Lax zoning allows for affordable homes

The affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area is defined by sky-high prices and lack of housing, trends that have only been rising over the last decade. As the number of new jobs rapidly outpaces the amount of available housing units, issues of gentrification, displacement and housing insecurity have permeated our cities and neighborhoods.

According to the 2019 Homeless Census from Santa Clara County, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county has grown significantly over the last two years, from 7,394 to 9,706 people. San Jose alone makes up a large percentage of this amount, with a homeless count of 6,172, a 42 percent increase since 2017.

And in response to these growing numbers, solutions proposed by legislators have been a temporary relief at best. Despite spending billions of dollars, efforts to create large volumes of affordable housing while abiding by city building limitations have not been successful in mitigating the effects. With stringent zoning regulations, it has become increasingly difficult to gain approval for long-term residential construction in the Bay Area.

With stringent zoning regulations, it has become increasingly diffifficult to gain approval for long-term residential construction in the Bay Area.”

By instead relaxing these rules, the housing market can more effectively meet everyone’s needs. Single-family zoning, especially, has historically prohibited denser housing possibilities, which could offer long term relief for unsheltered people. An example of the feasibility of this idea is evident in the economy of Tokyo, Japan.

While having little to no land for development and growing population, the housing prices in Tokyo have been steady, unlike in the San Francisco Bay Area. Attributed to the laissez-faire housing system, Tokyo had 142,417 housing starts in 2014 compared to only 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California the same year. 

Tokyo’s housing system is contingent on a relaxed and residential construction-friendly zoning system. With the system preventing local governments from stalling use of land, a focus on vertical growth of the city’s buildings, less restrained by government zoning, has allowed Tokyo to cope with a rapidly increasing population.

This article was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on March 2, 2020.

Emily Tan