Affordable Housing: A Tool to Fight Smog, Traffic

We generally think it a big success when public policy successfully fixes a serious problem. Right now, smart California policies are effectively tackling three major issues at once: housing, traffic, and climate change.

Anyone not living under a rock knows that California faces an unprecedented crisis in housing affordability. Skyrocketing rents force working families to choose between spending more than half their income on housing, squeezing into inadequate or unsafe homes, or moving away from their communities. Similarly, we all see traffic get worse each year. Amazingly, our efforts to fight climate change are bringing real progress on both these issues.

Over 30 affordable housing projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside.

West Sacramento resident Esther Roberts and her four children know all about housing struggles. Without access to the affordable housing development where she lives, she says, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”
But what many don’t know is that affordable homes can also make a big dent in smog, climate pollution, and traffic – if we put those homes near public transportation and include other amenities that encourage walking and biking.

Lower-income households living near transit drive less than half as many miles as wealthier households. Creating 15,000 new affordable homes near good public transportation would keep over 1.58 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (and lots of plain old smog) out of our air.

That’s why money from California’s climate program is helping build more affordable homes near public transportation in communities statewide. Under laws called AB 32 and SB 535, fees paid by polluters who put carbon into the air go into a variety of projects to help clean the air and save energy, including transit-oriented affordable homes for low- and moderate-income Californians.

One such project, West Gateway Place, now underway not far from Esther’s West Sacramento home, will provide 77 affordable homes for more families like hers. Over 30 such projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside – with many more coming in future years.

And that’s just one of many ways climate funds are enhancing communities throughout the state. Sometimes we hear from people who say they don’t see these investments at work in their communities, but the truth is that over 400 projects have been awarded more than a billion dollars to strengthen public transportation, reduce energy costs through home weatherization, create urban green spaces, and more. Some projects may take a little while to build, but they’re coming – and more are on the way.

California’s climate program is making a real, positive impact on people’s lives, particularly in communities hit first and worst by pollution and economic difficulties. California’s climate investments help families find safe, affordable homes, cut traffic, reduce smog, shrink families’ energy bills, and much more – all while combating the climate crisis that threatens us all.

We’re frustrated many don’t know about these benefits, even as big oil continues to spend millions trying to weaken or kill California’s climate program. To level the playing field a bit, we’ve created several tools to help Californians understand how these policies work and how they’re uplifting our neighborhoods.

To learn more about Esther, affordable housing and climate, you can watch a short, informative video at You can read about Esther and other Californians already reaping the benefits of California climate policies at Finally, search for climate investments throughout California and see the benefits for yourself using TransForm’s searchable online map at

Ed’s Note: Ryan Wiggins is Climate Policy Manager for TransForm, and Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Director for The Greenlining Institute.