A headline last week in a local paper read: “Housing crisis ‘On the Table’ – but what good is talking about it?”
The answer is: plenty good. That was the message that came across from a series of “On the Table” meetings last week organized in part by Silicon Valley Community Foundation under the direction of the Knight Foundation. The Los Altos Women’s Caucus sponsored one such Nov. 15 discussion focusing on what affluent communities such as Los Altos and Los Altos Hills can do to address the problem.
Part of the solution to the obscenely high cost of housing, especially in Silicon Valley, is discussing it. Doing so in a high-profile way, such as through public forums, helps build the political momentum that can lead to positive change.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, one of the forum’s speakers, noted three keys to affordable housing solutions: money, land and community will. Community will might be the most important factor, because without the will, there is no land or funding.
The forum also drew attention to what doesn’t work: state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers for affordable units. Los Altos, for example, is supposed to offer 477 low-income units by 2023, 84 of them classified as “very low income.” We have zero such units currently.
Expecting Los Altos to provide such housing on a massive scale is unrealistic. But there are ways we can help. Creating reasonable guidelines and providing incentives for accessory dwelling, or “granny,” units – say, an 800-square-foot structure on a standard 10,000-square-foot lot – could make a bigger dent in addressing the problem than the RHNA process, which generates long waiting lists and scads of paperwork.
Our communities also can be part of the solution by providing funding to support such housing outside our area. The idea is that none of our cities lives in a bubble – this is a systemic, pervasive issue responsible for long commutes, traffic jams and homelessness. And the population keeps increasing.
Long term, it could negatively impact our way of life. We all have a responsibility to help, because we all have a stake in it. This is the urgent message advocates hope will take hold.