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Housing is at the heart of the American Dream, tied to many of the things we care most deeply about, including schools, traffic, crime, and home value. Talking about affordable housing in the Bay Area can be tricky, leading to heated conversations and often times, hurt feelings. But we need to talk about affordable housing, because the more we do, we begin to realize that many of our concerns are not founded in the realities of affordable housing, but on myths that have circulated for decades.

Affordable Housing: Myths and Realities

Kylie Clark, West Valley Community Services Blog

December 6, 2021

To help separate myth from reality, we have listed some of the most common arguments against affordable housing, and share why affordable housing is an important and meaningful investment in our community’s present and future.


Affordable housing increases traffic

Surprisingly, affordable housing is actually likely to decrease traffic. First, affordable housing allows people to live closer to their jobs, significantly decreasing commute traffic. Second, households near transit have been found to drive significantly less than those living further away. Transit-rich neighborhoods that include low-income housing have less traffic than those with only higher-income housing.

 

Affordable housing is ugly

Builders of affordable housing must comply with the same guidelines on design and construction as market-rate housing projects. Affordable projects often must comply with even higher design standards due to some reliance on public dollars. Additionally, affordable housing comes in many shapes and forms, including duplexes, fourplexes, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which blend in well and can enhance the design of the neighborhood.


Affordable housing is bad for schools

An argument often deployed against affordable housing is that it hurts the quality of local schools and lowers standardized test scores. Many fear that building dense, affordable housing will burden the local school system. Research has actually found that this does not happen due to changing demographics. As Baby Boomers age and leave the child-rearing to their children and grandchildren, their descendants have fewer kids of their own. As a result, school systems are able to keep up with any influx of children that affordable housing may bring over time.

For the children, there is a clear educational benefit for those living in affordable housing. Frequent moves caused by unaffordable housing can negatively impact a child’s education, while stable housing promotes long-term relationships with teachers, peers, and mentors, molding them into successful and contributing community members.


Affordable housing creates a jobs-to-housing imbalance

Let’s reframe this as a lack of affordable housing creates a housing-to-jobs imbalance. This imbalance forces many employees to live outside of the city in which they work. Affordable housing would not lead people to take jobs that they would not otherwise occupy. It would, instead, allow people to live near their place of work. In addition, because of the close proximity of cities in the west valley, the housing-to-jobs imbalance is less of a concern, as an individual does not need to live in the exact city in which they work in. Instead, we should take a regional perspective, ensuring there is enough housing throughout the region to meet the number of jobs, and providing opportunities for folks to live near their workplace.


Affordable housing increases crime

While this argument is concerning, it is not based on data. Instead, it is rooted in images we have absorbed from the media and other sources linking affordable housing to high crime. In reality, family household stability that results from affordable housing is likely to decrease crime rates.

Affordable housing is bad for the environment

A common misconception is that affordable housing is bad for the environment. In reality, affordable housing can be one solution to some of our most daunting environmental challenges. Due to a lack of affordable housing, many employees are forced to live far away from their jobs, spending hours each day in traffic. Cars and trucks are the leading cause of climate pollution in California, and long commutes are a large contributor. Additionally, high housing costs push households to live in areas with high risks of wildfires, exacerbating one of our state’s greatest challenges.

Affordable housing will take our city’s water

While increased housing will lead to more demand for water, it will not contribute to water shortages, as reducing indoor water consumption will not resolve the drought. In fact, only 3% of California’s water usage derives from urban residential use. And newer, denser housing is significantly more water efficient. Instead, we should look towards landscaping and agriculture as the keys to addressing our drought challenges!

Affordable housing is only for people on welfare

The Santa Clara County median income is $151,300. To qualify for affordable housing, a person’s income must be 80% or less of the median income in their area. With a median income this high, a wide range of people are eligible for affordable housing in our state, including teachers, professors, servers, firefighters, seniors, nonprofit employees, librarians, and other community members who cannot afford to live in our community with their current earnings. So yes, some affordable housing should be designated for economically disadvantaged folks, but the benefits span much wider than that.

Affordable housing will lower property values

Research routinely shows that affordable housing has no negative impact on either the prices of homes or on the speed or frequency of home sales. Nearly every study conducted has found that affordable housing does not negatively affect, and can even increase, property values.

Affordable housing only benefits people living in affordable housing

In reality, affordable housing is about making all of our lives better. A lack of affordable housing means tax revenues are not in place to improve roads, schools, and air quality. It leads businesses to struggle to retain workers, and people to have less money to spend in those communities. Affordable housing helps local businesses, diversifies our communities, gives our children more stability, helps the environment, and decreases traffic.

The common myths listed above may seem powerful, but we have the power to change the narrative! Here are some things you can do:

  • Check out some of the references linked below to learn more.
  • Spend some time thinking about the ways affordable housing can benefit you and your community.
  • Share your thoughts and this blog post with friends and neighbors in your community. Your conversations can help break down misconceptions, and enable us all to recognize the value of economically inclusive communities.

We hope you will join us, and be a voice in support of affordable housing in your community!