Outgoing Redwood City mayor reflects on region’s housing crunch


Redwood City has not been immune to California’s housing crunch.

Zillow pegs the city’s median rent at more than twice the national median. A 2019 survey found it had the largest unsheltered homeless population of any city in San Mateo County. The federal government would consider a family of four in the city making $129,150 to be low-income – and eligible for certain kinds of housing assistance.

Councilmember Ian Bain, who passed the mayoral title to Diane Howard on Dec. 9 after finishing a two-year term as the city’s top government official, doesn’t have to imagine what it’s like to struggle to afford Bay Area housing.

Bain, 52, spent portions of his formative years in Berkeley, Palo Alto and Redwood City. He said his family at times couldn’t afford their rent – and ended up moving into motels or sleeping in their cars when they had nowhere else to go. Bain remembers looking for dark places to park the car so as not to arouse the suspicions of neighbors and police.

“Those experiences are burned into my brain and make me part of who I am today,” he said. “I’m always concerned about the impact on our residents of all income levels, particularly those who are low income. How are the policies we’re making affecting them in the short and long term?”

In recent years, Redwood City leaders have taken steps attempting to alleviate pressure on the city’s housing market and to help people to find and keep housing.

Among other policies, the city requires real estate developers to build income-restricted housing units in market-rate developments and in some cases requires landlords to pay displaced tenants relocation assistance. This fall, city officials approved an urgency ordinance capping rent increases and setting new requirements for just-cause evictions.

But there are still other housing challenges to face. In early December, crews cleared out a homeless encampment in the city. Businesses and residents have also raised concerns about people living in RVs in Redwood City neighborhoods.

Bain said the region’s housing crisis is too large for cities to fix on their own.

He’s called on the Bay Area’s nine counties to scrap two regional bodies – the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — in favor of a new regional body comprised of 45 of the Bay Area’s county supervisors.

“People think the city has a lot more power than we do – and the power that we do have is only within our city limits,” he said. “So there are a lot of things that we do that impact neighboring cities and vice versa.”

Bain, who was first elected to the City Council in 2003, terms out at the end of 2020.