A great recent article takes a “deep dive” look at the steps San Francisco’s new mayor could take to fix their housing crisis. The new mayor – London Breed – is a breath of fresh air in a city with some of the most expensive housing in the world and also some of the most rampant NIMBYism.
Sitting at the heart of one of the most economically successful urban regions in the world, San Francisco’s housing prices are pretty wild.
In her inauguration speech, Mayor Breed diagnosed the problem:
“We have people who come from all over the world, who come to create, who are innovative, who look at San Francisco and say that is the place where I want to be.
And we have failed. We have failed to build more housing to accommodate the increase in the number of job opportunities that have poured into San Francisco, pushing residents who have been here all their lives out of the city that they call home.”
And she’s right. San Francisco’s median home price is currently $1.3 million, according to Zillow; median rents are at $4,500 a month. In recent years, we’ve added eight jobs for every new housing unit and haven’t learned from our mistakes: We’re approving thousands of new jobs in areas like SoMa, without adding enough homes to absorb those drawn to our booming economy.
The article runs through key changes that San Francisco needs to make to get on top of its housing problems:
- Removing density controls
- Streamlining the incredibly complex and lengthy consenting process
- Upzoning in transit corridors
- Adding an “affordable housing overlay” to planning rules to incentivise the construction of more affordable housing
- Prioritising public land for housing
It’s a pretty good checklist. And an interesting one to compare against Auckland. We have done well in the Unitary Plan to remove density controls from most zones (which means the size and bulk of buildings is what’s regulated rather than how many units those buildings are split into). We also have a much simpler consenting process than San Francisco. Just look at their system!
In terms of incentivising affordable housing, Auckland shied away from that in finalising the Unitary Plan. There’s a robust debate over whether this concept – known as “inclusionary zoning” is a good idea or not, but it’s certainly used in a lot of places.
That leaves the last two – upzoning around transit corridors and prioritising public land for housing. A good example of how both approaches could be applied to Auckland is the recent announcement of a major housing redevelopment at Mangere:
Housing Minister Phil Twyford has announced a 15-year project to replace 2700 old state homes with 10,000 new homes.
Of those homes 3000 will be state homes, 3500 will be affordable and KiwiBuilds, and 3500 market price homes.
The development was already being put together – but with 7000 homes – when the Government came to office…
…Twyford said the houses would make great use of his planned light rail line between the CBD and the airport.
A map indicates that the first stage of redeveloping Mangere will be around Bader Drive:
A while back I discussed possible route options for light-rail through Mangere, one of which would take it down Bader Drive and right through the heart of this area. Redeveloping this publicly owned housing land to much higher densities around light-rail, while still growing the public housing stock, is one of the most obvious “win-win” policies I’ve seen for a long time.
However, and this touches on the “upzoning” point of the San Francisco plan, this whole area that’s poised for massive redevelopment and will have light-rail running through the heart of it, is actually only zoned Mixed Housing Urban. While this zone doesn’t have density controls, it only allows development up to three floors – which simply may be a missed opportunity for the scale of development that might now become viable if light-rail runs through here:
The sheer scale of government-owned land in this part of Auckland provides some amazing opportunities to build large quantities of warm, dry, new and more suitable housing into a part of Auckland that desperately needs it (Mangere has some of the highest levels of over-crowding in the region), and then to provide this area with fantastic access to the rest of Auckland with light-rail.
With these plans added to the Unitec housing plans, which will be within walking distance of Northwest light-rail, we are starting to see a more integrated approach to transport and housing in Auckland. Hopefully we will see further plans of major redevelopment along the proposed light-rail corridors emerge over the next few months.