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Bay Area 'YIMBY Index' Finds Voters Want Housing, But Still Push Local Control

A new Bay Area survey has found that while many of the region's voters support building more housing, an enduring preference for local control over the process persists.

Conducted by Core Decision Analytics and FSB Public Affairs, the "YIMBY Index" surveyed 800 likely voters spread across the Bay Area's nine counties between Aug. 19 and Aug. 23, asking respondents questions ranging from their perception of the severity of the housing crisis to their support of high-density, transit-oriented housing in their neighborhoods. The survey had a margin of error of 3.46% at a 95% confidence interval.

Local control is a hurdle that housing advocates say is largely to blame for the state's housing crisis. Still, after a legislative session in which the coronavirus pandemic, recession and other factors sidetracked many of the state's proposed housing bills, the overall results of the survey are a welcome sign to some housing advocates. 

“I’m so excited that this poll was done," YIMBY Law President Sonja Trauss said in an interview. "For the most part, it shows a lot of support for housing."

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Some of that support takes the form of responses to questions about this year's slate of housing bills, most of which didn't actually make it to the governor's desk.

Authored by Assembly member Richard Bloom (D-50th District), AB 3107 would have allowed some housing development on commercially zoned land and received 65% support in the poll. SB 1385, a similar bill authored by state Sen. Anna Caballero (D-12th District), would have allowed housing development on land zoned for office and retail and registered 67% support.

Other support came for more general ideas, but dwindled when applied to a respondent's own neighborhood. For the Bay Area, 63% of respondents said new high-density housing located near mass transit has a positive impact on the Bay Area, but only 47% said that type of development would have a positive impact in their local community. 

In addition, when it comes to local control versus state control of housing development, a debate brought to the fore by SB 50, most respondents still favor maintaining local control.

More than half (53%) said local officials should have the right to control the type and pace of home building development within their own communities, compared to 26% who said state officials should act when local governments "prevent new home building and development within their own communities."

“Voters really want to retain local control. They don’t want Sacramento dictating how much housing gets built in their community," FSB Public Affairs President Frank Rizzo said.  "However, that being said, there’s still 21% of voters who are unsure about that, so we think if local governments don’t actually take action and build housing, that opens up a significant group of people that can be swayed for more action from Sacramento.”

Both Trauss and Rizzo also said they were struck by the level of recognition of the state's housing crisis by respondents, as well as engagement in the local development process.

In the survey, 49% said the Bay Area overall was producing too few homes, compared to 30% who said too many, and 86% said the cost of housing will continue to rise if supply doesn't increase. Over 80% said more high-density housing near transit is needed. 

In addition, 14% of respondents said they have either attended a public meeting, written an email or made a call to an elected official in support of a housing project in their area, compared to 10% who have done one of the above in opposition, 72% who have done neither and 5% who weren't sure. 

Rizzo said he interpreted that breakdown as essentially a tie because of its margin of error, but regards it as a meaningful total nonetheless.

“You’re looking at almost one in four people who’ve either supported a project or opposed a project, publicly, which shows a really active electorate when it comes to housing issues," he said.

Trauss said that might be the most important takeaway for local elected officials, who are in the midst of the state's worst housing crisis in decades.

“Lawmakers need to see this, because in their experience, they hear a lot from opponents, not that much from supporters and, of course, never hear from 72% who are like, ‘I’m too busy for this and couldn’t care less,'" Trauss said.