By David M. Greenwald
Every so often, someone comes on the Vanguard and argues that there really isn’t a housing crisis—just go on a real estate site and you will see a ton of houses listed, they’ll argue.
It reminds me of a controversy from the 1980s, when in the middle of a recession, President Ronald Reagan told people to “look at the want ads.”
He told the press, ”In this time of great unemployment there were 24 full pages of classified ads of employers looking for employees. What we need is to make more people qualified to go and apply for those jobs, and we’re going to do everything we can in that regard.”
Reporters who actually attempted to follow President Reagan’s advice were more skeptical, saying “we are left puzzled about both Presidential propositions, about both the help wanted and the help offered.”
Just like Reagan’s anecdote back in the day, the real world experience of people attempting to find housing in town—at least the people I know who have been actively attempting to find it—has ended up with people purchasing housing, but not in Davis.
The answer comes down to the fact that housing is too expensive, unavailable, and what they can afford doesn’t meet their needs. And when a good property does come available, there is often fierce competition for that property.
An article that appeared in the Bee this weekend offers us another glimpse at the housing crisis: they called 148 affordable properties and only three had units available (for a non-paywall link).
During the pandemic, the state provided homeless people with shelter in what would have otherwise be empty hotel and motel rooms.
When Project Roomkey came to an end, the staff “provided homeless residents in the Vagabond Inn with a list of 160 affordable rental properties across the county, which they were encouraged to contact themselves.”
The Bee decided to call all 148 numbers on the list. They found only three of the properties had an immediately available unit.
The Bee writes, “The list and its 145 dead ends drive home the staggering hurdles faced by the county’s most vulnerable residents.”
It’s actually worse than that. Two of the ones with available options came only with significant restrictions.
The Bee writes, “A few rooms were available in an SRO, but only for people who had a referral from a social services agency. One unit in another building was available only for two seniors over 55. The third option was the least restrictive: A couple of apartments were open in a complex in Meadowview.”
A kicker was that for 64 of those properties (nearly half), they had a wait list—months to years long.
One staffer said, “Our waiting list opened in January and closed in January, and it may be another three years before it opens again.”
Reminds me of the students camping outside of the property in Davis overnight in January hoping to get a room for next fall, only to learn that there were no apartments available.
The Bee notes, “At a complex in a run-down neighborhood in north Arden Arcade, a property manager said there were no vacancies and the waitlist had been closed for over a year: ‘Best I can say is just to check back periodically.’”
The Bee also reported that only seven properties of the 148 were not working off a waitlist. Four of them, while not using a waitlist, also had no units to offer people.
Interestingly enough, “At least 33 phone numbers on the list maintained by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency did not lead to an affordable property at all.”
They found 26 numbers that were disconnected or non-functional, and “[f]ive of those numbers connected callers to scams, such as an offer to ‘win’ a gift card or a $100 Walmart rebate.”
Again, these are the lists maintained by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.
The Bee was unable to get the agency to respond to questions about their lists.
As of 2022, according to PPIC, around 30 percent of those in the US who are unhoused resided in California. About half of all the unsheltered people in the country live in California as well—and the homeless crisis grew steadily over the pandemic.
This little exercise by the Bee demonstrates how much of this problem is simply due to the lack of availability of affordable housing for the most vulnerable people, people in danger of having to live on the streets.