When it comes to California’s acute housing shortage, we prefer market-based solutions to governmental band-aids. Such solutions have the advantage of working and more quickly. That’s the same conclusion the Legislative Analyst’s Office reached in 2016.
Unfortunately, in California it is government that has most frequently gotten in the way of building more housing.
Start with the California Environmental Quality Act, which has been “weaponized” (in the words of outgoing state Sen. Anthony Cannella) to bring any number of good projects – from housing to roads to shopping centers – to a screeching halt. The California Building Industry Association says the most common target for CEQA challenges are housing projects. Such lawsuits increase costs – CEQA challenges must be fought in court, and lawyers are expensive – but they also create years-long delays.
Then there are some of the nation’s highest building fees. Local fees and permits average $23,000 per home in California; the national average is $6,000.
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Next, look at where the housing is needed. Most of California’s jobs are in coastal urban centers, but the LAO says 99 percent of the land that could be used for new homes there has already been developed. That means much of the new building must move east, away from the coast. This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone living here.
Another obstacle to more housing is good, old-fashioned greed. Those of us who already own homes know very well their current value. Maybe we paid $175,000 or $250,000 for a home in 1995 or 2000, but now it’s worth twice that much. More housing, obviously, will drive down that appreciation. Who wants that?
Is it any wonder that housing costs are driving more and more Californians into poverty? It’s why people pay $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in the Valley and $3,500 in the Bay Area or L.A.?
What can we do?
Since our elected officials can’t find the gumption to make CEQA rules more equitable, or insist that cities create more reasonable building-fee schedules, or encourage more infill, we should give Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 a shot.
Proposition 1’s $4 billion sets aside $1.5 billion to provide loans to renovate or build more rental housing. Millions more would go toward grants to build or improve sewers, roads and water systems in cities.
It provides $1 billion for the CalVet Home Loan Program, helping veterans buy homes, farms and mobile homes. It has programs for mortgage assistance, farm-worker housing and it encourages new housing near transportation corridors – such as, say, downtown Modesto which soon will be a stop on the ACE train.
Proposition 1 could actually move the needle.
Proposition 2 is focused specifically on creating more housing for the homeless, authorizing $2 billion for permanent housing if it includes a direct connection to supportive services.
Many believed that Proposition 63 addressed a portion of this crisis through its “No Place Like Home” program, which authorized $2 billion in bonds to build short-term housing. But that program has been tied up in lawsuits. The money has been collected and allocated, but can’t be spent.
Proposition 2 would put a stop to the legal maneuvering and allow the money to be used as voters originally decreed. It’s unfortunate that we need a new proposition to affirm our intent in an old one. But that’s California. Vote yes on Proposition 2 to help the homeless, and Proposition 1 to help build more homes.