Bill Blocking ‘Rent Gouging’ Draws Attention in Capitol

housingLess than six months after voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have gutted a 1995 state law banning new types of rent control on all single-family homes and all rent control on apartments or condos built after the law passed, state lawmakers hoping to help Californians deal with the extreme cost of housing have introduced four new bills.

By far the most buzz is going to Assembly Bill 1842 by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, that is being framed as much different than Proposition 10, which lost by 18 percentage points in November. Chiu says his bill would prevent “rent gouging.”

Instead of the hard caps on rent increases seen in many local rent control ordinances adopted by California cities before 1995, Chiu’s measure would ban landlords from increasing rents each year by more than an as-yet-undetermined percentage more than inflation.

Oregon recently became the first state in the nation to adopt an “anti-gouging” rent law. The measure limits annual rent increases to inflation plus 7 percent for existing tenants in buildings that are at least 15 years old. Rents can go up by more than that when apartments are vacated, but the law contains additional protections meant to prevent landlords from seeking to evict tenants with solid records of timely rent payments solely so they can raise the rent.

UC Berkeley researchers concluded that if a similar law passed in California, 4.9 million homes, condos and apartments would be covered.

Some landlord and business groups didn’t oppose the bill as it moved through the Oregon Legislature – seeing it as preferable to the harder, smaller caps that some state lawmakers and activist groups preferred and that polls suggest are popular.

But stronger and more consistent opposition to Chiu’s bill looms in California. “We need to encourage new housing, not create policies that stifle its creation,” Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, told the Bay Area News Group. He said any state law capping rent increases would be counterproductive and ineffective at remedying the housing crisis.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has not taken a public stand on Chiu’s bill. Last month, however, he told lawmakers at his State of the State address, “Get me a good package on rent stability this year and I will sign it.”

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, has also once again introduced a bill including more traditional rent control provisions. Assembly Bill 36 would allow local governments to mandate rent control on apartments and single-family homes as soon as they were 10 years old. Landlords with only a few units would not be covered.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, has also once again introduced a bill meant to make it significantly more difficult to evict tenants. Assembly Bill 1481 would set a statewide “Just Cause for Evictions” standard. Most cities already have such policies.

The least controversial measure affecting renters was proposed by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland. Assembly Bill 724 would set up a state housing information clearinghouse that would list all available units, their monthly rents, how long units were vacant and how many tenants are evicted. Landlords would be required to submit this information on a timely basis.

Wicks thinks this would lead to more informed decisions on housing by the Legislature and the Newsom administration.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gavin Newsom’s threat to localities is extortion by any other name

Shortly after his inauguration, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would withhold funds designated for transportation from local governments that didn’t comply with his vision for affordable housing. His move could be characterized as either the height of hypocrisy or extortion. Take your pick.

Let’s start with the hypocrisy. Our new governor has complained bitterly about how the federal government — i.e., the evil Trump administration — threatens to withhold funds from California. He has criticized the withholding of high-speed rail funds from the feds because of California’s failure to meet benchmarks imposed as a condition for the receipt of those funds and he complained about the withholding of law enforcement dollars because of the refusal of California to cooperate with ICE.

In his ongoing war with the federal government, Newsom has bragged about how many times he has sued the federal government, alleging that Trump is engaging in heavy-handed pressure against progressive states like California. It is apparently lost on the governor how hollow his protests appear when he threatens local governments in the same manner.

As for the extortive threat itself, it is little wonder that Newsom has received copious amounts of blowback from other elected officials across the political spectrum. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, called the move “very unwise.” Likewise, the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, challenged the idea that new conditions should be placed on road maintenance funds. “It is not fair, or in good faith, to deny them the benefits of [gas tax money] after they have paid for it, based on local government decisions they have no control over.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

A First Look at the Governor’s Housing Budget

house-constructionDuring his campaign for Chief Executive of California, then-candidate and now Governor Newsom promised three and a half million new housing units would be built in the state by 2025. He promised a majority of those units would be affordable to lower-income households, as well. He also promised he would make it profoundly easier to get those housing units approved for construction. Governor Newsom knows it’s now time to deliver on those promises.

