Rethinking the Suburbs Part II

By the CCHO Team

“Rethinking The Suburbs” is an essay series started in 2018 by the Council of Community Housing Organizations seeking to advance the public understanding of housing conditions in the Bay Area suburbs. The series explores housing strategies in the context of the post-Great Recession period of the past decade that has set up our current policy environment.

In Part II of the essay series, we dig deeper into analysis of changing development trends across the region, collaborating with Jessica Schirmer, a sociology PhD student at UC Berkeley. This analysis comes at a critical time as housing affordability issues are even more exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the current economic crisis has different origins than the crash of 2008, both illustrate the shortcomings of our housing system to ensure access and stability and the vulnerability faced by hundreds of thousands of lower-income homeowners and renters across the state.

The essays center on implications and new challenges created by the dramatic decrease of single-family suburban development that once provided starter homes to middle-income homebuyers, a big factor in our region’s current housing affordability squeeze.

The series explores some of the biggest factors in the statewide drop in housing production, many of which are the result of economic and investment changes since the 2008 financial and mortgage collapse. While most media attention and the dominant mainstream housing discourse focuses on land use zoning and environmental appeals of development projects (ie, “nimbyism”), there are other critical factors that need attention, as the shift in housing development trends over the last decade underscores.

Part II will also point to some opportunities for rethinking suburban development that potentially results in more density and more affordable homes in the context of lessons learned as we prepare to respond to the even more urgent COVID-19 housing accessibility needs.

We will look, one short essay at a time, at the history of how the Bay Area got to its current land use pattern, the conditions today and the factors shaping current development trends, and what is needed to get to a successful suburban housing strategy and potential policy interventions:

  • Bay Area development up to the 2008 Great Recession, how did we get here?
  • Suburban Infill and Housing for the “Missing Middle” — what factors are at play in realizing this?
  • What needs to change for a successful suburban infill strategy? What are policy interventions that make sense?

We can’t get close to answering the challenges of regional housing production unless we understand where the multiple barriers lie, and also be realistic that simplistic solutions and policy fixes will do little to address the core issues. CCHO hopes Part II of this series of essays on Rethinking The Suburbs helps inform and enrich the timely conversation, especially urgent as we face the economic repercussions of COVID-19.



Council of Community Housing Organizations

Leading San Francisco’s affordable housing movement since 1978, fighting for funding & policies to make SF affordable.