobility of renter families behind.  Amidst emerging conversations about reforming the federal tax code, it is important that we are reminded of this imbalance and seize the opportunity, should there be…


Building Affordability by Building Affordably: the case for Off-site Multifamily Construction

Posted on by Carol Galante and Sara Draper-Zivetz

To remain relevant and successful over time, every industry must modernize and adapt to changing demands and opportunities in the marketplace. The housing development industry is no exception, and over the years, has experienced its fair share of evolutions and revolutions in business model and product design. Today, as housing developers face rapidly changing consumer preferences, population demands, technological advances, and an ever- rising cost of construction, the adage “innovate or perish” may be timelier than ever. How will the housing industry adapt to these new realities? As a recently released report from McKinsey & Company points out, the construction…


Federal Policy Outlook: 2017 and Beyond

Posted on by Terner Center Team
Filed under: Informing the Dialogue,

Since November's federal election, many have been considering what the incoming Administration portends for housing policy and practice in the next four years. Last Tuesday, California Housing Consortium and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation welcomed over 100 people to a panel discussion in Oakland intended to explore this question. The event brought together housing experts Michael Novogradac of Novogradac & Associates, Chris Gouig of Alameda County Housing Authority, Matt Schwartz of California Housing Partnership Corporation, and our Faculty Director, Carol Galante. CHC Policy Director Marina Wiant moderated the conversation, asking questions about tranistions in federal leadership in housing, the nature and implications of impending tax reform,…


Opening Doors to Homeownership Series Part 1: Lease-Purchase

Posted on by Carol Galante, Carolina Reid, Rocio Sanchez-Moyano

A number of recent studies suggest that the American Dream, with its promise of upward mobility, is diminishing for current and future generations as the racial wealth gap grows and access to opportunity shrinks. This troubling trend is most evident in one of the dream’s most potent symbols: homeownership. In recent years, alongside widening inequality, rates of homeownership among young adults and minority families have declined precipitously and, in 2016, the national homeownership rate fell to its lowest level in more than 50 years.  What explains this trend? Working families (and especially lower-income and minority households) seeking to buy their…