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  • Grecia Mannah-Ayon

Transform Joins Inspiring Terner Center Panel on Housing, Climate, and Transportation


On March 19, 2024, Transform’s Housing Policy Manager, Grecia Mannah-Ayon, took part in a webinar on climate, housing, and transportation in California hosted by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center. The panel was moderated by Chris Rhie of Rhie Planning; other panelists were Susan Handy, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California at Davis and director of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation, and James Corless, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG). 

After an opening presentation on the value of infill housing in reducing GHG emissions from Zack Subin, associate research director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, Rhie led the group in a lively discussion of the challenges of using housing to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and mitigate climate change.

Housing perception vs. reality

While agencies like SACOG have instituted policies to incentivize infill development, it still represents 20% or less of new housing. Residents may not realize how far we are falling behind our housing needs; they see buildings going up and assume it’s being taken care of.

But the construction that is happening doesn’t serve all income levels. And funding is an obstacle; building is expensive in California, and some affordable housing developments stop in the middle of construction because they are unable to secure the needed financing. 

Mannah-Ayon pointed out the misperception that infill housing will result in “parking Armageddon.” Excess parking requirements can make building affordable housing too expensive, so it’s essential to use a right-size approach. Municipal planners and developers must assess parking needs on a case-by-case basis so new residential developments don’t overbuild parking, squeezing out people.

With dense housing and good transit, people may still own cars, especially in suburban areas like the Sacramento region, but they drive less, reducing VMT. Car-sharing opportunities can reduce GHGs even further.

The intersection of housing and transportation

Handy noted that our transportation problem is a housing problem. We need to connect the two and not use freeway widening as a solution to an affordable housing problem. Highway 37 is an example of that, where Caltrans plans to expand highway capacity for workers who must commute to Sonoma and Marin because they can’t afford to live near their workplaces. That funding would be better spent on affordable housing closer to jobs.

There are organizations that understand the intersection of housing, transportation, and climate. Transform looks at housing policy through a climate and mobility lens. And SACOG administers housing and transportation policy through the same agencies, facilitating coordination between the two.

The speakers noted the need to amend building codes and state laws to facilitate dense, mixed-use neighborhoods. Affordable housing financing often comes with more requirements when compared to market-rate; while many of them are admirable, they can add to the cost and make affordable development less appealing. 

The Bay Area’s regional housing measure, which will be on the ballot in November, should be a game changer in building affordable infill housing. The bond initiative will raise enough funds to build 72,000 affordable units, saving the climate as well as providing much-needed homes.

The speakers had much more to say. Watch the full panel discussion:


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