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Housing supply in the Bay Area


Back in March, SPUR Regional Strategy published a report called: “What It Will Really Take to Create an Affordable Bay Area.” Much of its focus is on all of the housing that the San Francisco Bay Area should have been building over the years and all of the housing that it will need to start building in order to prevent things from getting worse.

Here are a few stats to put things into perspective. Since 2000, the Bay Area has added about 1 million people (about a 15% increase). From 2011 to 2017, the Bay Area also added some 658,000 jobs, but only created about 140,000 new housing units. That’s 4.7 jobs for every new house built. SPUR further estimates that over the last 20 years, there has been a shortfall of almost 700,000 new housing units.

If you look at the above chart showing residential building permits issued between 1980 and 2018, you can see that the Bay Area was actually more prolific in the 1980s — peaking at nearly 50,000 units per year. Those levels have yet to happen again, despite the region growing in population. (If you looked at new housing units per capita or some other normalized metric, the supply decline would be even more pronounced.)

Part of the reason for this is that the supply of housing in the 1980s had a higher percentage of low-rise single-family homes. We could get into a discussion about sustainability, but that’s not the topic of today’s post. The reality is that this housing typology was easier, faster, and cheaper to build as compared to today’s urban infill housing. We have made it very difficult to build.

To download a copy of the SPUR report, click here.

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