By Bill Silverfarb, San Mateo Daily Journal.
With the economy in boom, San Mateo County has added tens of thousands of jobs in the past few years but only a fraction of the housing needed to accommodate them.
With rents up 50 percent in four years to an average of more than $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, many low-wage earners can no longer afford to live in the county while a new glut of high-tech workers and other professionals can.
To address the gap in housing to jobs, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors convened a task force to tackle the housing crisis that met for the first time on Thursday, September 24th. The Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force will work over the next year to find ways to preserve and increase housing at all price levels in the county.
It is comprised of elected officials, educators, nonprofit heads and business leaders.
The goal of the task force is to identify the issues, strategize potential tools, solicit community input at a future date and create a menu of options for participants to bring back to their constituents and communities for consideration.
It is being co-chaired by supervisors Don Horsley and Warren Slocum.
Horsley told the Daily Journal Thursday that it’s unlikely the state or federal government will provide any assistance to solve one of the richest county in California’s housing crisis.
“We have to help ourselves,” Horsley said.
Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, opened up the task force’s first meeting by acknowledging that the county has run out of land on which to build.
The only way to build more housing is to change density and that cannot be accomplished without a good transportation system, Gordon said.
Transit-oriented development along El Camino Real, the county’s major transportation corridor, will be part of the discussion, Gordon said.
He said, however, that the state should partner with the county to help solve the housing crisis. There’s a bill on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk now that would provide additional tax credits for the creation of affordable housing.
With the loss of redevelopment agencies, a dedicated source of funding at the state level should be in place to build housing, Gordon said.
Horsley said that making better use of underutilized properties along El Camino Real should be part of the solution. That will mean that buildings along the corridor will have to be taller than they are now.
One of the big obstacles is trying to get the community to support the effort to build more housing, Slocum said.
More housing means more traffic but the public needs to know that without more housing and skyrocketing rents, many low-wage earners will have to travel great distances to do the jobs they do here.
Gordon said that for every tech job created, another four service level jobs are created that pay lower salaries.
“Those are the people that if we cannot house them here will clog up our roads,” Gordon said. “You can’t talk about housing without talking about transportation.”
Thursday’s meeting was essentially an opportunity for the task force members to meet each other. No policy discussions took place.
Daly City Councilman David Canepa is on the task force and said it’s time for the county to think big when it comes to solving the housing crisis.
Currently, cities are exploring ways to charge developers impact fees and commercial linkage fees to construct affordable housing based on nexus studies that link new office construction to the need to build additional housing.
Canepa thinks the fees could make a difference but will urge other members of the task force to consider floating a bond to build more housing.
In San Francisco, voters will decide in November the fate of a $300 million affordable housing bond that Canepa and housing advocates in the area will keep a close eye on.
If it passes, it could be the impetus for starting the conversation in San Mateo County, said Canepa, who supports putting a $500 million bond on the ballot in the future to build affordable housing.
“We have a housing crisis that is unparalleled,” Canepa said.
Canepa was pleased with how the first meeting of the task force went.
“It’s tremendous to get people from the north and south county together,” he said. “It was a great starting point.”
Beginning with Thursday’s kickoff, the task force will meet for eight meetings over nine months. A public input process is anticipated for spring 2016.
The task force’s members, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, will include two county supervisors, city councilmembers, planning commissioners, both profit and nonprofit housing developers and members of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo, the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust, HIP Housing, San Mateo County Board of Realtors, the California Apartment Association, chambers of commerce, League of Women Voters and the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.
The task force next meets Oct. 22.
Go to housing.smcgov.org/task-force to learn more about the task force.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102