Housing Tenure in Depth

Thinking more deeply about housing tenure is at the heart of HVA. Here, we discuss the key ideas that have informed how and why we’ve developed HVA as a housing assessment tool.

Breaking Down Silos in Housing Assessment

Our motivation for conducting HVA in part emerges from a need to break down siloed thinking in assessment and advocacy strategies in the housing policy world. The mantra of protection, preservation, and production — the 3 P’s — has become an important framework within the California context. However, there is often a tendency to see each of the P’s on their own, rather than in relationship. As a result, silos develop within the housing community, occupants within many housing tenures are left behind, and more holistic and equitable housing strategies that keep people housed remain unrealized.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, production dominates many conversations about the housing crisis. This is particular visible with the entrance of YIMBYs, or “yes in my backyard” groups that push for the production of more housing as the answer to the housing crisis. In general, production conversations ostensibly revolve around the production of both market-rate and affordable housing. Stark imbalances in within production largely remain unacknowledged, however. Between 2007 and 2014, the Bay Area built less than one-third of its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation for very low, low, and moderate income households, while meeting 99% of its RHNA requirements for above moderate income households (Association of Bay Area Governments, 2015), for example. In Oakland, from 2007 to 2014, the city only met 28% of its RHNA goals (Association of Bay Area Governments, 2015).

Production is certainly needed to address the housing crisis. New market-rate construction can help prevent currently affordable housing from ‘filtering up’ to higher income households, and will eventually ‘filter down’ to buyers at lower price points. However, research suggests that downward filtering can take decades, and will still not offset housing needs for people at the lowest income levels (Been et al, 2017). Research also shows that although market rate housing production in the Bay Area in the 1990s resulted in lower median rent in 2014, it also led to higher cost burden for low-income renters, for example (Zuk and Chapple, 2016). Importantly, subsidized affordable housing produced in the 1990s had twice the impact as market rate housing in mitigating displacement.  

Even if production is prioritized as a housing strategy, it is unlikely to meet demand in the near term. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, San Francisco would have to increase its annual housing production by more than 600% to keep pace with the housing market, let alone to cause rents to fall (Taylor, 2015). This scale of new production needed cannot be easily achieved within a short time frame. We simply cannot ‘build our way out’ of the housing crisis with market-rate production alone, nor will the filtering of market rate housing alone resolve regional housing needs.

Conversations about preservation emphasize maintaining existing affordable housing stock, and renewing or acquiring buildings with expiring affordability contracts as a means to preserve affordability. This report will argue that conversations around preservation need to be both prioritized and expanded, for example to include a closer look at substandard housing and code compliance reform, as well as support for low-income homeowners.

Not only do we need to preserve housing stock and produce more affordable housing, we also must protect existing residents from displacement pressures. In order to stabilize residents in place, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a push for protections, led by a growing renters’ movement. While only 4% of California cities have rent stabilization and/or Just Cause for Evictions (JCE) protections, the movement for renters’ rights has been growing in recent years, particularly in the Bay Area. According to Urban Habitat, there are tenant rights’ movements in at least 23 Bay Area cities (Urban Habitat, 2018). While protections are more present in this region than elsewhere, renters’ movements are focused on expanding rent stabilization and JCE protections to new cities, strengthening protections and closing loopholes where protections already exist. The expansion of renter protections was a key feature of 2016 elections in the Bay Area, with voters in Alameda, Mountain View, Oakland, and Richmond approving new protections, and with movements strengthened for future fights across several other communities. In Oakland, Measure JJ extended JCE protections to 12,000 new units, including ll units built before 1996. In the 2018 elections, Oakland passed Measure Y to strengthen Just Cause for Evictions protections in duplexes and triplexes. At the state-level,  with 2018 state ballot measure, Proposition 10. there was a significant push to repeal Costa-Hawkins, a law which exempts single-family rentals and units built before 1996 (or before a city’s rent stabilization ordinance was passed) from rent stabilization. Thought Proposition 10 did not pass, it represents a wave of renter-focused organizing across the state.

While historic, the current conversation and advocacy around protections leaves out many of the tenure types identified and analyzed in this report. The tenant rights community is still getting up to speed on non-conforming housing and other informal tenures. Decriminalizing homelessness is a separate conversation entirely. Protecting Housing Choice Voucher programs is not necessarily seen as belonging to the domain of those focused on protections, nor of affordable housers. Concerns around doubling up have not been central to advocacy for Just Cause for Evictions protections. These conversations must better reflect the shifting tenure landscape today.

Pushing Housing Needs Assessment Beyond Production

A related motivation for TDA emerges from a need for housing needs assessment strategies which focus on more than just new housing production. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) is primary way in which California local governments analyze and plan for their housing needs. Mandated by the State of California, the RHNA takes into the account the income levels of the current and future population, and their housing needs. While important, the RHNA approach falls short for several reasons. Above all, housing production rarely meets the need as assessed. To address this shortfall, a range of policies have been proposed and discussed across the state and region.

Beyond the failure of RHNA to have the intended impact on housing production, it is insufficient as a singular means of addressing the region’s housing needs. Production is an important, but partial, piece of a broader portrait of a housing crisis — and response. The Bay Area’s current residents are living in a variety of arrangements today, and we also must think about assessments that move us toward better protecting these residents, and to preserving types of housing that allow residents to stay in place safely and affordably.

Recognizing the need to broaden the toolkit beyond production strategies, several cities are experimenting with new kinds of housing assessments, which use neighborhood-level analysis to guide policy and investment decisions. For example, as a companion to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared to evaluate its Comprehensive Plan update, the Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development prepared a Growth and Equity Framework (City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, 2015) to analyze impacts of the growth strategy on Seattle’s marginalized populations. The framework collects a series of indicators to assess displacement risk and housing opportunity, classifying each neighborhood according to a displacement risk and opportunity level matrix.

Seattle’s 2015 framework offers many parallels to the Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap, which was created in 2015. The Roadmap identified several anti-displacement strategies that could prevent the displacement of over 40,000 households (Rose and Lin, 2015). Since the Roadmap was published, the City of Oakland has made major strides toward achieving its affordable housing goals. Several ballot measures have been passed, including Measure JJ, which enhances Oakland’s rent stabilization law (Byrd et al, 2017). The Roadmap has also met considerable resistance, and several elements remain on paper only, however (Lin et al, 2017).

Oakland’s Roadmap and Seattle’s Framework provide generative examples of alternative housing assessment approaches which focus on extending protections and preservation measures, in addition to improving housing production. The Seattle framework shows how both displacement risk and opportunities (focused on local resources) can be incorporated into the analysis. The Oakland Roadmap demonstrates how spatial assessments of protections and loopholes can be built into policy recommendations. Together, these state-of-housing tools underscore the importance of connecting the specificities of local protections to the local housing landscape, in order to identify and prioritize policy actions.

HVA applies and deepens these principles, in part by expanding on what we mean when we assess housing and tenure. HVA incorporates relatively informal housing types, including varied and growing forms of homelessness, for example. HVA also highlights where data is robust or absent, and when large — but largely invisible — tenures have been missing from existing state-of-housing assessments.