A Bay Area plan to address the region’s affordable housing problems proposes everything from rent caps to new taxes and fees that would raise $1.5 billion annually to housing-friendly zoning near mass transit hubs.
That’s all included in the CASA Compact. The undertaking’s official name is CASA Committee to House the Bay Area. The capitalized Spanish word for “house” used in the name is not an acronym.
On Wednesday, the Napa Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors heard a presentation on CASA, which describes itself as “a 15-year emergency policy package.”
For the most part, the mayors and county supervisors on the NVTA Board were open to the CASA approach with some reservations. That’s in contrast to some communities where elected officials are more vocal about possibly losing a measure of local control.
“I think that just speaks volumes of us and the community, that we’re trying to step up,” county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “We want to retain local control, which is what shapes our community. But we are also responding to a crisis.”
CASA is the result of 18 months of meetings convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments. Signers range from MTC and ABAG to BART to Google to San Francisco to MidPen Housing.
The CASA Compact has three pillars – productivity, preservation and protection of housing.
One goal is to increase housing construction. CASA proposes that communities offer streamlined approvals for projects that meet certain affordability criteria.
Another housing-creating idea is to establish through state legislation minimum zoning standards near high-frequency mass transit stops. For example, residential uses up to 36 feet tall would be allowed within a half-mile of bus stops with at least 15-minute headways during peak periods and 30-minute headways on weekends.
Rebecca Long of MTC said the requested state legislation to establish minimum zoning near mass transit stops wouldn’t affect Napa County because local bus service doesn’t meet the frequency standards.
A Bay Area-wide rent cap to limit annual rent increases could be established. Landlords could raise a tenant’s rent by no more than the Consumer Price Index increase plus 5 percent in any one year.
“Rent cap is going to be a controversial one,” Long said.
CASA calls for rent assistance and for legal representation for tenants facing eviction proceedings. It seeks to remove regulatory barriers to accessory dwelling units in all Bay Area communities. It seeks to make surplus public land available for housing regardless of zoning, with such exceptions as parks.
About $1.5 billion could be raised annually for CASA programs from such potential sources as a regional quarter-cent sales tax, a vacant homes tax, a parcel tax, a commercial linkage fee charged to developers and a head tax levied on employers.
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“What you see here are the options CASA felt were appropriate to be discussed,” Long told the NVTA Board.
The goal is to put funding measures on the ballot in 2020, she said.
Spending the money and coordinating the CASA Compact would be a new agency called the Regional Housing Enterprise established by the state. It would not be a regulatory or enforcement agency.
After Long’s presentation, local mayors and supervisors discussed the CASA Compact. St. Helena Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said he attended a League of California Cities meeting where some expressed concern about CASA affecting local control.
“I’ve been making the rounds the last two months, with some of my colleagues, having a lot of meetings like this … we’re definitely listening to all of this,” Long responded. “To the extent there are really specific ideas or objections or new contributions, we’re listening.”
Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Altos and Campbell are among cities that have expressed serious concerns about CASA, such as that it is too much of a one-size-fits-all approach. But the proposals received a more positive reception at the NVTA meeting.
American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia said much of the CASA Compact is talking points for the state Legislature to consider.
“Local control certainly is paramount,” Garcia said. “But then, just saying ‘no’ to housing isn’t working either.”
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said he is a big supporter of local control. But sometimes it’s a curtain to hide behind.
“While certainly CASA is not perfect, it’s not everything for everybody, I think CASA is the first thing I’ve seen in a very long time that finally draws a line in the sand and starts the conversation and candidly calls some communities out,” Canning said.
Long said that the Bay Area added more jobs than housing from 2011-2016. In Napa County, the imbalance was 17-1.
“We are part of the problem,” county Supervisor Belia Ramos said. “We’re a jobs importer, a great thing to be able to brag about, except for our housing deficiency.”
That jobs/housing number cited by Long is for a certain period of time. The Building Industry Association Bay Area reports that Napa County overall has 1.44 jobs for every household, with 1.5 considered ideal.