“California’s push for more “affordable” housing has run into a new obstacle: The good-sized number of Californians who can easily afford their homes.
Two high-profile statewide propositions were trying to alter the housing landscape to lower costs. Proposition 10 would have dramatically expanded the rent control options for cities; Proposition 5 would have broadened property-tax protections for older homeowners.
Both propositions failed by noteworthy margins in the Nov. 6 election.
The results suggest the push for more “affordable” housing ran into what I’ll call the “CIMBA” crowd — that’s the “Cash In My Bank Account” Californians.
We’ve long watched pro-development groups wrestle with the “NIMBY” audience — the not-in-my-back-yard crowd — that balks when affordable housing cures are too close to their properties.
For sure, one could argue these two propositions were flawed attempts to cure California’s many housing ills. Rent control was spun by opponents as a draconian fix. The senior-oriented property-tax break seemed to be misguided help for an already wealthy demographic niche: older, long-time owners.
Still, with all the talk about a statewide housing “crisis,” it’s surprising to see these proposition garner so little support.
Conversely, voters did approve two housing measures authorizing bond measures that would help fund up to 60,000 housing units for the homeless, low-income households, veterans, farm workers and the mentally ill. You’d think such development might draw NIMBY opposition.
Keep in mind, Prop. 1 and Prop. 2 were not market-altering game changers. They were measures filled with charitable intent, not to mention a possible salve for unsightly homelessness that can erode property values. Plus, the spending was easy as the collective financial outlay is a mere sliver of overall state government spending.
To my eye, Prop. 5 and Prop. 10 faced uphill battles because they were seen as potential threats to our real estate norms. Remember, to win most elections a candidate or a cause needs only one vote more than 50 percent. And while many Californians feel the pain of high housing costs, that particular flock wasn’t big enough to win major change at the ballot box.
Here’s one reason why: For slightly more than half of all Californians, housing isn’t THAT expensive. Let my trusty spreadsheet, loaded with 2017 Census Bureau data, show you how many Californians may NOT be very motivated to ease housing’s cost burden. Well, at least not at the ballot box.
Yes, it’s expensive to live here. Census figures showed a typical California mortgaged homeowner spent $2,269 monthly on housing last year — the fourth-highest tab in the nation. Meanwhile, renters typically pay $1,447 a month — No. 3 in the U.S.
You’d think those lofty sums spent on shelter would make any cost-savings initiative a political no-brainer.
Those same high costs are driving homeownership rates down, with just 54.8 percent of Californians living in a home they own last year. That’s the third-lowest rate nationwide.
But if we’re talking about winning elections, look at the data in political terms: California’s low ownership level still equates to a winning majority.
Despite lots of high-cost rhetoric, 61 percent of owners statewide pay less than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. While that’s second-worst nationally it’s still a majority.
Now look at California renters, who aren’t as financially fortunate: Just 44 percent spent less than 30 percent of their paychecks to the landlord in 2017 — fourth-smallest share of relatively flush tenants nationwide.
So while the other 56 percent of households are “rent burdened” — and could be a political force … note that overall renter households represent just 45 percent of their statewide population. In other words, renters’ political clout is limited.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that folks who can comfortably afford California housing can’t see the greater good that stems from saner statewide housing policies. And these folks could vote accordingly. Nor should we assume that every housing-burdened household will accept just any old rescue plan.
Don’t forget that there are many well-to-do “CIMBA” Californians who easily juggle fat house payments or rent checks. According to census data, for example, the median statewide household income in 2017 was $71,800. Only eight states had folks with larger earnings.
And real estate has been good to many people as rapid home appreciation after the Great Recession built new wealth.
A new study by real estate tracker Attom found that 43 percent of Californians with mortgages owned a home that was valued in the third quarter at twice or more than the loan on the property. That was the highest among the states; there were only 23 percent of these so-called “equity-rich” owners in the rest of the nation.
Pocketbook politics is often about how policy impacts a person’s wallet. And the “CIMBA” folks may feel they have plenty to lose.
So the defeat of Prop. 10 and Prop. 5 suggests the CIMBAs are unwilling to significantly alter real estate’s status quo at the ballot box.”