Terner Center Blog: No Limits

Launching the Housing Development Dashboard

Posted on by Carol Galante

In the short time since we launched the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, I have been inundated with requests to weigh-in on the issue of how to best address the housing affordability crisis- not just at its epicenter in the San Francisco Bay Area- but in similarly situated high job growth regions from Boston to San Diego.

While there are multiple contributing factors to the crisis, I keep coming back to one simple premise: supply matters, and we need to expand housing supply in equitable and environmentally sustainable ways. 

This statement rarely makes anyone happy.  Most want to hear answers that fit neatly into their preconceived narrative of the problem. This usually either entails claiming that we need “a total moratorium on development because that is what is causing gentrification and displacement” on the one hand, or the rallying cry of “build, build, build- anywhere at any cost” on the other. 

Neither of these perspectives is going to get us to a solution.  We need a tool that can help us to more objectively assess and weigh our multiple policy objectives, from ensuring we have housing for families with a wide range of income levels, to reducing the time people have to spend in their car to get to work.

So we built it. 

Today, I am excited to be sharing a new tool--the Housing Development Dashboard--that has the potential to significantly reshape how we engage in the housing development debate in cities across the country.

The Housing Development Dashboard [1] is an interactive platform that allows policymakers, developers, and members of the public to quickly and easily understand the interaction of land use measures and market conditions on housing production. Want to know whether a higher level of inclusionary housing will stall production?  It can tell you that. Curious to see how much more housing would get built if we streamline the approval process? It can estimate those impacts too. The Dashboard disrupts the status quo of limited, outdated, expensive and often highly politicized information about the potential implications of new policies and replaces it with accessible data that will result in more informed decision-making.

So how does it work?  First, we merged multiple data sets and created a set of default assumptions about the economic factors that influence housing production (for example, the cost of construction, land value, and investor return requirements) [2]. Second, we assess how various policies change the cost calculus of development.  The Dashboard currently focuses on policies with an especially high impact on housing production, such as impact fees, density, parking requirements, permitting time, ground floor retail, inclusionary zoning, specific plan areas and discretionary approvals (such as conditional use and planned unit development permits). Within the Dashboard, we’ve launched two separate calculators that allows users to assess the impact of these policies at different scales: one at the project level and the other at the city level.

The Development Calculator allows users to estimate the probability that a given development project will be built, given a particular set of policies and economic conditions. For example, if a proposed policy increases the density requirements in a jurisdiction, holding all other factors constant, how will this change affect the likelihood that a planned multifamily project will be developed?

Second, the Policy Gauge assesses the cumulative impact that a policy change might have on housing production across an entire jurisdiction. The Policy Gauge includes parcel level data on zoning, densities, and site conditions onto which market data such as rents and costs are overlaid with other local policies.  For example, if a city wants to pass legislation allowing for a reduced parking ratio for developments near transit, how might this increase or decrease the overall supply of housing?  Right now, the Policy Gauge has been developed for four (very different) Bay Area cities: San Francisco, Oakland, Pleasanton, and Menlo Park, but we hope to expand to other cities soon!

Though still in beta format, the Dashboard reveals the potential for a fully built out tool like this to inform local housing and land use policies in communities across the country.  Kearstin Dischinger, a Housing Policy Planner in the San Francisco Planning Department said of the tool: “This is the first urban planning model that has advanced our abilities to test various policies with more sophisticated consideration of economic factors. San Francisco Planning is looking forward to testing affordable housing scenarios with this tool.” 

How do we hope that these tools will be used?  The Dashboard provides a new mechanism for public engagement around urban development. Both the Development Calculator and Policy Gauge are intuitive resources that present trade-offs in an intentionally simple format, to allow for clarity and ease of use. They have the potential to demystify some of the components of policy development and implementation for the concerned or curious citizen, and do so in a way that can keep up with both market changes and policy proposals as they emerge.

Stay tuned- I’ll soon share some of my own big takeaways about what the Housing Development Dashboard is telling us and the implications this has for housing production and policy.


[1] Tool developed by Graham Macdonald, a recent graduate of the Goldman School of Public Policy, in close consultation with Terner Center leadership and several UC Berkeley faculty members.  Graham’s full paper, which won the prestigious Smolensky Award, can be found here along with technical notes on the model.

[2] All of which went through an extensive ground truthing process in interviews with policymakers, developers, and others.