With the release in January of his Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Budget, the Governor is signaling he’s going to at least try. He’s still sticking to the three-and-one-half- million-unit goal (though many are disputing that possibility), he still wants to help lower-income families, although he proposes increasing assistance to moderate-income households, as well. And, his budget appears to reflect interest in helping local governments approve housing faster.

But, the Governor’s housing proposals for the next fiscal year fall short of meeting the state’s needs. An analysis of the proposed budget – summarized here with a little help from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) – shows how despite aiming at the real problem with housing production in California it punts the ball and intentionally or not misleads with the data and definitions it presents.

For example, Governor Newsom during the campaign and afterward accurately pinpointed the main source of why California so woefully under-produces housing: he rightly concluded that all power to okay a housing development – vast and prodigious – rests with local government. Yet, in an apparent attempt to be persuasive, the Governor goes after localities with kid gloves – litigation and a modest funding award. He knows better. Lawsuits take precious time and cost a lot of money. And, they simply enrich lawyers. Moreover, $3 million in planning grants to the state’s major cities and $7 million more if they build new housing is both wasteful and mere pittance when it comes to rewarding them.

In addition to its timidity, the Governor’s budget is misleading in its portrayal of increasing state benefits to higher-income persons. Example #1 is the suggestion that a revised state low-income housing tax credit will now “target households with relatively higher incomes” – allowing beneficiary incomes to rise to laughably higher levels – to 80 percent of median – then pretends that a mere $200 million boost in the state program will lead to the ability to “target households with relatively higher incomes”. In truth, the state credit program rarely operates without the much richer federal credit which, for competitive reasons, rarely assists households with incomes above 60 percent of median.

Example #2 comes from the Governor’s proposal to add $500 million in authority to the existing CalHFA program which lends money to developers for building housing affordable to lower and moderate-income families (50 percent of area median to 120 percent) – a very good thing. But, the program will not assist middle-income families (up to 150 percent of median), as the Governor claims.

A bold budget, which reflects the high priority that the Governor has made housing – and which will give him a good head start in building those three and a half million units in six years – starts with rich, meaningful incentives to local governments. “Plan and zone for your housing need for the year and get a sizeable cash reward” should be the message from the state to local governments everywhere. Instead of the locals getting $10 million – much of which goes to re-inventing the wheel – a true housing budget would allocate ten times that amount or more to them for, say, a variety of infrastructure – not just road repair. Indeed, $100 million to $200 million apiece to fund their priorities ought to get the attention of most localities.

The Governor shouldn’t be shy about defending the limits of how far state funding should go, either. He doesn’t have to worry about the households earning more than the so-called moderate-income tranche (120 percent of median income). He just needs to uphold his pledge to truly streamline the local project-approval process. If the Governor sticks to his guns and does that, he can be assured that the market-rate developers will take care of the rest.

This first look at his budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 examines only what the Governor has proposed. Subsequent analyses will be made and published in this space before it is due in its final form, June 30, 2019. But, his current spending plan makes a genuine effort to treat California’s housing crisis after it appropriately highlights the substantial need – particularly among lower-income households and, to a lesser extent, the dislocation of a million or so middle-income families that pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing (the average is 26 percent).

In so many words, it’s clear the Governor genuinely wants more housing for California and he remains steadfast in maintaining getting it as a high public-policy priority. But, there are ample reasons to be doubtful. First, his budget could be a more dramatic set of proposals. That it’s not should signal his Department of Finance (DOF) won’t let him – DOF never liked housing much.

Second, at this point it looks like lawmakers don’t like the impact the proposals may have on local governments – they want him to back down somewhat. And, early indications are that it’s the Governor who will blink first.

onsultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Tax Free Policies to Increase California’s Housing Stock

affordable housingOne of the most frustrating contradictions inherent in the policies being enacted by California’s one-party state goes something like this: We are inviting the welfare cases of America and the expatriates of the world to move here, while simultaneously enacting environmental policies that make it extremely time consuming and expensive to build anything.

No wonder there’s a “housing crisis.” Until demand decreases, or supply increases, housing in California will remain unaffordable for most of its residents. But don’t expect demand to slacken any time soon. The political consensus in favor of increasing California’s population has a strong moral justification – why shouldn’t the wealthy, innovative, compassionate people of California be willing to share their wealth with millions more people who are less fortunate? But there are other less high-minded upsides to population growth and obstacles to new housing.

