May 9, 2022 · 8 min read

7 Ways To Address California’s Housing Affordability Crisis

Everyone deserves a safe, stable and affordable place to call home. Here are innovative affordable housing solutions that are working.


Everyone deserves a safe, stable and affordable place to call home. But right now, demand for housing outpaces supply across California — contributing to the state’s affordable housing crisis. From 2011-2015, the California Bay Area added half a million jobs but built only 65,000 new dwellings, or one unit of housing for every eight jobs created.

At the same time, costs have skyrocketed — for owners, renters and builders alike. Today half of all Bay Area renters are now rent-burdened, and low-income Black, Latina/o/x, and Native American renters are the most likely to pay a greater percentage of their income on rent.

More and more, families have to decide between basic necessities like food, transportation, and healthcare, and paying their rent or mortgage. In the most extreme cases, people are forced to leave their communities entirely or even live on the street or in temporary shelters.

At CZI, we are working alongside community and housing affordability partners to ensure people from all backgrounds and income levels can live, work and thrive in California and beyond.

There’s no single solution to the housing affordability crisis. Addressing it requires a comprehensive, all-in approach from activists, organizers, nonprofits, philanthropies, the private sector, and community members.

In honor of Affordable Housing Month, we’re highlighting seven innovative affordable housing solutions that produce more housing, preserve existing housing, and protect residents from displacement.

1. Expanding Community Land Trusts

Side-by-side, colorful images of brownstone homes with stitches and a bow drawn between the two.

A community land trust (CLT) allows for local communities to collectively acquire and own land. It’s a model that creates shared value and enables communities to steward property in a way that meets their unique needs — from producing, protecting, and preserving affordable housing to maintaining community spaces, parks and gardens.

CLTs have been around for many years — 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the very first CLT in the U.S. that was formed during the Civil Rights era in the South to support rural Black residents and farmers who were systematically denied land ownership opportunities.

Since then, the CLT model has become an increasingly important vehicle for the community control of land and the provision of permanently affordable, shared-equity homeownership opportunities.

At CZI, we partner with several organizations working to advance the CLT model including the California Community Land Trust Networks, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative and the Los Angeles Community Land Trust Coalition.

2. Exploring New Methods for Constructing and Producing Homes

An image of a home divided into two.

Rising construction prices are another major contributor to the housing affordability crisis. In California, the increase in construction costs is particularly acute. According to the Terner Center, costs for constructing multifamily housing in California climbed 25% from 2008 to 2018.

One potential solution to rising construction costs is exploring alternative construction methods, including modular construction, panelized construction, 3D printing and repurposed shipping containers.

While much work remains to bring these new construction methods to scale, they offer the potential for lower building costs with their faster construction times and ready access to materials.

One of our partners looking to advance this space is indieDwell. The company specializes in modular solutions for affordable housing developers — helping increase equitable access to housing and produce more units to close the widening gap between supply and demand.

3. Increasing Access to Home Financing

A door knob and lock, a hand holding a key, and condos in the background.

Too many communities across the country lack access to affordable financial services, creating a significant barrier to homeownership. The gap between Black and white mortgage applicants grew considerably amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2019 Zillow report, Black applicants were denied 74% more than white applicants.

Overall, nearly 20% of Black Americans who applied for a mortgage in 2020 were denied, representing the highest denial rate for any racial or ethnic group. In contrast, 10.7% of white applicants were denied a loan in that year. This makes solutions like equity-centered financing an essential piece to solving the housing crisis.

Equity-centered financing creates homeownership opportunities for working families and communities of color who don’t often have access to family support or intergenerational wealth — and who are often underserved by conventional lenders.

Nonprofit organizations such as Self-Help Federal Credit Union create economic opportunities for all, especially people of color, women and rural residents. The credit union lends to small businesses and nonprofits and provides responsible financial services, including transparently-priced accounts. The credit union also partners with the Keys to Equity program, which provides designs, permitting, construction and financial assistance to Oakland residents who want to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property.

Also read: How Accessory Dwelling Units Can Increase Affordable Housing in Oakland Communities

4.  Advancing Cross-Sector Housing Solutions

Colorful sketches of detached homes and condos.

