As the Bay Area struggles to confront a chronic housing shortage and million-dollar home listings, a new poll indicates residents here are more concerned than most Californians about the high cost of housing.
The survey by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California, found 80% of Bay Area residents see housing affordability as a big problem in their communities, while 74% identify homelessness as a major concern. Statewide, 70% of people said both were serious issues.
“It’s definitely a critically important issue for our state leaders to take a hard look at, especially given the population decline that California has seen in the past couple of years,” Rachel Lawler, a survey analyst with PPIC, said during a webinar presenting the poll findings on Thursday.
In 2021, the San Francisco metro area — which includes the East Bay and Peninsula — lost more than 116,000 residents, or 2.5% of its population, according to census data. The South Bay also lost tens of thousands of residents.
The poll comes as the vast majority of Bay Area cities and counties failed to meet the state’s Tuesday deadline to submit plans to dramatically increase housing across the region — meaning they could now miss out on crucial funding and lose control over development decisions.
State officials, often led by lawmakers from the Bay Area, have phased in a number of new laws and policies in recent years aimed at making it easier to build more housing and cracking down on local governments that have long resisted growth.
“Many polls now show that housing and homelessness is a top-two issue for Californians throughout the state, which is why so many legislators are focused on this issue now,” David Garcia, policy director for UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, said in an email.
The PPIC survey found widespread agreement on the issue across partisan and demographic groups. For the entire state, 72% of Republicans and Democrats said housing affordability was a serious issue. African Americans, who experience homelessness at disproportionate rates, had the highest level of concern, with 86% agreeing that housing costs are a serious problem and 83% saying the same for homelessness.
Just one in five Bay Area residents can comfortably afford to buy a home in the region, with the median price of a single-family house hitting $1.08 million in December, according to the California Association of Realtors. At the same time, nearly a quarter of the region’s renters spend over 50% of their income on housing costs, according to researchers with the Bay Area Equity Atlas.
Statewide, 70% of people said there are more homeless people in their communities now than a year ago, a jump from 58% of survey respondents in 2019. During the pandemic, homelessness increased in the counties of Contra Costa (35%), Alameda (22%), San Mateo (20%) and Santa Clara (3%), according to the most recent available data.
Another alarming figure from the poll: 60% of California residents and 63% of those in the Bay Area are very concerned about younger family members not being able to afford a home in the region.
But should the Bay Area build its way out of the deepening crisis? A survey by the Bay Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley last year found strong resistance to the notion that the region should add more housing, at least if it’s built nearby.
When respondents were asked if they supported building “significant quantities” of new homes of all kinds to help bring down housing costs, 52% agreed, while 32% disagreed. The rest said they didn’t know.
Opposition grew when the conversation turned to the kinds of homes advocates say are most needed: affordable housing, housing for homeless people, and high-density housing around transit. That opposition was even stronger when residents were asked whether they supported more housing near where they live.
Garcia said that while state and local officials are increasingly pursuing policies to create more housing and alleviate costs, sometimes in the face of entrenched opposition in their communities, “we’re still only building a fraction of the homes needed to simply keep up with demand.”
“This shortcoming signals the need for bigger and bold reforms, especially as we head into a downturn that may further stunt the state’s housing production progress,” he said.
The poll also found that the economy was a key concern for California residents, with 23% listing it as the biggest issue facing the state. That was followed by homelessness (20%), the environment (6%) and housing affordability (6%). Two-thirds of respondents said they’re expecting the state economy to slump in 2023, and three in 10 are concerned about job losses for themselves or a family member in the coming year.
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