Experts Say California Needs to Build a Lot More Housing. but the Public Disagrees


Experts Say California Needs to Build a Lot More Housing. but the Public Disagrees

2018-10-24T09:00:03+00:00October 24th, 2018|Advocacy, Local Updates|

“Academic researchers, state analysts and California’s gubernatorial candidates agree that the fundamental issue underlying the state’s housing crisis is that there are not enough homes for everyone who wants to live here.

The problem, a new poll says, is that the public doesn’t believe it.

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey found that just 13% of eligible California voters believe that too little home building is a primary contributor to the state’s affordability issues. The answer ranked sixth among eight options offered in the poll, when first and second responses were combined. (Poll results reflect the percentage of people who chose a particular reason as their first or second option.) Lack of rent control topped the list with 28%.

Since 2011, California’s median home value has increased by almost 80% to $544,900 — nearly 2½ times the national median — according to real estate website Zillow. And 9.5 million renters in the state, more than half the tenant population, spend more than 30% of their income on rent, according to a recent analysis of U.S. census data by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Residents are grappling with the effects of these high housing costs every day, but the poll results show that the public hasn’t rallied around a cause, said Bob Shrum, co-director of USC’s Center for the Political Future and a longtime Democratic strategist.

“There hasn’t been the kind of discussion that would actually form a consensus on what the nature of the problem is,” Shrum said.

While the public is divided, state policymakers and researchers are less so. Experts and legislators continue to debate public funding for low-income housing, the role of environmental and other state regulations and how much the tech industry’s rise and foreign and Wall Street investment play a role in the state’s overall affordability crisis.

But there’s general agreement that a lack of supply is at the root the problem. Reports from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and a host of academics contend that California has a chronic shortage of home building that has failed to keep pace with the state’s population growth — especially during the recent economic expansion — which has forced prices up.

The state’s gubernatorial candidates have embraced this perspective. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox have said they would set housing production goals that call on developers in California to at least triple the current rate of building, and keep up that pace for many years to come. The result would be new housing growth at levels never seen since the building industry began keeping statistics more than six decades ago.

The Legislature already is trying to push for more housing by taking aim at some restrictions that cities and counties place on approving development. For decades, the state has set goals for housing growth for each city and county. In 2017, lawmakers passed a bill that requires local governments that have fallen behind on those goals to relax planning requirements for individual projects. Currently, just 4% of California’s 539 cities and counties are on track to meet their supply goals.

This year, a bid to boost home building by loosening local zoning rules around transit stops to allow for new apartments and condominiums attracted national attention, but failed to pass.

The poll, however, shows that residents don’t blame cities and counties for housing problems. Just 9% of those surveyed identified overly restrictive zoning rules as a primary cause of the state’s affordability problem, ranking it last out of the eight options offered. And nearly seven out of 10 of those polled believe that local governments should retain their power over individual projects, even when they’re behind on their housing goals.”

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