California currently has a deficit of more than 2.5 million homes across our state, and every city is going to have to step up and do its part to close that gap.

That’s the key finding in the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s recently released housing plan, which sets a target for the number of homes we need to make sure that everyone in our state has an affordable, secure place to live.

Sadly, too many of our cities are still resisting the opportunity and need to address our housing crisis collectively. While a few California cities are acting in good faith by meeting or exceeding their state housing goals, some cities seem utterly disinterested in the problem. They have failed to build housing for decades and are willfully ignoring state laws designed to create more of the housing we need to address the housing shortage and affordability crisis.

In some instances, anti-housing activists, primarily made up of wealthy homeowners, are abusing environmental laws to delay or completely block housing construction.

In Berkeley, these groups used their past successful efforts to block student housing as a pretext to force the University of California to restrict enrollment of new students. The result: More than 3,000 students now face an uncertain future as the university scrambles to address the legal ramifications of the “not in my backyard” lawsuit.

The city of Woodside found an even more creative (though unsuccessful) way to distort environmental laws to block homes. When faced with the prospect of allowing duplexes, Woodside claimed that the entire town is a protected mountain lion habitat.

These efforts to block urgently needed housing have very little to do with environmental protection, and everything to do with preserving the status quo: expensive, exclusionary cities with no pathways for working people to live near their jobs, schools, recreation and services.

Meanwhile, our working families continue to face ever-mounting challenges to their existence in our state. According to the Housing and Community Development’s report, the average renter wage of $25 is well below the $39 needed to pay for the average two-bedroom apartment. With 45 percent of Californians living in rentals, higher income communities' refusal to build more housing is a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, the state is taking steps to make sure all cities are planning for — and building — the housing we need. While anti-housing cities may find middle-income and affordable housing distasteful, and decry any state oversight of their housing plans, these cities have made their own beds. Now they have to sleep in them.

On the flip side, cities that are doing their part are demonstrating the rewards of building more affordable housing. Recently, Sacramento became the first city in California to earn the state’s “Pro-Housing Designation” for its housing-friendly policies. That designation gives Sacramento an advantage when competing for funds from the state for affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure, as well as federal tax credits for affordable housing projects.

Emeryville, where I serve on the City Council, has been called one of California’s “most YIMBY” (i.e., pro-housing) cities. We have made great progress with our below-market-rate housing program and are focused on building more deeply affordable housing.

Safe and stable housing is the foundation of a healthy life. We recognize this and urge other cities in our region to do the same. Here in the East Bay, a 15-minute drive may easily pass through five cities. But many of them leave their housing responsibility on the doorsteps of pro-housing cities like Emeryville, forcing longer commutes and perpetuating inequitable and exclusionary housing practices.

We need to ensure that every city in California is doing its fair share. That requires state oversight — and consequences — for jurisdictions that block housing, along with incentives to encourage cities to legalize more homes. In Emeryville, we prefer carrots. But we also realize, for some cities that oppose housing, it will have to be the stick.

Courtney Welch is an Emeryville City Council member and former director of policy and communications for the Bay Area Community Land Trust. Her piece first appeared in

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(4) comments


Utter nonsense.

What we *need* is less development, in particular of office buildings, and certainly not gobs of more housing. Does anyone really, really believe that hundreds, thousands of new housing units will do anything to move the needle on the price of housing? Fat Chance.

I challenge anyone to provide an example whereby density = lower costs. Manhattan, anyone? Tokyo? Los Angeles? It's not going to happen. You cannot build your way to lower prices, no more than you can build your way out of traffic.

Is there a need for affordable housing? Yes. Can it be solved merely by Increased density? Absolutely not; at least, not until the quality of life degrades so far that people will no-longer want to live in a given place. Solutions include policies to isolate housing from capitalistic greed, such as hedge funds milking rentals for every penny, modifying second home tax benefits, disincentives for foreign ownership, etc.

Additionally, there is no obligation--moral, economic, or social--for California to house each and every person who desires to live here, as there are limits to all resources. There are so many locations across the country with countless abandoned homes and withering cities that are in dire need of a renewed populace, doesn't it make far more sense to spread the population and share the wealth, rather than starve some locations and bury other locations in population?

Tyler Durden

We could build plenty of new affordable housing in places like Merced and then spend $ billions completing the California high speed rail so people could travel from Merced to wherever they work. But that idea wouldn't be very "affordable" as far as California taxpayers are concerned.

Steve Hyman

While the writer is correct in that there is a housing shortage in the state, The Coast and the pricey town of Woodside aren't going to be doing anything meaningful anytime soon to solve the growing problem.

I chuckled when I saw Woodside claiming their endangered specie of mountain lions as a barrier to affordable housing.This area is in the mountains and heavy forrested with redwood trees and many parks.

And what is the defination of affordable housing in Woodside anyway with an average home price of $4.9 million, 3rd most expensive town in San Mateo County!

Its laughable to think you can build affordable housing there. Last year 11 parcels sold with 9 being over $1.4 million and the other 2 selling for under $500,000 on heavily forested redwood treed parcels.

On the Coast we too have our endangered species like the adorable red-leggeded frog that mysteriously appears on every parcel applying for a building permit. And our wetland weeds have reduced the density of so many subdivisions.

The Pacific Ridge Subdivision off of Terrace Ave in HMB is the poster child for anti-growth harrassment and was subjected to 30 years of delays and litigation. Originially this area was to have 225 homes and have a new road built by the developer off of Hwy 92 to eleviate traffic congestion. Then wetland weeds were discovered and the project was scaled back to 75 homes and the proposed road was cancelled.

As I have said many times over the years, our anti-growth policies and restrictive oversight by the CA Coastal Commission make doing anything meaniful in a timely manner just wishful thinking. Our leaders talk of wanting to solve the problem but their policies say something else.

Its unrealistic to look to San Mateo County to help solve this problem as there's little available land on the peninsula and the Coast has a litigious approach to development. And if that's not enough, every town in the County has an average home price over $1 million!


Errata: Pacific Ridge is 63 houses not all of which have been built. Something to do with the market for large homes apparently.

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