Many people have strong opinions about affordable housing, but not everyone understands how local market conditions or policies can affect housing development.

A new online dashboard from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley shines light on the important interaction of market conditions and land-use measures on housing production.

“We thought this is a role for the Terner Center to come up with a tool that is open, transparent, fairly simple to use, and can give you some basic information and predictions about what happens to a particular kind of development based on different land-use decisions that a locality can make,” says Carol Galante, faculty director of the center.

The development calculator is one of the tools in the new online dashboard

The Housing Development Dashboard has the potential to reshape how communities engage in the housing development debate, according to Galante.

The dashboard features two tools. The first, a development calculator, shows how affordable housing requirements, local rents, and other factors influence the cost of development and estimates the probability that a project will be built.

The second, a policy gauge, examines how local policy changes could impact housing development in four Bay Area communities—San Francisco, Oakland, Menlo Park, and Pleasanton. For example, the tool can help assess how a reduction in parking requirements might increase or decrease housing production.

The tool comes at a time when many communities are looking at inclusionary zoning and other policies to spur the development of affordable housing and ease the housing crunch.

The dashboard, which is in beta testing, has the four cities as samples. The Terner Center hopes to expand the tool to include other communities, including major metros outside of the Bay Area.

The dashboard doesn’t replace the due diligence a developer needs to do when proposing a new project. That needs to done in a more rigorous way to determine feasibility.

Instead, the new tool is a way to engage in public dialogue at a communitywide level, says Galante, a veteran affordable housing developer. She led BRIDGE Housing, a San Francisco-based nonprofit development firm, for many years before recently serving as Federal Housing Administration commissioner.

“What’s most exciting to me is that this is user friendly to a wide range of individuals—citizens who don’t have deep planning or development backgrounds, policymakers who are dealing with different policies,” Galante says. “This helps democratize how we look at these decisions.”

The policy gauge show the cumulative impact that policy changes might have on housing production across a jurisdiction