On the Table: Challenges and Solutions for Bay Area Housing Crisis

By Laura Deck, posted on

Benetech supports Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s initiative

To those of us who live and work in the Bay Area, the stories are familiar: college graduates who move back home because they can’t afford an apartment; empty nesters who rent rooms to earn extra income. According to a 2017 poll by the Bay Area Council, respondents cited housing costs as the top problem facing the Bay Area, with forty percent indicating they were likely to leave the region in the next few years.

Between 2010 and 2014, 182,800 new jobs were created in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, while only 16,262 housing units were built.

Silicon Valley’s housing crisis affects everyone. The issue is complex and involves many conflicting factors. Silicon Valley is blessed with desirable weather, a robust job market, world-class universities, a wealth of cultural attractions, innovative business climate, and diversity, all of which attract a steady stream of job seekers. With limited land available for new housing, high demand has pushed rents and home prices into the stratosphere.

Five people sit around a table eating cake and having a conversation

Top Three Challenges and Ideas

In response to this crisis, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) launched On the Table: a nationwide initiative designed to bring people together to talk about important issues in their community. On November 15, Benetech hosted one of 700 conversations to identify challenges and brainstorm ideas.

Challenge: Close the gap between the number of jobs and available housing units

Ideas: Change zoning laws to allow alternative sources of new housing

  • Build tiny houses! Eliminate minimum size of unit to accommodate singles or small family units
  • Build second unit on property
  • Participate in home sharing
  • Create or renovate warehouse living spaces to meet safety requirements

Challenge: Make rents and home prices affordable for median-income families and professions that form the foundation of communities like teachers, firefighters, and public servants


  • Increase incentives for local governments to build more subsidized affordable housing units
  • Put a proposition on ballot to increase minimum amount of Below Market Rate housing from 10% to 20%
  • Remove tax penalties to encourage property owners to downsize and sell their homes
  • Encourage tech companies to build housing for employees so they don’t force non-tech workers out of the area

Challenge: Reduce traffic congestion and shorten commutes


  • Improve capacity, service reach, and integration of all mass transit authorities starting with electrification and extension of Caltrain
  • Increase development of higher density, pedestrian friendly housing near transportation hubs

Next Steps: What Can You Do?

The SVCF project is part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s national replication of the On the Table civic engagement initiative pioneered by The Chicago Community Trust.