Much is being said these days about housing affordability — particularly here in the Golden State – and with good reason.
Rents in California are 50 percent above the national average. The cost of a new home is 2.5 times what it is elsewhere in the U.S. And the chances of being “house poor” are significantly higher here than in any other state in the country.
How did we put ourselves in this position?
As you can imagine, there is no one answer, but at or near the top of the list is a political and regulatory environment at the community level that increasingly treats new housing as a liability rather than the asset that it is. A well-conceived, well-executed mixed-income housing strategy increases a community’s property values and tax base, creates rooftops that support local businesses and provides much-needed attainable housing for current and future generations.
Ironically, the same resistance we’ve seen to this kind of approach has given birth to a host of far more serious problems that cities across the state are now having to confront: Overcrowded living conditions, illegal garage conversion and homelessness, to name a few. This, in turn, is forcing communities, and taxpayers, to spend significantly more money on code enforcement, social services and public safety at a time when we can least afford to do so.
It would be too easy to blame the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) movement for all of this. While it is true that community opposition to new housing projects has become louder and more confrontational over the years, it is the responsibility of those with decision-making authority to differentiate between a noisy council chamber and sound, strategic thinking that’s in the best long-term interest of the community.
This topic will take center stage next month when the Southern California Association of Governments hosts the California Housing Summit in Los Angeles. Stakeholders at the local, regional and state level will participate in an effort to come up with actionable strategies to encourage the much-needed development of new housing.
SCAG notes that while real median income in California has declined by 8 percent since 2000, median rents have increased by 28 percent. The agency also reports that more than half of all California renters are overpaying for housing, and that Californians are four times more likely to live in overcrowded housing than residents of any other state.
None of this is terribly surprising to those of us who live, work or run businesses here, but it does underscore the need for mixed-income housing strategies at the municipal level. State or federal mandates aren’t the solution. The real difference can and must be made locally, by Planning Departments, Planning Commissions and City Councils.
The housing industry, too, must be better prepared than it has been in demonstrating how access and affordability at every income level benefit entire communities.
It’s time to stop talking, start acting and make YIMBY (yes-in-my-backyard) the new order of the day.