Will California force its cities to OK more housing?

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Amid a housing crisis that is displacing the poor and forcing millennials and countless others to look outside the Bay Area to live, all eyes turned this week to the tiny Peninsula town of Brisbane where a developer wants to build thousands of homes on a 684-acre swath of wasteland.

Powerful tech companies, state lawmakers and pro-growth activists from around the region implored the City Council on Monday to allow housing on land once used as a rail yard and a landfill ​— an idea many residents oppose. But after hearing passionate arguments from both sides, the City Council shelved the decision, prolonging a land-use debate that has dragged on since 2005.

“There is a paralysis when it comes to decisions about housing, and the Brisbane project is the poster child for that,” said Matt Regan of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy group.

The standstill in Brisbane crystallizes a challenge for state lawmakers desperate to address a statewide problem that has been decades in the making: Local governments wield tremendous power in decisions about whether and what kind of new housing to build, and they are not building enough. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates California is so behind that it needs as many as 100,000 more housing units a year — on top of what it typically constructs — just to stabilize prices.

In the nine-county Bay Area, the median price for a single-family home has topped $800,000. And nearly one-third of renters statewide — 1.5 million households — spend more than half their income on rent, according to state estimates.

As soon as next week, lawmakers are expected to unveil a package of affordable-housing bills that will include new tools to prod cities and counties to add their share of housing — at least, in theory.



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