The people who are truly harmed when cities say no to new housing

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The people who are truly harmed when cities say no to new housing
La Citta Vita/Flickr
The people who are truly harmed when cities say no to new housing
La Citta Vita/Flickr

The small community of Brisbane, Calif., just south of San Francisco, has a rare opportunity that advocates argue could help ease the region’s massive housing crisis.

The town is home to a 684-acre plot of former industrial land. A developer wants to clean it up and build a mixed-use project, with public parkland, that could include more than 4,000 new units of housing. And the site surrounds a stop on the regional rail line that connects workers to jobs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

It’s exactly the kind of flat, spacious, hard-to-find place where you’d want to drop new housing in the Bay Area without displacing current residents or exacerbating traffic. But many Brisbane officials and residents prefer a plan for the land that would include no new housing at all.

This is unconscionable to people trying to solve a housing and transportation crunch that has turned the Bay Area into a gridlocked and gated community where local teachers can’t afford to live. And the Brisbane episode is a more extreme version of a plot line that keeps popping up, as individual towns stymie efforts to address what is a regional quandary.

The story reminded me of an insight I borrow from Luke Tate, a special assistant to the president for economic mobility. Part of the challenge throughout California and plenty of other communities, he once pointed out to me, is that we tend to make local policy — and housing policy in particular — as if the only people who matter in a community are the ones who go to bed there at night. […]

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