Currently, real estate prices and rents are on the rise, favoring investors and landlords. Banks enjoy higher lending volumes, while borrowers enjoy greater liquidity, however precarious, as the property bubble offers them more collateral as security. The government agencies profit from higher property tax assessments and higher capital gains collections on sales of real estate. Large land developers that have the political clout and financial heft to build housing despite the many obstacles, enjoy unusually high margins that they could never achieve in a normal competitive market. Finally, as an expanding population increases demand for housing, at the same time public school districts can increase attendance-based revenue – which will make it somewhat less urgent that they reform their union work rules and spending priorities.

Efforts by California’s policymakers to increase the supply of housing have to be viewed in this context. They want to increase the supply of housing. Yet they also want to keep happy the special interests that pay for their political campaigns. Therefore, strict – and very self-serving – parameters are likely to limit what new laws are enacted to stimulate new housing. For example:

Negative Consequences of Special Interest Defined Development in California

(1) Additional open land outside of urban boundaries will remain off limits to development, in order to ensure that existing municipal jurisdictions are able to retain access to the new property revenues that will accrue to new stocks of residential and commercial real estate. This will be justified as necessary to protect the environment.

(2) Most obstacles to housing construction will remain in place – in particular, excessive fees to government agencies and onerous CEQA requirements. This will ensure that only the most powerful corporate and financial entities will be able to take advantage of new opportunities to build housing, while cutting out the small landowners and developers.

(3) Major land developers will be given financial incentives by state and local government entities to build “affordable housing” and eliminate “blight,” but these incentives will be out of reach for smaller landowners and developers.

(4) In order to keep the real estate asset bubble fully inflated, housing prices will only fall marginally as development occurs, which pretty much helps nobody, but massive programs of taxpayer funded rent control and rent subsidies will be enacted to make up the difference for qualifying low income families.

(5) “Densification” will be imposed on residential neighborhoods, with the primary victims being any neighborhoods that are situated close to bus stops or light rail stations. Developers will be permitted to build multi-story, multi-unit buildings on small residential lots and will not be required to offer parking; all of this will greatly increase their profits.

(6) Building code requirements will relentlessly increase in the name of energy efficiency and safety, with the practical effect being to lock out small landowners and developers from being able to afford to upgrade their properties or develop new properties; these same more stringent regulations will not seriously impact large development corporations and financial investors.

It is wrong to be entirely cynical about the laws that are coming. Slamming the door completely shut on newcomers to California would be cold hearted, unpopular and probably cause more economic harm than good. Zealously enforcing residential zoning densities that were put in place several decades ago would be overly sentimental, ignoring the disruptive adaptations and radical transformations that have defined and enriched urban life since settlement began. Completely embracing a new wave of suburban sprawl would needlessly eat up more open land than a more balanced policy approach might cost. While the new building code mandates are now excessive (if not ridiculous), nobody wants to go back to toilets with seven gallon tanks, or insulation with an R value of 2.0.

Unfortunately, balance is not what we’re finding in the new laws. Last year, the State Senate considered a bill – SB 827 – that would have removed local zoning control and allowed multifamily housing to be built in well-established single family neighborhoods. This would have allowed those multifamily housing projects to be as tall as 55 feet. Against heavy opposition, SB 827 never made it out of committee, but this year it’s back. The new legislation, again sponsored by Democrat Scott Wiener, is SB 50.

Reading through the text of SB 50 grants insight into just how entrenched the collusion is between public officials and developers seeking subsidies and waivers. Consider this introductory language:

Existing law, known as the Density Bonus Law, requires, when an applicant proposes a housing development within the jurisdiction of a local government, that the city, county, or city and county provide the developer with a density bonus and other incentives or concessions for the production of lower income housing units or for the donation of land within the development if the developer, among other things, agrees to construct a specified percentage of units for very low, low-, or moderate-income households or qualifying residents.

In plain English, the “Density Bonus Law” forces taxpayers to subsidize not only developers who are already making more money by being allowed to pack more units on less land, but also low and “moderate” income households who will occupy a percentage of housing units. Bring ’em in! Paying artificially high prices for housing while also paying for someone else’s inflated rent will never wear thin with taxpayers.

