A lot of people think I supported SB 50. I definitely followed its progress. There were definitely aspects of the bill I was supportive of – the need for densification, the need to put housing near transit, the need to avoid sprawl.
On the other hand, I was not a great fan of the loss of local control over land use. I worried that there were was not enough provision for affordable housing and think the concerns about gentrification were real.
A lot of people are of course celebrating the defeat of SB 50. A lot of people who believe we need housing are also celebrating the defeat of SB 50. The problem, of course, is that the defeat of SB 50 has resulted in a continuation of the status quo. Maybe the legislature will act this session to do something on housing – but for right now, not one new house will be built as a result of legislative action.
And that’s my bottom line here: we need housing locally and we need housing in California.
There have been some over the last week arguing that we don’t really need 3.5 million new housing units, that this represents a fake number, and some have argued that the slowing of California’s growth rate means we don’t need housing.
I guess we can quibble over the exact number we need. But the slowing of the growth rate does not prove that we don’t need housing. On the contrary. That slowing growth rate is the result of constrained supply along with rising prices.
And it’s going to come with at least two problems – one is it will hurt the growth of our economy and make it more difficult to do a number of things we need to do in this state and, second, it will result in losing political power nationally because we will losing congressional districts to faster-growing states.
What would I do to fix the housing crisis? I would probably revise the provisions of SB 50 to retain local land use authority until and unless they prove unable to getting housing approved in their communities and, at that time, turn housing approval over to the state. At the same time, I would reinstitute redevelopment, both to fund affordable housing as well as to fund densification of infill projects.
Why am I pushing for new housing? Is it because developers are funding this site? Is it because we have become a shill for development interests?
The problem with that theory is that most people in this community and most people in the state believe that we have a housing crisis and that we need more housing – and especially more affordable housing.
We can look at local polling. In the city’s poll, the most important problem, by far, in the city is the lack of affordable housing. In other polling, we have seen that as many as 70 to 75 percent of the voters believe that the affordable housing problem locally is serious.
Voters in Davis by large margins backed both Nishi (student housing) and WDAAC (senior housing with a large affordable project).
Anecdotally, during the Board of Supervisors debate, Linda Deos, largely walking in east Davis, noted that one of the things she hears most from the voters is about concerns for affordable housing.
So are those voters also being “shills” for developers? Or are they also responding to a legitimate problem and trying to find a reasonable approach to solving it?
I know in Davis the term “developer” has become a “four-letter word” in our lexicon. But it is kind of an irrational thing.
The problem is that we need housing. There are actually two groups of people pushing hardest for more housing. While one of those groups is composed of real estate and developers, the other represents social justice groups.
The problem is that when we don’t have enough housing, not only is housing in short supply, but costs rise. And when those costs rise, it is not the rich and powerful who suffer, but rather the poor and vulnerable.
Let’s just look at the result of the student housing shortage. What has happened is the vacancy rate has hovered near zero. That has meant that supply has dwindled. Students have to pay more for their rent. When there is a problem or lack of maintenance, they have become vulnerable to predatory landlords. More students have been forced to double up and live in dwellings that have way more tenants than capacity. More students still are living on couches or sleeping in their cars.
The students who are most vulnerable are those who have limited means.
The solution to that crisis was for the university to build more housing, while the city has approved building more housing – and by doing that it will alleviate much of the problem.
Statewide, that is what we are seeing with housing in general.
Developers and real estate people do benefit from more housing, but the people who are hurt by lack of housing are invariably the poor and vulnerable.
If you are anti-developer, I don’t know what to say. As far as I can tell the only reasonable way to build housing on any sort of scale is through the work of housing developers.
But I really need to applaud my critics for their apparent ability to build their own homes in Davis, without clearing farmland to do it, and without the use of a developer or building to do so. That must have been an amazing feat.
Nevertheless, I probably agree overall with the comments of Bill Dodd, the senator who represents Davis and much of Yolo County.
Senator Dodd had told the media he had planned to vote for the bill but recognized this week how divided Democrats were on this measure.
He told the media he wanted an approach that more of his colleagues could support and argued that there are still seven months left to do that.
I think we do need to find a way forward that brings most reasonable people together on the issue of housing. My worry though is that this could end up being another year where we oppose a project that would fulfill the objective of more housing, even with its flaws, and bring forth no alternative.
The danger here is that we are allowing the good to become the enemy of the perfect. But we’ll see if we live to regret this vote or if we can put forward something that ends up being better.
—David M. Greenwald reporting