The Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), as Lizz reported, was properly focused on the main issue in a housing shortage: the number of units produced. The punch line is that the zoning changes and affordable housing requirements, taken together, will create about 19,000 new housing units over the next 20 years. Astonishingly, it would create almost 6,000 units formally defined as affordable, up from 200 under the status quo.
The results punch back against both anti-growth and pro-growth critiques of HALA. The argument against upzones us that we already have “enough” zoned capacity to reach our growth targets. This result predicts that an upzone will allow substantially more households to live in a city very worried about displacement and inclusion.
The pro-growth critique is that the affordability requirements deter the construction of new housing. The HALA grand bargain might do that compared to some abstract ideal, but it is clearly an improvement on the status quo, even setting aside that reduced price units let us skip the process where old housing becomes “naturally” affordable.
Another key finding compares an upzone in all the transit-accessible places with one that shifts more of the new capacity to “low displacement risk” (rich) areas. By definition, this doesn’t substantially affect the overall units built. However, for a strategy intended to combat displacement, it’s disconcerting that “throughout the city as a whole, there is little difference between Alternative 2 and Alternative 3 in the amount of total expected physical displacement of low-income households” (p. 1.14). The question is whether this displacement happens in richer neighborhoods (Alternative 2) or poorer ones (Alternative 3). It inevitably trades off deepened economic and racial segregation against preserving the unique cultures of communities of color.
There’s an added risk in counting on growth in richer neighborhoods: because the system is unfair, those neighborhoods have more procedural tools to resist upzones. If the outcome of a well-intentioned effort to shield vulnerable communities from change is to aggravate the housing shortage, that would be a tragedy for everyone.
Finally, a word about methodology: the first move against any study that jolts a partisan is to find something to dislike about the study techniques. Perhaps we’ll see a convincing critique of this one. Until then, I much prefer a systematic study of the impact to anyone’s hunch.