How Good Data Can Beat Bad Politics: Using Broad Community Input to Overcome 40 Years of Political Decisions and Constraints that Created a Housing Shortage

by Placer County, CA for the TLG 2019 Innovation Showcase program

Dec 19, 2018

Theme: Authentic Community Relations

Placer County, like many other places in California, continues to face a critical housing shortage. More and more of our residents are unable to rent or buy homes that meet their budget, and that is making it harder for local businesses to attract and retain employees, hampering economic growth. Ensuring a healthy housing stock and variety of housing to meet all budgets is one of the county’s top priorities. So we’ve undertaken a comprehensive effort to address the crisis and its many underlying causes. The first step was to develop our first-ever housing strategy.

But many local efforts to improve housing policies are dead on arrival politically, once local homeowners organize their loud and influential opposition through public meetings and other modes of public input (emails, phone calls, unscientific surveys, etc). The NIMBY noise can be insurmountable so as part of our effort we wanted broad community input that was truly representative and reliable. We believed the loud opposition to “smaller and taller” was unrepresentative so we hoped we would discover broad support from a quiet majority we never hear from.

We succeeded. We didn’t ask the usual questions or ask them the usual way. We did short, scientific FlashVote surveys with questions that were carefully crafted to get at public interests separate from private interests. We wanted to understand the ranges and reasons for public support and disagreement. We found overwhelming support for smaller and more affordable housing, especially in the part of the county with the highest and fastest rising prices -- where opposition might be expected to be highest. We used the data from our first survey in a second survey to drill down on support for specific ideas.

We heard from the many, not just the noisy. We overcame bad politics with good data.

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