By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – In his column for CalMatters, Dan Walters, points out, “The budget projects that California will add, at best, about 100,000 housing units this year, which is scarcely half of the 180,000 units state housing authorities say are needed to meet current demand and reduce the backlog. And that projection did not take into account the current COVID-19 surge.”
One of my concerns is that we have gotten bogged down debating SB 9—which most experts don’t believe will have a huge impact on housing. And even then, it’s not clear that SB 9 will pass.
Walters in his column clearly sees the issue behind SB 9—the reluctance to embrace multi-family housing as a key problem in the housing shortage.
“While many factors affect the housing shortage, the most important is the reluctance of suburban communities to embrace multi-family housing projects, particularly those for low- and moderate-income renters,” Walters writes adding, “Dubbed ‘not-in-my-backyard,’ or NIMBY, it is by no means a recent phenomenon.”
Walters argues: “The state has made multiple attempts to overcome NIMBYism, such as imposing residential zoning quotas on regions and cities. Recent versions contain some penalties for cities that ignore their quotas and the state sued one city, Huntington Beach, for ignoring its quota.”
There is also, he cited, a history of “anti-NIMBY” actions that include the Housing Accountability act that was enacted in 1982 and bars local governments from arbitrarily blocking housing projects that are “consistent with objective local development standards.”
He writes: “Citing the law, pro-housing organizations have been challenging local governments when they reject low- and moderate-income projects and two cases are looming as tests of the law’s efficacy.”
Walters believes whether SB 9 and SB 10 (“would allow local governments to approve up to 10 units of housing on any lot, regardless of current zoning, near transit”) pass or fail “will tell us much about the direction of housing policy as California’s crisis continues.”
Maybe, but after reading the studies on SB 9 for example, I have come to the position that those who fear SB 9 have nothing to fear and those who support it will end up looking at other solutions as soon as next year.
The big problem here is that we are using a lot of capital to fight a peripheral battle. If the projections are correct, SB 9 won’t add even 180,000 units total, let alone per year.
What are the barriers? Local land use is probably one huge barrier. But so too is the high cost of construction. In fact when we look at one of the big pitfalls of SB 9, housing costs for construction factors heavily into it. It is simply not cost-effective to demolish single-family homes and built duplexes or four-plexes.
We see this problem in Davis as well. But there seem to be two roads to affordability—one is through subsidized housing and the other is through affordability by design. That means more duplexes and multi-family homes and fewer single-family homes on the periphery of towns.
This is the point the LA Times made in an editorial.
“For decades now, California leaders have been stuck in a low-density, single-family, not-in-my-backyard 20th century mindset,” they write. “The result is a deep housing shortage that is driving more Californians into poverty, worsening inequality and hurting economic opportunity.”
Indeed, they argue: “The staggering cost of buying or renting a home in California takes a terrible toll. Rents have risen faster than incomes, and 1 in 3 households statewide now spend more than half their income on rent, leaving many families one rent increase or one missed paycheck away from losing their homes. When residents cannot afford to live near jobs, they often move to far-flung suburbs and commute hours each day, worsening traffic congestion and air pollution.”
They believe, like Walters: “The heart of the problem is this: California has failed to build enough housing to keep up with population growth and demand.”
They see the problem as “when more than two-thirds of residential land in California is zoned for single-family homes, it becomes difficult and expensive to add housing.”
Like Walters, they see “SB 9 is also the next step in continuing to legalize a style of construction that used to be quite common, with single-family homes next to duplex, triplex and fourplex apartment buildings. That mix of housing was only later prohibited by single-family zoning.”
That is the current line of debate, but put me in the camp of looking for the next legislative fix.