It’ll truly take an all-in approach to solve the housing affordability crisis. That’s where cross-sector housing solutions come in. They are collaborative efforts that address interconnected challenges in our communities — such as equitable access to housing, healthcare, transportation and economic opportunity.

An example of cross-sector housing solutions is the Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF). This unique effort tackles housing issues in the Bay Area with a multi-pronged approach: supporting policies that preserve and produce affordable housing and help protect renters through its Policy Fund, and directly investing in projects that will create more affordable homes for people of all backgrounds and races through its investment arm, the Bay’s Future Fund.

The partnership launched in 2019 with the ambitious goals of protecting 175,000 households over five years and preserving and producing more than 8,000 homes over the next decade in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. As of 2022, PBF has built 16,264 affordable homes in the Bay Area.

5. Transforming Underutilized Spaces Into Affordable Homes

A colorful image of a motel with a welcome sign.

We are not building homes at a sustainable rate to match population growth in the U.S. The Huffington Post reported that, despite population growth, there are now fewer homes on the market than there were in 1982. One innovative way to address this extreme housing shortage is to convert underutilized properties — including hotels, motels, vacant apartments and school lots — into permanently affordable housing.  This approach is currently taking place in California through its Homekey initiative.

Launched in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Homekey has allocated $1.4 billion in funding to allow local public agencies to buy underused properties and convert them into housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Operating with unprecedented scale and speed, Homekey has already housed more than 8,000 individuals and created nearly 6,000 units in California.

Also watch: Expanding Housing for Tribal Communities in California

Converting unused spaces into homes also has the potential to positively impact California’s education workforce. Far too often, teachers and other staff are forced to either leave their local communities or change their profession altogether so they can keep up with the rising living costs.

A recent study shares a potential solution: turning California’s 75,000 acres of school property on large lots into housing for public school teachers and staff. The California School Boards Association and other local school districts are beginning to explore and research the conversion of underused school lands into housing.

6. Mitigating COVID-19’s Impact on Housing

An image of a house in a blue bubble.

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the sheer power of communities who come together to face a challenge head-on. Taking note of the millions struggling to stay afloat due to financial strains caused by the pandemic, local community organizations — including our partners at Housing Now!, Tenants Together and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment — came together to advocate for a statewide eviction moratorium.

Their efforts helped lead to the launch of California’s unprecedented $5.2 billion rental relief program for people who have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this program, the state is able to pay 100% of a qualified tenant’s unpaid rent dating to April 2020. Landlords participating in the program receive the rent payments directly from the state. To date, the rent relief program has dispersed $3 billion in rent relief funds to more than 275,000 households.

7. Preserving Lower-Cost Housing

Images of houses in mason jars.

As reported by the New York Times, California is the most unaffordable state to live in. When the cost of living is taken into account, California ranks as the most poverty-stricken state, with a fifth of the population struggling to get by.

An often overlooked piece of the solution to this challenge is to protect what’s referred to as naturally occurring affordable housing — existing, affordable multifamily rental properties. These buildings tend to be older and owned by mom and pop landlords. According to McKinsey, naturally occurring affordable housing constitutes the largest supply of affordable units in the United States. However, the ability to preserve and protect this housing supply is increasingly at risk.

The good news is there are efforts underway to ensure these types of homes remain in local neighborhoods across the country. One example in California is the Los Angeles Local Rental Owners Collaborative (LROC).

Launched in 2021, LROC supports and protects local landlords and their residents, preventing displacement in high-cost markets. LROC achieves its mission by helping local landlords reduce costs and add value to their property, providing free access to property management solutions, awarding relief grants to help offset rental losses, offering financial consulting, and supporting owners as they navigate local, state and federal relief programs.

Learn More About Housing Solutions

Our communities are at their best — and most vibrant — when everyone has a safe, affordable place to call home. With continued support for innovative housing solutions like the ones shared above, we can improve housing affordability and access so people from all backgrounds and income levels can live, work, and thrive. Visit our housing affordability page to learn more.

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