By David M. Greenwald
At the start here, I will say the housing crisis is complex and likely won’t be solved with a single approach.
I largely agree with this comment from yesterday’s article: “SB 9 won’t solve the problem or even make a huge dent. But it will take down one more barrier to solving the problem. This is going to require a multistep process.”
The problem here is actually highlighted inadvertently in this comment: “I grew up in a neighborhood that was becoming more dense through the development of high-rise apartments along the major traffic arteries and the replacement of classic bungalows with apartment buildings. As a kid it was alienating and one of the reasons I left Los Angeles. It is why, to this day, I prefer peripheral development to infill.”
This comment explains to a “T” the phenomenon known as urban flight and urban sprawl.
It also explains findings from the last decade or so that have found that concentrated poverty—poverty in the cities has gotten worse since 2000.
The findings are found in a dated study from the American Community Survey data from 2009-2013, but I doubt much has changed and, if anything, things have gotten worse.
As the Washington Post reported in a 2015 article: “The poverty that poor African Americans experience is often different from the poverty of poor whites. It’s more isolating and concentrated. It extends out the door of a family’s home and occupies the entire neighborhood around it, touching the streets, the schools, the grocery stores.”
Most poor Blacks “live in concentrated poverty” and “Poor whites, in most major metropolitan areas, are spread out. Poor African Americans are not.”
Why is this happening? In part because of urban sprawl. They densify city areas to make it more affordable for poor people, and that pushes wealthier whites into the periphery or into the suburbs.
Who can afford to “leave LA” as the commenter at the beginning of this article did? Certainly not the Blacks who live in urban areas like Chicago census tracts where the poverty rate is above 40 percent.
That is why in general I have not looked to peripheral development as the solution to the housing crisis. In my view, peripheral development has caused or at least exacerbated the housing crisis. It has also contributed to segregation.
The question really is how we change this picture.
One answer may be affordability by design.
As Eric Gelber points out: “The logic behind SB 9 is that duplexes are less expensive to buy or rent than single-family homes. So, two (or four) duplex units on one (or two) lots that would otherwise have one (or two) single-family home(s) provides 2-4 relatively affordable homes, which would facilitate increased diversity.”
He adds, “SB 9 may not have a major impact on the overall affordable housing crisis or diversity. But it’s one additional means of addressing the issues.”
The studies that we have been citing show the limits of that approach. It’s expensive to demolish and rebuild. Further, they are going to put safeguards in the law to prevent speculative buying which will further reduce the potential.
But I agree, it is one tool in the tool chest.
Still I’m a believer that the key to solving the housing crisis and reducing housing segregation is to have a more diversified pool of supply in neighborhoods. If you build a new neighborhood that is all 2000-plus square foot homes, what you have done is add supply for wealthy people to move to, which will open up older homes in the center of town for newer residents.
But that exact phenomenon will, in fact, exacerbate segregation and discriminatory residential patterns.
Instead, what we need to do is eliminate single-family zoning and build a bunch of homes that are different sizes and types so that a more diverse group of people will move into the neighborhoods from the beginning.
I also believe that we need subsidized housing. For example, I use the small housing development I live in. Ten years ago, it was housing for medium-income families. The result was that of the nine units, every one of them is still occupied by a family with children, and many of them are occupied by people of color.
The problem of course is the expense of building affordable housing is often greater than a target affordable sale price, if the housing is going to be truly affordable. As a result, the cost of building affordable housing generally is subsidized by building and selling market rate housing in the same development project. That is all the more the case because RDA (Redevelopment Agency), which used to help communities build affordable housing, is gone.
So in my mind, if we want to start cutting into this problem, we need to bring back RDA. Hopefully eliminate some of the excesses that led to it being scrapped. However, without a mechanism like RDA to help developers cover the costs of building affordable housing, I don’t see how we break out of this cycle.