Terner Center Blog: No Limits

Aligning Sustainable and Affordable Development in California

Posted on by Sarah Mawhorter and Carol Galante

California has long been considered a leader in combating climate change, but the state’s housing crisis—with inadequate supply in urban cores and a legacy of sprawling suburban development—threatens its ability to achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (Senate Bill 375) aligns land use and transportation planning in order to drive development in transit-accessible places and reduce car dependency and vehicle emissions. SB 375 resulted directly from the goals laid out in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32) and was signed into law in 2008. SB 375 requires California Metropolitan Planning Agencies (MPOs) to create a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) that identifies the locations and types of development needed to lower vehicle miles traveled and meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Since the passage of SB 375 a decade ago, climate change and housing issues have remained high priorities in the state legislature, with especially notable movement in the last year. In July of 2017, the state renewed its commitment to the cap-and-trade program through the end of 2030. In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of bills aimed at building more affordable housing, and the recent state budget boosted spending to prevent homelessness and supports a $2-billion bond for homeless housing on the November ballot. And earlier this year, a controversial proposal to increase housing density near transit—Senate Bill 827—garnered national attention for its sweeping ambition. Though the bill died in its first committee hearing, it succeeded in elevating the debate around the need to meaningfully couple the state’s environmental and housing goals.

As policymakers continue to work towards more climate-aligned housing strategies and housing-aligned climate strategies, we might start by understanding the successes and challenges of the most important existing legislation that ties the two issues.

How have the housing provisions of SB 375 been implemented? Today the Terner Center is releasing an analysis exploring these questions in an effort to better understand how the state is positioned to advance these goals.

Overall, our researchers found that SB 375 is an important and necessary step towards aligning housing and sustainability goals, and has deeply influenced the regional planning process in California. However, the law’s impact is limited by insufficient incentives and enforcement mechanisms. On its own, and without increased funding and facilitation, SB 375 cannot sufficiently impact development patterns to meaningfully meet California’s urgent affordable housing and sustainability needs. We conclude the paper with a discussion of the importance of incentives, enforcement, capacity and accountability in ensuring SB 375 can realize it’s essential purpose and goals in the future.


Highlights from the James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Competition Studio Symposium

Posted on by Carol Galante

As the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness remains at troubling heights, particularly in high-cost regions, planners, architects, and developers are working to confront the crisis with innovative design, financing, and construction methods. Through the James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Studio course—generously funded by a gift from CED alumni James R. Boyce (M. Arch. ‘67) and co-taught by David Baker and Daniel Simons of David Baker Architects—Carol Galante, Faculty Director of the Terner Center and the I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor of Affordable Housing and Urban Policy in the College of Environmental Design, connects students from a variety of…


Why We Need a New Conversation on Rent Control in California, Today.

Posted on by Carol Galante

Leaders seeking to address California’s housing crisis are facing an important challenge: how to take meaningful and significant policy action to “stop the bleeding” of rising costs, eviction and displacement without generating new challenges that will only prolong the state’s deep affordability challenges. Today’s debate over rent control, and particularly, the movement to repeal Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (which places statewide limits on how jurisdictions implement rent control), has pushed this challenge to the fore. One side of the debate is working to qualify a measure on the November ballot that would fully repeal Costa-Hawkins, enabling localities to expand rent…


A ‘Safe Haven’: Resident Stories Convey the Benefits of Affordable Housing

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) has become the most important funding source for affordable housing development in the United States, producing nearly 3 million housing units since its inception in 1986 and housing over 13 million people. Despite its significance in the housing market, relatively little research has been undertaken to document and understand the experiences of residents living in LIHTC-funded properties. Today, the Terner Center is releasing a new study addressing this research gap. Our analysis sheds light on how living in LIHTC properties impacts low-income residents, particularly with regard to housing stability, economic mobility, and access to…


Renting the Dream: The Rise of Single-Family Rentals

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

Tenants living in single-family homes in the United States represent the fastest growing segment in the housing market today, but neither academic literature nor public policy has kept pace with their growing importance. Today, the Terner Center is releasing a new study seeking to better understand this group of renters, the homes and neighborhoods they occupy, and the policies that might better support their success. Our study presents data on single-family renters living in a range of housing markets across the country. Our first question: why has this market segment grown so fast? In short: a boom in single-family home…


It All Adds Up: The Cost of Housing Development Fees in Seven California Cities

Posted on by Sarah Mawhorter and David Garcia

In the summer of 2017, the Terner Center embarked on a seemingly straightforward task: determine the amount and type of fees levied on new residential development in seven California cities. What was initially thought to be a clear assignment turned into an odyssey of combing through difficult-to-obtain fee schedules, cobbling together piecemeal information across city departments, and repeatedly interviewing various city planning officials. The onerous and lengthy process our research team faced tells the story of the development fee process in California. While fees act as an important tool to mitigate the effects of new construction, the development and administration…


Perspectives: Practitioners Weigh in on Rising Housing Construction Costs in San Francisco

Posted on by Carolina Reid and Hayley Raetz

It is no secret that producing new housing in California is an expensive endeavor. Our Cost of Building Housing Research Series recently launched with the goal of understanding why this is the case, breaking down the elements of the housing development process to identify key cost drivers and potential private and public sector solutions. Today we are releasing our first brief of the series, which examines rising housing construction costs in San Francisco from the perspective of non-profit and market-rate housing developers, architects, and other practitioners on the ground. The brief shares findings from a series of interviews and focus…


Announcing New Terner Center Series: The Cost of Building Housing

Posted on by Terner Center for Housing Innovation

In recent years, the housing affordability challenges faced by high-cost regions have gone from bad to worse. A number of factors, including shrinking public subsidy, explosive job growth, wage stagnation, and a severely constrained supply of housing have all been widely cited as drivers (with each region facing a unique set of circumstances). Another factor that is compounding the housing affordability issue is the actual amount of money it takes to build a housing unit. In recent years, the cost of building has skyrocketed in places like San Francisco - in some cases increasing by up to 50 percent -…


ADU Update: Early Lessons and Impacts of California’s State and Local Policy Changes

Posted on by David Garcia

A multi-pronged approach to alleviating the shortage of housing in California and other high-cost regions is urgently needed. As we have discussed in past research, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) - built with a small footprint predominantly in under-utilized single family neighborhoods - can offer much needed naturally-affordable supply to the market. In the fall of 2016, the California State Legislature passed a set of bills intended to clear the way for the proliferation of ADUs  in California. Even before these changes were adopted, many leaders at the local level were pioneering policies to make it easier for residents to build…


New State Policies Aim to Boost Access to Opportunity through Housing

Posted on by Elizabeth Kneebone and Carolina Reid

In California, the Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC) plays an important role in determining where and how Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) get allocated for the production of affordable housing. On Wednesday, TCAC adopted a series of policy changes aimed at increasing the development of affordable housing options for families in higher opportunity communities, signaling a commitment to advancing fair housing goals amid the state’s broader agenda to address California’s housing crisis. The regulations seek to respond to a growing body of evidence that communities that provide low-income families access to good schools and safer, lower-poverty, and less segregated…