By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – California is facing a multipronged crisis—housing, affordable housing and homelessness. Recent reports show a huge increase in homelessness over the last few years and most of the individuals are unsheltered.
Sacramento Bee Deputy Editor Josh Gohkle wrote, “California’s housing shortage and consequent costs, attributable mainly to state and local overregulation, are chiefly responsible for its disproportionate homelessness.”
The Corporation for Supportive Housing, CSH, found, “California has the largest number of people experiencing homelessness of any state in America, 25 percent of all Americans who are homeless, because we lack housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes.”
They add, “When our communities‘ housing costs are too high, finding a place to live becomes impossible for people with extremely low wages or fixed or no incomes. In fact, this income group is priced out of every housing market in California.”
Despite what is increasingly looking like a humanitarian crisis, columnists like Tom Elias are complaining that the state is usurping key power from the cities.
Elias wrote earlier this week, “Via a series of laws mandating new levels of density everywhere in the state, whether or not they are needed and justified, this key local power now belongs to largely anonymous state officials who know little or nothing about most places whose future they are deciding.”
Like many others, Elias seems to be in denial that there is a housing crisis. He laments the policy, implemented through SB 9, which he argues has eliminated single-family zoning.
“It’s being done via the new requirement that the state Department of Housing and Community Development approve housing elements for every locality. If HCD does not approve such a plan for a city, developers can target it with virtually no limits, if they choose,” Elias argues.
He adds, “It’s all based on a supposed need for at least 1.8 million new housing units touted by HCD.”
If Elias wants to quibble whether the exact number of new homes is 3.5 million, 1.8 million or some other number, it’s hard to argue with what we are seeing in terms of people being priced out of communities and the increasing masses of unsheltered homeless people.
Moreover, while Elias focuses on SB 9 and single-family homes, the Vanguard reported last week that, despite the new law and fears that SB 9 would destroy single-family neighborhoods, not much has changed.
“I think the people that have been pushing for this for so long were just glad to get it through,” said Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at UCLA and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute (as reported in the Bee). “But it really ends up being much ado about nothing.”
The Bee surveyed areas in Sacramento and the Central Valley and found that, while cities are required to report on the number of SB 9 projects, the participation has been low.
The Bee found: “The cities of Davis, Stockton, Modesto, Merced and Bakersfield have not received a single application. Fresno has one. Three applications were submitted in Elk Grove, though one was deemed ineligible because it was located in a designated wetland, which is exempt under the law.”
Elias argues, “This leads localities to approve developments in ways they never did before, including some administrative approvals without so much as the possibility of a public hearing.”
But while many have fanned the flames here, the results show—again—not much has changed.
The Terner analysis prior to the passage of SB 9, the most detailed one yet on the impact of SB 9, “finds that SB 9’s primary impact will be to unlock incrementally more units on parcels that are already financially feasible under existing law, typically through the simple subdivision of an existing structure.”
However, in contrast to fears by many homeowners: “Relatively few new single-family parcels are expected to become financially feasible for added units as a direct consequence of this bill.”
The study found that “the vast amount of single-family parcels across the state would not see any new development,” said Garcia.
That appears to be exactly what happened.
And yet you would think something else was happening when you read Elias.
He notes that several cities have “begun to fight parts of today’s state domination of land use.
“Four Los Angeles County cities – Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson and Whittier — are seeking a court order negating the 2021 Senate Bill 9, which allows single-family homes to be replaced by as many as six units, with cities unable to nix any such project,” he writes.
He concludes, “As city councils and county boards see their constituents objecting loudly to much of this scene, it’s inevitable that other lawsuits will follow. No one can predict whether or not courts will find the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom have vastly overreached in their power grab, which is all for the sake of increased density and based on unfounded predictions by bureaucrats who answer to no one.”
And yet we have serious problems in this state, and generally not because we are producing too much housing or because housing is coming in above the objections of local communities, but rather because we don’t have enough housing that people living on the margins can afford.
Elias and other critics offer very little in the way of solutions, even as they cry that the sky is falling.