Public Comment

Updated: Re Sunday New York Times Article: Yes on NIMBY street

David Carr, West Haven, Connecticut
Monday December 04, 2017 - 10:00:00 AM

I found this [article] interesting since affordable housing is an issue in Connecticut and NYC as well, something I follow and support, yet no housing is truly affordable without sustainable employment:

1310 Haskell St. in Berkeley is all about doing well for the neighborhood and the larger community.

The builder is not creating affordable housing selling three new units for $1M each. If the property was sold for $650,000 in 2015 needing work, the Investor will be the only big winner here. Would this have been a different story if the next-door neighbor bought the property to renovate it to a comparable quality neighborhood value? Or a Neighborhood Development Corporation renovating for an owner occupant with a deed covenant restricting resale for profit? Or an owner occupant using a FHA 203K rehabilitation loan? 

For a little price and value background, the HUD 2018 Fair market rent for this 3 bedroom residence is $4070/ month, with houses in the 94702 neighborhood comparably selling at $500,000 to above $1.5M. 12 blocks to the east is the Cesar Chavez and McLaughlin State Beaches, U. Cal. Berkley 12 blocks to the West, a desirable location. To a mortgage an $800,000 house at 4% over 30 years with $10,500/year tax, $1200 insurance and $6000 Private Mortgage Insurance would cost about $5300/month with nothing down, not much more than paying a comparable single family rent. 

New affordable housing requires deed covenants to control resale and match appreciation with Cost Of Living Adjustments. Existing landlords are profiting from lack of rent control. Rent control might be to be placed on rental units relative to Return on Investment. Companies that are seeking “affordable housing” for their employees may have to redefine their compensation practices, since affordable house means paying about 30% of your gross salary on housing. To buy this $800,000 property as described, household income would have to be $15,000/month 

Homeowners who choose to live in this mixed-use zone bought in at a discount, which is now being called by the market demand. Lot sizes, height, impermeable coverage and setbacks should be maintained, since cities have to obey their laws. Can laws be changed? Can residents call for new zoning, possibly alienating employers in the future? When it is suggested “low slung neighborhoods have to change to keep everyone from being priced out” that undefined change bears a cost which is payable to the existing residents, since their quality of life is being impacted. Neighbors who have their gardens impacted by shadows might consider compensation with creation of community gardens, greenhouses, hydroponics, grow lights and reflective lighting solutions, paid for by a shadow assessment levied on the offending property. 

It seems the tech industry is at fault for much of the Bay Area housing problem, since rental and housing prices go up based on demand, which is created by relocating people looking for high pay jobs in desirable environments. If pre-existing residents were being retrained and employed there might not be so many homeless persons, an ethical responsibility of the Bay Area tech industry. The industry and their shareholders should be financially responsible for the systemic effects, good and bad, of their presence and effect on the community. 

The tech industry is also uniquely suited to solving community based employment problems by expanding their presence into neighborhoods and communities across the United States, where jobs are needed and real estate is more affordable. One can regularly see the blue bulls eye of poverty surrounded by rings of red wealth in 2017 demographic, financial and political maps across USA. Emerging Tech Companies are accountable for choosing to locate in one of the most desirable and expensive locations in the USA. The San Francisco bay area is an idyllic combination of weather, beaches, vineyards, outdoor recreation and overall “California Lifestyle” that is coveted across our country. The tech industry has the logistical capabilities to transform struggling communities by supporting wise use planning, economic development that targets impacted demographics, and financial interventions. Employee home ownership programs, like Yale University has invested in New Haven, CT makes home ownership work. Current home seekers can explore alternatives, like owner occupying multifamily buildings to reduce their mothy costs. Possibilities abound! The need in re-shore, create jobs and seek systemic solutions for disenfranchised individuals is an ethical obligation of high tech, high profit employers, corporations and investors on the 21st century 

Rent control and zoning are issues that East Coast cities like mine have wrestled with since the housing boom of 1948 . Now would be the time to look at existing community development models to seek wisdom form the past and guidance for the future. If density is going to be increased, existing `land owners need to be offered the opportunity for relocation and compensation for price differentials, possibly with money supplied by the tech industry in a cooperative fund bank. It’s not fair for a developer to depreciate the value of a block, census tract or neighborhood for profit without the existing neighbors reaping the short term financial benefit. 

Maybe the neighbors of 1310 Haskell Street need to be the developers here, or partner with the current developer if the city is going to allow this to move ahead. Is there no community development model or agency in place to oversee this process with experienced citizen input? Maybe maintaining stability, not building up is one answer in the San Francisco Bay. New one and two-story housing that conforms to existing height limits needs to happen in previously less desirable parts of the city, while protecting existing citizens with life use, New York City style rent controls. We, as a nation, are going to need more housing where the opportunity is, and opportunity where the need for employment is. The tech industry is uniquely suited with financial and logistical capabilities to deliver solutions in community based manufacturing and home-based employment models. This can be the transformative workplace that has been envisioned.