Bold proposal to alleviate housing crisis


Map of transit-rich zones in the Bay AreaMap of transit-rich zones in the Bay Area (Photo Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Commission)

In an effort to alleviate high housing prices by increasing supply, a new bill filed by California State Senator Scott Wiener, a representative from San Francisco, would allow building height increases within a quarter-mile of a high-frequency bus transit corridor and a half-mile of a major transit stop. For such “transit-rich housing projects,” height maximums would be relaxed to between 45 and 85 feet statewide depending on the width of surrounding streets and proximity to transit.

In addition to relaxing height restrictions, the bill would eliminate design standards that reduce a developers ability to build the maximum number of units allowed by building codes and get rid of minimum parking requirements for new transit-oriented developments. Because of the reductions in regulations though, observers believe this bill will be almost impossible to pass in its current form.

Commentators generally open to reducing restrictions on development have praised the bill for it’s reach and promise. Writers at outlets such as Slate have even gone as far as claiming that this will end the housing crisis in California. On the other hand, hyper-local publications such as CityWatch in Los Angeles or the Berkeley Daily Planet have a more negative view, worrying about local control, neighborhood character, and gifts to developers.

In a state that is home to six of the nation’s 10 most expensive metro areas and an acute housing crisis that affects millions of people, more housing is urgently needed, whether this bill represents the right approach or not. But providing more housing in areas with good access to transit could certainly make it possible for more people to live affordably in places that are well-connected to jobs and other opportunities. To learn more about how different jurisdictions have supported TOD through policy, the database offers an inventory of TOD programs from around the country.

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