High-Profile CASA Initiative Tackles Region’s Housing Crisis Head On
“Put on your seatbelts.”
This was the message from Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, on June 28, 2017, at the Bay Area Metro Center in San Francisco as MTC helped convene CASA — the Committee to House the Bay Area, a high-profile effort to identify game-changing solutions to the region’s housing crisis. One of three co-chairs for the blue-ribbon, 16-month long effort, Blackwell made his remarks at the first meeting of CASA’s Technical Committee, which this summer is laying the groundwork prior to CASA's official kick-off in the fall of 2017, when the the CASA Steering Committee meets.
CASA brings together 46 leaders from every conceivable sector across the Bay Area to build an actionable political consensus around increasing housing production at all levels of affordability, preserving existing affordable housing, and protecting vulnerable populations from housing instability and displacement.
Putting their combined influence behind the unprecedented effort are the mayors of the region’s three anchor cities — Ed Lee of San Francisco, Sam Liccardo of San Jose and Libby Schaaf of Oakland — all of whom have signed on for the CASA Steering Committee. Liccardo and Schaaf both serve as MTC commissioners, while Lee appoints a representative to sit on the Commission. Additional members of CASA’s Steering Committee include MTC Chair Jake Mackenzie, who serves as the mayor for the city of Rohnert Park; Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) President and MTC Commissioner Julie Pierce, who serves as councilmember for the city of Clayton; MTC Commissioner Dave Cortese, who serves as president of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors; and ABAG Executive Board Member Julie Combs, who serves as council member for the city of Santa Rosa.
Overall, the CASA Steering and Technical Committees comprise leaders from the region’s private, philanthropic, governmental and nonprofit sectors, including social equity and environmental advocates, the business and technology communities, labor groups, market rate and affordable housing developers, and representatives from across the region.
CASA will be co-chaired by Blackwell, whose community foundation gives millions of dollars a year to improve life in the Bay Area; Leslye Corsiglia, executive director of SV@Home, the voice of affordable housing in Silicon Valley; and Michael Covarrubias, chairman and CEO of TMG Partners, a developer focused on urban infill projects in the Bay Area. Key advisors to CASA include Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors as well as the University of California, Berkeley. The effort will also be supported by staff at MTC/ABAG, who will be serving as CASA’s hosts and conveners. For a full list of committee members, advisors and staff, please see the membership roster here.
Over the next 16 months, CASA will work to develop a Regional Housing Implementation Plan for the nine Bay Area counties. The plan is expected to include innovative financing strategies, state and local legislation, and recommendations to address the current regulatory environment, with a final report slated for release in October 2018.
Participants at the June 28 Technical Committee meeting discussed the impacts of the housing crisis, how their organizations are responding and key obstacles, as well as how CASA might address those obstacles while avoiding the pitfalls that have undermined similar past efforts.
Blackwell stated that the co-chairs sought to bring people to the table who agree there is a crisis but may disagree about solutions. The hope, he continued, is that through “thoughtful deliberations” the group can achieve “a higher common denominator of agreement across the issues that we really believe in” and develop more meaningful, impactful solutions.
Coming to consensus on next steps will be a challenge, of course, and may lead to difficult conversations and decisions. What stood out among workshop participants, however, was agreement that the housing crisis had become so acute that it affects everyone in the Bay Area — from renters displaced from their communities to business leaders struggling to retain employees to residents dealing with hours-long commutes.
“We need to compromise. Everyone in the room — no matter who you represent — needs to think about the greater good,” said CASA Co-chair Michael Covarrubias, who was out of the area but pre-recorded his remarks. “Each of us may have to give up something that was on our wish list. Each of us may have to put something in for the team.”
CASA Co-chair Leslye Corsiglia concurred and emphasized the timeliness and urgency of the effort. “We really have an opportunity to make some change,” she said. “Now is the time more than ever to do this.”
CASA was convened by MTC following the release of the draft Plan Bay Area 2040, the region’s long-range transportation and land use plan, which projects the region will see 2.4 million more people, 820,000 new households and 1.3 million new jobs by the year 2040. The plan makes aggressive assumptions about policy interventions and strategies to help accommodate this growth, but falls short on a number of key performance measures including affordable housing, access to jobs, displacement risk, and housing and transportation affordability. (That said, the plan's performance along these key measures remains significantly better than a potential future with "No Project"; that is, a future without Plan Bay Area 2040's recommended land use and transportation strategies.)
It was the stark challenge of looking at this performance data and understanding the risks posed to the region’s low- and moderate-income households, transportation network, economy and environment, that drove the push for game-changing housing solutions.
“The Bay Area has a lot of transportation problems, but we have a housing crisis,” said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger at the meeting. “I see these two things as deeply inter-related.”
Fred Blackwell, CASA Co-chair and CEO of the San Francisco Foundation; Leslyle Corsiglia, CASA Co-chair and executive director of SV@Home; and Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC, at the June 28, 2017, meeting of the CASA Technical Committee at the Bay Area Metro Center in San Francisco. Not pictured is CASA Co-chair Michael Covarrubias, chairman and CEO of TMG Partners, who was out of the area but provided pre-recorded remarks.