Want Affordable Housing? Just Build More of It

Build up, not out.

Photographer: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/UIG/Getty Images

After years of dithering and hoping the problem would go away, California is finally taking steps to address its housing crisis. In 2017 the state passed a series of bills designed to encourage the construction of new affordable housing — streamlining the regulatory approval process, providing more state funding and cracking down on local governments that fall short of their housing goals. Now, state Senator Scott Weiner is pushing a new more aggressive package of legislation.

The most dramatic change Weiner would make, which is similar to a parallel effort in the state assembly, would be to force cities to allow dense housing development near public transit. This is a great idea to help poor Californians, since lower-income people are more likely to use transit, and are the ones suffering the most from the housing shortage. Sadly, the bill is already encountering opposition from homeowners’ groups, which are no doubt eager to push up their property values. It is also receiving pushback from the Sierra Club, which offered the tortured rationale that allowing dense housing near public transit would cause political support for transit to drop. Other opponents claim that allowing new development would raise rents — a dubious assertion that is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.

This opposition shows what an uphill battle it will be to get dense housing in California. That’s a shame, because density, combined with efficient public transit, is a great way to make a city affordable. For proof, Californians have only to gaze across the Pacific, to the city of Tokyo.