Sunday Commentary: Is Our Approach to the Housing Crisis Working?

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Last week I came across an interesting op-ed out of New York featuring three labor leaders.  It was interesting on a number of different levels—in part because it described an affordable housing crisis not in California but in New York.

They describe the crisis which frankly could apply in California: “Tens of thousands of working New Yorkers can’t find a place to live or afford the place they’re in now. And even more have to travel unreasonable distances to get to their jobs because the only neighborhoods they can afford are nowhere near where they work.”

The reality of New York City’s housing crisis: “From 2010 to 2020, New York City’s population increased by approximately 630,000 residents and added almost a million new jobs. But during the same period its housing stock increased by only 200,000 units. This discrepancy meant that not nearly enough housing was built to accommodate new and existing residents, with the result being that demand is overwhelming supply. With our population growing but housing supply failing to keep pace we find ourselves in an extended and existential affordability crisis.“

And as union leaders, they noted that they represent “hundreds of thousands of working New Yorkers and their families,” and “our members experience this problem every day. Whether it’s struggling with rising rents and the threat of eviction, not being able to find affordable housing within a reasonable commute to their job, or being priced out of neighborhoods they used to be able to afford, the consequences are a dire and daily reminder that we need more housing to sustain our growing population and the workers, families and individuals who are at the heart of it.”

They argue “there is a middle ground approach that can be taken to give workers, tenants and all New York residents access to the affordable housing they deserve.”

Here they make three key points—points that will seem familiar for us in California.

First, “More housing units (need) to be built.”  They argue, “Without adding to supply we’ll never catch up and not enough housing to go around means higher rents, greater likelihood of eviction for failure to pay rent, and workers being forced to travel long distances, sometimes two hours, to live in the only neighborhoods they can afford.”

Second, “We recognize that no matter how affordable housing is, if wages don’t keep up it’ll never be affordable enough.”  That’s a point that has gotten lost on many.  It’s not just supply, it’s being able to meet supply with demand.

And finally, “The need for ‘Good Cause Eviction’ legislation, a policy that provides strong and sensible protections against unreasonable rent increases and unfair evictions.”  Lately we have talked about this through tenant protection acts.

One thing that struck me was that the piece actually defines crisis: “The definition of ‘crisis’ is a time of intense trouble when a difficult decision must be made.”

There are a lot of difficult decisions that have to be made in both California and Davis as well.  And it’s not clear that that’s happened just yet.

In response to the article, on X, Ben Max, Program Director for the Center for New York City Law, noted that “if a housing package includes labor standards, affordable housing reqs, & good cause eviction will the tax incentive be enough to actually spur significant housing growth?”

This is a problem that journalist Josh Barro noted as well: “One thing we’ve seen in California is that when you load pro-development initiatives up with labor, environmental and affordable housing mandates, they can become useless because complying is so expensive.”

This is part of my complaint as well.  While I very strongly support all three protections—having labor agreements to allow workers to make a livable wage, having environmental protections to help address climate change, and having affordable housing provisions to make sure there is a reasonable share of housing that is affordable.

Taken in isolation, it’s easy to justify all three.

The problem is that by adding them all together, we end up making housing much more expensive to build, and therefore it is either very expensive or it doesn’t get built.

So we end up getting the worst of all worlds.

We end up pricing projects out of the range of what is affordable.

That means that the average worker has to commute further to work, which damages the environment.  It means that there are fewer labor jobs.  And it means that housing is less affordable.

We need to therefore figure out some sort of middle ground that can calculate the amount of “affordable housing” that can actually reasonably be built.

Or as YIMBY Manatee County put it: “For the people in the back, when you over regulated your way into a problem you will not succeed in over regulating your way out. You need to stop over regulating. Remove the red tape and get out of the way!”

For some people that’s a dangerous approach.  But what we are doing isn’t working.  And the solutions we have offered don’t seem to be fixing the problem.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    Second, “we recognize that no matter how affordable housing is, if wages don’t keep up it’ll never be affordable enough.”  That’s a point that has gotten lost on many.  It’s not just supply, it’s being able to meet supply with demand.

    .

    David, you must not have been listening to either Keith Echols or Tim Keller when they have posted over and over again that the City needs an Economic Development Plan structured toward identifying where there the demand for those high paying jobs will come from.

    High paying jobs don’t magically come out of the woodwork.  What are the market segments with synergies to Davis’ core competencies that have those high paying jobs?

    Unfortunately our City Council in discussing the General Plan Update recently explicitly said that the Update should only address the core Elements of the General Plan.  In California’s General Plan standards, Economic Development is NOT one of the core Elements.  So, it would appear that having a plan for Economic Development Plan is not a priority for our City government.

  2. Ron Glick

    Is our approach to the affordable housing crisis working?

    You need to ask? Why don’t you try looking in the mirror? You support Measure J the biggest impediment to housing and most over-regulation imaginable. Last time I pointed this out you responded by saying my approach isn’t viable. Well how is your approach working?

     

  3. Don Shor

    Here’s what’s before the city or underway right now. Despite attempts at micromanagement and obstructionism, it seems development teams feel the time is right for some major developments and that it’s worth running the gauntlet of the Davis approval process. So “our approach” is working up to a point.

    1. Tim Keller

      Until we have proposals for a LOT of missing-middle housing on the radar, no our process is not working.

      We dont “just” need housing.  We need housing for the right people which come in 2 types:

      1) People who are already commuting here for work
      2) People who might come here to work if we expanded our business sector.

      When we build McMansions it doesnt help either of those constituencies.

    1. Tim Keller

      The thing that the 2 types I identified have in common is that they are willing to live in missing-middle type housing.

      If we only have so many expansion sites, we need to not waste land on home types that are bad land use decisions.   We only get to build these neighborhoods once.    Palomino place having 51 large single family homes and coming in under the builders remedy smacks me as patently absurd.

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