This Op Ed which we posted last week on social media highlights the need for housing solutions that also provide climate solutions. It  was written in support of SB 50— which may be one of the more controversial and charged land use, housing, and climate-related bills in the legislature this year. As currently drafted, 350 Bay Area Action has not yet taken a position in this bill and is waiting to hear from equity partners whether additional changes will be made to the bill that will expand the affordability of new housing and provide sufficient protections against displacement, especially to low income residents. In order to learn more about these important issues, our legislative committee invited Jeff Levin, Policy Director at East Bay Housing Organizations to help us better understand the bill and issues surrounding it in more detail.

SB 50 is intended to address our deep need for more housing, the affordability of that housing and how our current land use helps drive GHG emissions from transportation.  We know that transportation accounts for 41% of Ca’s GHG emissions, and those emissions have been growing. One strategy to address this is to build denser housing NEAR transit to help reduce driving and “vehicle miles traveled” or VMT.

This bill would create incentives for developers to build new housing within ½ mile of major transit stops and “high quality” bus corridors. The bill would require cities who have not yet changed their land use zoning, to change their zoning practices to permit more housing, including multi-unit housing, near transit and job rich areas and  to encourage people to live where they work or to use mass transit to commute to work. While we strongly agree that “housing policy is climate policy” there are complex and critical interactions in how we solve these issues.

There are still major equity concerns with elements of the bill. On March 27th, 35 affordable-housing, tenants’ rights and equity organizations from around the state signed and submitted a letter to SB 50’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener, explaining their current concerns. Some of those include:

  • Insufficient guarantees that enough affordable housing will be built, especially to meet the very acute needs of low and very-low income people who are all too often priced out when new housing goes in to a neighborhood;
  • Insufficient protections for communities that are vulnerable and “at risk of displacement, and what the bill calls “sensitive communities”, how they are defined and what role those residents will have in the housing development process;
  • Some area of the state are working to solve housing, transportation, and climate issues in equitable way through local initiative. SB 50 could create new problems some of this progress.

The transportation and climate crisis cannot be solved without making progress on affordable and inclusive housing, in addition to other land-use policies. We have to protect the residents who currently live somewhere “to be developed,” so that they are not displaced or priced out. Many of those residents currently use public transit and if displaced could be the ones forced to drive in from the central valley to jobs in the Bay Area. That is not the solution we need. Stay tuned as we see if SB 50 can be improved to meet these very important concerns.

The letter sent to Senator Wiener is available here.