The San Francisco skyline September 2013.The San Francisco skyline September 2013.

The San Francisco skyline September 2013. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

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A poll released Thursday by a business-backed policy organization found more than three-quarters of Bay Area residents support building more low- to middle-income housing, and a growing number of people favor greater density in their neighborhoods if it would create more places to live.

In San Francisco, the epicenter of housing concern for the whole Bay Area, finding an affordable place to live ranked higher than worries about California’s extreme drought in the 2015 Bay Area Council Poll.

“Water isn’t the only thing that’s in short supply in the Bay Area,” Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman wrote in a statement. “We need a bold regional response to our historic housing crisis that is on par with the aggressive and immediate action we’re taking to combat the drought.”

Water worries surpassed housing concerns in every other corner of the Bay Area — but not, the Bay Area Council points out, if you combine housing and cost of living. It’s worth noting that lawn-scarce San Francisco has already met state-mandated water conservation goals and is taking steps to use even less water.

But the news is not so good for the city’s affordable housing crisis.

The Bay Area Council's poll included an interactive map that asked respondents to click where they thought new housing is most needed.
The Bay Area Council’s poll included an interactive map that asked respondents to click where they thought new housing is most needed. (Courtesy of EMC Research)

“It’s pervasive,” said Matt Regan, a Bay Area Council senior vice president of public policy who focuses on housing issues. “The housing crisis that we currently find ourselves in is impacting every family across economic spectrums.”

He said it was a first to find that half of Bay Area residents support new housing construction, even if it increases the density of their cities. Support for new housing with greater density was higher in Santa Clara (56 percent), Alameda (55 percent) and San Francisco (53 percent) counties. An even larger majority — 61 percent — of San Franciscans said they’d accept new housing in their neighborhood.

“That’s a new phenomenon for us,” Regan said. “People are saying things they’ve never said before about welcoming new development in their neighborhoods.”

Thursday’s release was a drill-down into housing-related responses and part of the Bay Area Council’s yearly poll. Oakland-based EMC Research administered the online survey of 1,000 adults, all residents of the nine-county Bay Area. Respondents were fairly evenly represented across income levels, and most live in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties.

The Bay Area Council also asked questions about reducing state and local regulations that could “hasten new housing,” according to the group’s press release. The poll noted growing support for reducing local building regulations and fees, and reforming state-level environmental impact regulations.

New support for increased density wasn’t particularly surprising to Peter Cohen, who co-chairs the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.

“I’m not surprised at all that folks are interested in a more urbanistic environment, even in their own neighborhoods,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all that people want low- and middle-income housing, but that does not mean the answer is to strip away regulation and let the free market run its course. That’s not what this is saying.”

Cohen pointed out a question in the poll that asked whether people would support making it “easier to build housing while still maintaining environmental protections.”

“That makes it seem like you can have your cake and eat it, too,” he said. “How do you do that? There’s no answer. It just sounds good.”

Regan said low- and middle-income housing — far below San Francisco’s market rates — is a “doughnut hole” in the region’s housing policy.

“There is funding for very low-income homes, and the market rate housing will obviously take care of itself,” he said.

But what Regan called “workforce housing,” for teachers and firefighters, has slipped through the cracks.

“That’s the most difficult to finance,” he said, “and that’s where the respondents of the poll have said we need to focus our attention.”

Regan said the poll shows growing support for deregulation, so housing can be built for people at all income levels.

Cohen, however, sees the opposite, and believes San Francisco needs more regulation to control short-term rentals (like Airbnb), and stem evictions from rent-controlled properties in favor of market-rate condo conversions. He said the city’s regulations, like rent control, have encouraged diversity and “created the place where everybody wants to be.”

“You can’t strip all that away and diminish the role of public policy and government, and still have a place that’s made San Francisco the place that it is,” he said.

Poll: Housing Scarcity Concerns Surpass Water Worries in San Francisco 25 June,2015Alex Emslie

  • veggiegrrrl

    I have a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom (one bathroom is sink/toilet/shower only, no tub), ocean and mountain view home in Pacifica, a ten-minute or less drive to Daly City or Colma BART. 3 car driveway, 1 car garage. Neighbors on 2 sides and open space (GGNRA) in the back. The icon you see to the left of this post is the view from my house. Hardwood floors, cathedral ceilings, skylights, clean, bright, 50-year rubber roof in the front and 25 year regular roof in back, 5-year rodent protection guarantee (it’s a canyon), numerous pieces of black/pine/gray modern furniture in excellent condition can be included. $900k cash (we’ll find a realtor/escrow company to do the “for sale by owner” type close-the-sale work) and I move out Dec. 31st. Find me. 🙂

  • GooberDan

    Dear Mr. Cohen…”you can’t have your cake and eat it?” let me turn that back on you. You can’t have the most stringent, lengthy and expensive environmental review process, you can’t have title 24 and the most far reaching energy efficiency requirements, you can’t have impact fees for parks, schools, roads, libraries, MUNI, etc, you can’t have a 3 year entitlement process, you can’t have mandatory union construction, you can’t have all the rules and regulations you are demanding AND have affordable housing. All of that stuff costs A LOT of cake. Blaming Airbnb is a cop out. We had a housing shortage before anyone had ever heard of Airbnb.

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Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a criminal justice reporter at KQED. He covers policing policy, crime and the courts.

He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at City College of San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Alex freelanced for various news outlets including the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Bay Guardian.

Alex is proud of his work at KQED on a spike in fatal officer-involved shootings in Vallejo, which uncovered that a single officer shot and killed three suspects over the course of five months. Alex's work with a team at KQED on police encounters with people in psychiatric crisis was cited in amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. He received the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Best Scoop award in 2015 for exposing a series of bigoted text messages swapped by San Francisco police officers. He was honored with 2010 San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and California Newspaper Publishers Association awards for breaking news reporting on the trial following the shooting of Oscar Grant. Email: aemslie@kqed.org. Twitter: @SFNewsReporter.