NO-GROWTH POLICIES IN O.C. HURT MILLENIALS
It’s easy to argue that there is no place better to live and raise a family than Orange County, California. Within an hour drive, depending on traffic, you have access to beaches, Disneyland, fine dining and some of the nation’s most prestigious shopping venues. Even in an El Niño year, the weather is still incredible and can’t be beat. For millennials, what more could we hope for?
Yet, with all this family-friendly landscape, it is ironic that Orange County has become one of the least millennial/young family-friendly housing environments in the state. California’s environmental policies have created a housing shortage unlike any other, and it’s impacting Orange County families to the extreme – driving out future generations.
Environmental laws such as the California Environmental Quality Act, in addition to the resulting lawsuits, largely are to blame. But, here in Orange County, there has been a substantive increase in no-growth initiatives and policies enacted by local governments and championed by some elected officials – including Buena Park’s Measure A and an upcoming anti-development measure in Costa Mesa.
The housing market is not immune to market forces. Supply and demand is a big indicator in determining average rents and prices.
In 2015, the Register reported that the average rent for an apartment in Orange County was $1,848 a month. It also reported that the median home price in Orange County was $629,500 – a sum that would easily buy two homes in another state.
Consider that, per the wealth gap calculator at Fusion, the average millennial in the United States makes $27,800. If you contrast this with average rents of $1,848, a millennial would be dedicating nearly 100 percent of their income, after taxes, to rent if they were to try and afford an apartment in Orange County without roommates.
The free market has been stifled, and the result is a severe shortage in housing stock. The 2015 Orange County Business Council Workforce Housing Scorecard placed the housing stock shortage between 50,000 to 62,000 units currently and growing to upwards of 100,000 units by 2040.
No-growth policies can take a number of forms, including voter initiatives and city planning commission or city council denials of moderate to high-density housing.
To be clear, local jurisdictions should have the ability to ensure that new development fits the needs and style of the local community. However, denying construction of or requiring a public vote on moderate to high density housing development, simply because it is density housing growth, is a disservice to the residents of Orange County, and especially young adults and families that would like to be residents of the county and live close to work.
Without an increase in housing supply in Orange County, the millennial generation – especially young families – will be faced with one of four options: 1) move back in with their parents; 2) delay marriage and kids while continuing the college life style by rooming with two or three of their friends; 3) “drive until they qualify” – meaning homes that are 75-plus miles away, and commuting daily to work here in Orange County; 4) move out of California.
2016 is not only a crucial federal election year, but it is a crucial election year for local governments in Orange County. Millennial residents should take notice of local candidates who take no-growth stances in their city council races.
If no-growth policies and initiatives continue throughout Orange County, not only will the millennial dream of home ownership be gone, but the dream of living in Orange County will start to slip away too.
David Mansdoerfer, a millennial, is chairman of the Mission Viejo Planning and Transportation Commission.