Why By-Right Affordable Housing in California is the Right Thing to do

Posted on by Carol Galante

The following piece was originally drafted as a letter of support for Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed legislation to streamline local housing approvals. The original letter, with citations, can be found here.   The Permit Streamlining Act. On May 13, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a change to state law that would streamline affordable housing proposals and spur much needed housing production. Introduced as a part of the administration’s May Revision to the 2016-17 Budget, the by-right bill would effectively change the way local jurisdictions approve housing projects. In doing so, Brown has acknowledged that in order to facilitate more building throughout…


Has The Expansion of American Cities Slowed Down?

Posted on by Issi Romem
Filed under: Informing the Dialogue,

This piece originally appeared on the BuildZoom blog. The original post can be found here. Key takeaways: As a whole, U.S. cities maintained a constant pace of outward expansion into rural territory since the 1950s, but behind the facade two groups of thriving cities are behaving very differently. The first group of cities substantially reduced the pace of outward expansion beginning in the 1970s, channeling its economic strength into higher property values. This group includes San Francisco, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Washington, Philadelphia, Portland and Miami. In contrast, the second group of cities accelerated its outward expansion,…


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Posted on by Jed Kolko

The U.S. population is now less urban than before the start of the housing bubble. While well-educated, higher-income young adults have become much more likely to live in dense urban neighborhoods, most demographic groups have been left out of the urban revival. In recent years, numerous studies and media reports have documented that college-educated young adults have been drawn to urban centers. At times some have claimed a broader demographic reversal in which cities grow faster than suburbs, and even the end of the suburbs. But, in fact, the U.S. continues to suburbanize. The share of Americans living in urban…


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Posted on by Jed Kolko

This piece originally appeared on Jed Kolko's blog. The original post can be found here. The entire increase in young adults living with their parents over the past twenty years can be explained by demographic shifts. That means the high share of millennials living with parents today might be the new normal. This morning the Census reported that more young adults are living with their parents in 2015 than during the recession. Despite widespread expectations (including my own) that young people would move out as the job market recovered, they are not. The share of 18-34 year-olds living with parents…


Federal Housing Administration Delivers Success

Posted on by Carol Galante

Today, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) delivered its Annual Report to Congress and the report demonstrates that FHA met and exceeded the 2% capital reserve requirement for the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF) and improved the Fund value by over $40 billion since it went negative in fiscal year 2012. This good news validates that the policies put in place by FHA over the last 7 years have enabled FHA to strengthen its financial position while also strengthening the economy and providing access to mortgage credit to millions of families. The FHA team deserves tremendous credit for this achievement. The…


Housing Highlights from the 2014 American Community Survey

Posted on by Jed Kolko
Filed under: Demographic Trends,

The Census Bureau has just released the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), the most detailed and comprehensive regular source of housing data for the U.S. and local areas. The data show a housing market that remains in recovery, with concerns about rental affordability alongside longer-term issues like declining homeownership. As always, underlying the national trends are huge differences among local markets. Here are the housing highlights from the 2014 ACS, with more detail available in this slide deck. Homeownership and household formation: The homeownership rate fell to 63.1% in 2014 from 63.5% in 2013, down from a peak of 67.3%…


Who Is Actually Forming New Households?

For several quarters, the Census has reported an increase in household formation. This is the turnaround that the housing market has been waiting years for. During the recession, the number of households grew slowly, as young adults increasingly stayed in their parents’ homes and others doubled up, too, with siblings, adult children, or roommates. Now, the job market has improved, and household formation is on the rise, approaching or exceeding historical averages. As new households form, they fill up vacant homes, pushing up prices and rents. In response, homebuilders build more, which in turn adds to overall economic activity. But…


Housing: The Silent Crisis?

This piece was originally published on the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foudation for Housing America's Families Blog on June 30th, 2015. The original post can be found here. June 18th marked the official launch of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families. As a member of their National Advisory Committee, I was in attendance for the event, and had the opportunity to share some thoughts on the “Silent Housing Crisis.” The subject is of particular interest as I prepare to launch The Terner Center for Housing Innovation, which shares many of the goals of JRT Housing. Both JRT Housing…


Coming To Berkeley

Posted on by Carol Galante

As many already know, I have started my new appointment as I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor in Affordable Housing  and Urban Policy in the Department of City and Regional Planning with the College of Environmental Design here at UC Berkeley. I  would like to introduce myself, say “hello” and share a bit about what I’m working on and looking forward to in the coming  semesters. As an alumni of the Master’s in City Planning program, this is somewhat of a homecoming. I have returned to the Bay Area from  my role in the Obama Administration as Assistant Secretary for Housing and…