How to Build More Affordable Housing: Spotlight on Mission Housings’ Sam Moss
Sam Moss, executive director of Mission Housing Development Corporation, is passionate about building affordable housing without carving out space to store “2,000-pound death machines.” And he can do it, thanks to legislation passed in Sacramento in recent years, including AB 2097, which TransForm supported, that eliminated parking minimums in buildings within a half mile of transit.
Moss, who will be one of the speakers at TransForm’s upcoming webinar Parking Revolution/Housing Solution, believes developments with a lot less parking are the future of affordable housing. “The thing that disappoints me is that Mission Housing is unique” in using state law to repurpose space in affordable developments for units rather than parking, he says.
“Every parking space is a unit we don’t build,” Moss says. In a recent development project, Mission Housing was able to include 131 units. If the building had included parking, the number of units would have been reduced to 90. That’s nearly 50% more housing for people by eliminating housing for cars.
“We are no longer accepting a world where we have to significantly reduce the number of units” to make space for parking, he says. “That does mean that some affordable housing developers are going to have to change their way of thinking.”
Building up a neighborhood
The housing we build today will be in use for decades, so the Bay Area needs to build for our low-carbon future, not our car-dependent present. Moss works in San Francisco, a dense city with excellent public transit. But he’s convinced developers in suburban areas
as well as transit-rich downtowns can build successful affordable developments without giving a significant portion of the space to parking.
According to Moss, the key is to work with local officials to increase public transit and change land use decisions to support walkable, mixed-use communities. Much of TransForm’s work centers on this alignment to expand access to opportunity, combat climate change, and advance equity. Although it requires extra effort, developers, local transit agencies, and elected leaders must coordinate housing, land use, and transportation in the planning process.
Moss acknowledges that it takes more effort to step beyond the building walls to build a more sustainable community. “Hard is hard,” he says. “Welcome to affordable housing.”
Fortunately, there are also more funding opportunities for affordable housing with less parking, such as the Affordable Housing, Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. A state program championed by TransForm, it funds projects that integrate affordable housing with transit, bicycle, and pedestrian access. AHSC helped Mission Housing secure an additional $20 million in cap and trade funding to build an affordable complex at the Balboa Station in San Francisco by buying an extra car for BART trains coming into that station.
Reimagining the possible
Moss advocated for affordable housing bonds for developments in some San Francisco neighborhoods that have been resistant in the past and was told that was impossible. Now, those bonds are secured, and the buildings are going up.
He cites a rising movement of housing advocates who can be tapped to support more sustainable housing options. He notes that out-organizing the opposition has been better for his mental health than trying to convince them. “Happiness breeds wins,” he says.
So, when people tell Sam Moss that it’s impossible to build affordable housing with no parking, he says, “It is possible. It is already happening.”
It’s time to design projects that meet the new goals of funding sources. Register for our free webinar on Oct. 18 to hear more from Sam Moss and others.