The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) recently announced the release of a regional Bay Area housing plan called the CASA Compact. CASA is a good faith attempt by a field of public-interest entities to address California’s serious housing problems.
CASA combines proposals dealing with renter protections, streamlining approval of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s or “granny” units), housing mandates and incentives in transit corridors, and a variety of proposals for new funding. CASA has quickly garnered both supporters and detractors in the Bay Area.
Larger municipalities see greater potential alignment with CASA plans. For smaller municipalities, CASA prescriptions may seem more onerous and out of scale. Meanwhile, rent and housing burdened residents in all areas of the state need relief and hope that economic and social goods emerge from the plan.
Generated by a consortium of home builders, renter-rights advocates, and regional regulatory bodies, CASA hopes to establish a path forward in addressing the housing crisis. Funding for housing has been the critical problem since the loss of state redevelopment money in 2011. CASA is basically an attempt to replace redevelopment policy and money. Finding fair and apt ways to tax and fund large public initiatives like CASA is notoriously controversial and difficult. Yet the current housing crisis calls for bold action and compromises, to break the gridlock that often prevents housing from being built, particularly housing for those at the lower end of wage scale and most at need.
For Sonoma, as a small municipality with an authentic rural, agricultural-based history, there is legitimate wariness of CASA. Why? As often occurs in the crafting of such grand plans like CASA, those with the most to gain wield undue influence over the final product. CASA’s mandates will preempt local housing codes and are all but guaranteed to line the pockets of market rate real estate developers. Market rate developers do not satisfy the Bay Area’s greatest housing need: that of people earning the area median income and below. We do not endorse any solutions, including CASA, that place market rate housing at the center of a regional housing fix.
CASA in many respects represents business-as-usual trying to solve problems business-as-usual has created. Yet, with the housing crisis not going away by magic, and every region of the Bay Area needing to do its proportional share, participants at all levels are beholden to at least try to craft a solution with some hope of success.
Sonoma has the obligation of insuring that local housing development meets our community’s unique needs, while also addressing our proportional share of Bay Area housing. The scale and character of Sonoma defines its sense-of-place; preserving that has been the work of generations of leaders in this community. We find many of the CASA Compact’s aspirations worthy; it will therefore be up to smaller cities like Sonoma to simultaneously protect their character while accepting responsibility for housing the workforce local businesses employ and depend upon. Housing plans should be negotiated by individual communities with the state.
Regional approaches like CASA won’t be going away. We support a re-negotiated CASA Compact, that better fits smaller cities, not the one-size-fits-all CASA Compact as it stands.