Escalating rents and home prices in the Bay Area are displacing low-income families. What can we do about it?
Here at the Urban Displacement Project, we get calls every week from cities struggling with gentrification and displacement in their communities. What can we do, they ask us, to maintain our diverse community?
The strategies are out there—rent control, impact fees, inclusionary housing, and the list goes on. But the policymakers and advocates calling us don’t have time to scan the municipal codes of all 109 jurisdictions in the Bay Area, looking for things that could help them address the problems in their cities.
The next time that phone rings, we’ll be delighted to tell them: we’ve done the work for you! Today, we’re releasing an interactive policy inventory map that provides a comprehensive overview of anti-displacement policies that are on the books for each of the Bay Area’s 109 cities and counties.
Our inventory is focused on 14 key policy types, from tenant protections like just cause evictions ordinances and rent control to affordable housing production strategies like commercial linkage fees and inclusionary housing.
A key takeaway from this map is that most cities aren’t doing much. Of the policies we studied, over half of Bay Area cities have three or fewer in place. Three policies is not enough to tackle this complex problem; instead, as we recently advocated, a multi-dimensional approach is needed–one that encapsulates preservation and production, short-term and long term, fiscal and regulatory fixes. Only 11 cities are utilizing seven or more of the policies.
Even so, there are several hopeful findings. Policies that promote the production of new affordable housing seem to be working: cities with these policies produced more units of housing for very low income households than cities without those policies over a seven-year period. And places with rent control have less turnover in their renter population, indicating that rent control can be a contributor to greater residential stability.
These findings imply a need for more widespread adoption of production policies, like impact fees, to generate the kind of revenue cities need to fund affordable housing development. Of course, cities usually can’t generate enough money on their own to build affordable housing, especially with land values and construction costs soaring. In this new era without Redevelopment agencies (which were a key source of revenue for cities) and limited federal funding, pulling together monies through the various tools profiled in our inventory is the main way cities can finance new projects. Policies like impact fees are therefore instrumental to stabilizing and even growing cities’ low- and middle-income populations, thereby avoiding the displacement that is so likely otherwise.
Digging deeper into the effects and potential of these policies, we put together three policy briefs that review key strategies y cities are using to mitigate displacement. These are: inclusionary housing policies, condominium conversion ordinances, and rent control. We chose to highlight the first two because of how common they are in the Bay Area, and rent control because of how uncommon it is despite how much potential it has to help.
The most widespread affordable housing policy in the Bay Area is Inclusionary Housing: 77 of the 109 jurisdictions in the region have one such policy in place. Inclusionary policies require developers to rent or sell a portion of their units to low- or moderate-income households at below-market rates. As we discuss in our policy brief, despite their popularity, the number of units produced by these policies is small relative to the need for affordable housing. Recent legal constraints have further limited their effectiveness.
While less of an issue than it once was, the conversion of multifamily rental buildings to condominiums in the Bay Area prompted many cities to adopt policies to limit such conversions, and/or to protect tenants when buildings do convert. We discuss the risks of condominium conversions and the range of policy options to address these in our second policy brief.
While inclusionary housing and condominium conversion policies tend to be fairly popular and widespread, rent control is not a popular policy: only six Bay Area cities have rent control policies. However, many cities are considering it, and one of the most common requests we get is for information on rent control policy. Our third policy brief outlines some of the basic components of a rent control law and explores how these policies work in practice here in the Bay Area.
Soon, we will be releasing three case studies that demonstrate the power of strategic intervention in displacement. According to our displacement typology, the places we look at were predicted, to experience gentrification in the last 15 years, but haven’t experienced the kind of transformations we expected. What strategies did these cities use to halt the advance of gentrification? Stay tuned.
Graphic: Somaya Abdelgany