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San Mateo County builds one home per 19 new jobs, says report

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If you don’t build it, they’ll still come

San Mateo office building.
Photo by jejim/Shutterstock

San Mateo County isn’t building enough housing.

While that’s a common opinion with the YIMBY crowd, the San Mateo-based Housing Leadership Council [HLC] (a nonprofit that lobbies for development and “works with communities and their leaders to produce and preserve quality affordable homes”) adds some numbers to it in a report (“Moving San Mateo County Forward”), which examines traffic and housing trends going back to 2010.

Author Elizabeth Stampe alleges that the dawdling pace of construction relative to the Silicon Valley jobs explosion hurts the region, particularly low-income and working class people.

Here’s a few highlights:

  • HLC claims that the rate of housing to jobs is nearly 20:1: “Between 2010 and 2016, 80,000 new jobs were created, but permits were only issued for 8,000 new homes. [...] The actual building is even more inadequate. Between 2010 and 2015, 72,800 new jobs were created, and just 3,844 new homes were built. That’s one home built for every 19 jobs created.” Stampe cites U.S. Census and California Economic Development Department figures; the one-year discrepancy between 2016 jobs and 2015 homes means the 19:1 ratio isn’t strictly accurate, but neither is it entirely far off.
  • Unsurprisingly, the bulk of homes that do get built are unaffordable for most renters: “Most apartments are priced for higher incomes, and very few for low incomes—but the distribution of people’s actual incomes is the reverse. For almost 60,000 people in San Mateo County, their incomes mean they could only afford apartments under $1,000 a month, but only 9,000 of those apartments exist.” Note that “afford” in this context means being able to rent without being housing burdened.
  • Equally unsurprising, Silicon Valley ends up having some of the worst traffic in the world: “According to a 2017 report by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region has set a new record for congestion related delays. [...] In Silicon Valley, commuters now spend over 37 hours a year sitting in traffic.” Stampe alleges this is the predictable result of people not being able to afford housing near their jobs.
  • Ironically, building new traffic infrastructure might make traffic worse: “When the I-405 in Los Angeles opened in 2014 [...] the traffic actually moved slightly slower than before. [...] This is because of what economists term “induced demand,” where increasing the supply of something creates new demand for it: building more roads results in more driving.” Odd as it sounds, this appears to be true; Joseph Stromberg explained the phenomena in more detail for Vox in 2015, citing Brown University research.

Given all of that, the solution HLC and Stampe proffer is, of course, to build more housing near jobs and particularly near public transit. You can read the full report here.

According to the Association of Bay Area Government’s projections, San Mateo County would need to add more than 16,400 units between 2015 and 2023 to keep up with new demand.