On April 14th, I had the opportunity to hear a guest lecture from Carol Galante of the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation (and formerly a HUD deputy with the Obama Administration). The Terner Center is a relatively new center, connected to the Haas School of Business, Goldman School of Public Policy, and College of Environmental Design.
In addition to describing some of the exciting research projects currently underway at the Terner Center, Galante offered her perspective on state and federal housing policy and identified four key areas of focus that are particularly important for the housing industry, and make up the four focus areas of the Center. These include: 1) Expanding supply and lowering the cost of housing; 2) Expanding access to high quality homes (financial structuring – improving access to credit); 3) Achieving sustainability goals; and 4) Using impact assessment to evaluate existing programs and how to change them so they work better.
Concerning the current federal landscape for housing policy, Galante noted:
• The federal election and cabinet team matter. Most work gets done at the subcabinet level, and the Trump Administration is far behind in making second tier appointments.
• “Winning is easy – governing is harder.” The Administrative Procedures Act dictates that executive orders such as those recently promulgated by President Trump do not change policy overnight. Rather, they direct agencies to go back and review their rules. That process takes years, and there are many forces, both internal and external, that can throw tacks in the road.
• The budget situation was already dire and is getting worse. That is the biggest threat, especially to projects like Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), and Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.
The Terner Center’s work on federal policy includes several exciting new projects. These include a survey of residents living in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties to determine if living in LIHTC property affect residents’ housing stability, economic opportunities, or educational opportunities. The survey, interviews and focus groups with residents are important because most of the existing opinion research about affordable housing comes from older public housing projects, which are very different than modern LIHTC buildings.
The Center is also conducting an evaluation of the Rental Assistance Demo project (RAD), which allows agencies who manage distressed housing stock to restructure financial deals and rehab the properties.
The Terner Center is also working to untangle the roots of the housing crisis in California. Residential construction costs in California have experienced double digit increases every year for the last four years, making it even more expensive and difficult to expand housing supply. An upcoming report from the Terner Center seeks to identify the drivers of these construction cost increases in California. One factor, Carol noted, is that productivity is lagging in the construction sector, which has been slow to innovate relative to other sectors.
I’m especially excited about the Terner Center‘s new Housing Development Dashboard, an online tool designed to make the impact of housing policies more transparent and fact-based. The Dashboard predicts how likely it is that a project will get built based on public policy, market and rate of return factors. A map-based feature shows how changes in inclusionary zoning, parking requirements and other policies would facilitate more or less construction of market rate and affordable units on existing vacant, multi-family parcels. The Dashboard is currently available for several Bay Area cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, and the Terner Center is hoping to scale it up for the entire Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Autumn Bernstein, Principal, Estolano LeSar Perez (ELP) Advisors, is an expert in urban planning, transportation, housing, and environmental policy. She has 15 years of experience as a policy advocate, strategic advisor, non-profit executive and facilitator in communities across California. Autumn is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in El Cerrito. She may be contacted at: Autumn@elpadvisors.com