The Coalition to Preserve LA, “a citywide movement of concerned residents who believe in open government, people-oriented planning, equitable housing and environmental stewardship of Los Angeles,” produced this summary of SB 50.

Densification a la SB 50:

  • Forces cities to allow luxury towers in single-family areas.
  • Upzones thousands of beautiful streets to 6- and 8-story apartments if an area is “jobs-rich with good schools.”
  • Upzones thousands of single-family areas within a 1/4 mile of a frequent bus stop or 1/2 mile of a rail station.
  • Lets developers sue any city that tries to stop them.
  • Cuts parking to zero, claiming rich residents “use transit.”
  • Falsely claims to protect renters & sensitive communities.
  • Strips protections of many HPOZs and historic buildings.
  • Lets developers wipe out setbacks, backyards, green belts.

For millions of Californians who live in bucolic suburbs, with tree lined streets and spacious private yards, SB 50 unchecked is going to be a holocaust. It will utterly destroy their way of life. Many victims will not have the ability to move. The greatest insult of all: Their taxes will be paying for it. And as a “solution,” it is completely unnecessary. There are better ways, that leave established neighborhoods intact and cost taxpayers nothing.

Reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

There are two ways to mitigate the impact of CEQA, the law that requires “environmental impact reports” on any land development in California, including “climate change” impact along with a host of metastasizing additional requirements. The first, being practiced increasingly, is to grant CEQA waivers to politically connected developers that are proposing projects deemed politically correct. The second, far preferable solution, is to fundamentally rewrite CEQA.

An excellent summary of how to reform CEQA appeared in the Los Angeles Times in Sept. 2017, written by Byron De Arakal, vice chairman of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission. It mirrors other summaries offered by other informed advocates for reform and can be summarized as follows:

  • End duplicative lawsuits: Put an end to the interminable, costly legal process by disallowing serial, duplicative lawsuits challenging projects that have completed the CEQA process, have been previously litigated and have fulfilled any mitigation orders.
  • Full disclosure of identity of litigants: Require all entities that file CEQA lawsuits to fully disclose their identities and their environmental or, increasingly, non-environmental interest.
  • Outlaw legal delaying tactics: California law already sets goals of wrapping up CEQA lawsuits — including appeals — in nine months, but other court rules still leave room for procedural gamesmanship that push CEQA proceedings past a year and beyond. Without harming the ability of all sides to prepare their cases, those delaying tactics could be outlawed.
  • Prohibit rulings that stop entire project on single issue: Judges can currently toss out an entire project based on a few deficiencies in environmental impact report. Restraints can be added to the law to make “fix-it ticket” remedies the norm, not the exception.
  • Loser pays legal fees: Currently, the losing party in most California civil actions pays the tab for court costs and attorney’s fees, but that’s not always the case with CEQA lawsuits. Those who bring CEQA actions shouldn’t be allowed to skip out of court if they lose without having to pick up the tab of the prevailing party.

Unfortunately, California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, while acknowledging problems with CEQA, has put responsibility for recommending changes to CEQA in the hands of a task force consisting of labor union officials and land developers. It will be a surprise if a group dominated by these two special interests will be capable of coming up with the solutions recommended by De Arakal and others.

Principles of Appropriate Development in California

There is a moral imperative to increase the supply of housing in California. As noted, California’s policymakers have awakened to the fact that construction of new housing is not nearly meeting demand for new housing. But the way they’re going about stimulating housing construction is flawed. It will not appreciably lower the cost of housing and it will needlessly enrich special interests. Here are some ways housing could be more appropriately developed in California:

(1) Eliminate all forms of government subsidies, incentives or waivers to any developers. All players in the housing industry should be unsubsidized, and playing by the same set of rules.

(2) Stop requiring diverse types of housing within the same development or neighborhood. Mixing high-density, subsidized housing into residential neighborhoods devalues the existing housing, and this social engineering is unfair to existing residents who have paid a high price to live there.

(3) Roll back the more extreme building codes. Requiring 100 percent of homes to be “energy neutral” or include rooftop photovoltaic arrays, for example, greatly increase the cost of homes.

(4) Lower the fees on building permits for new housing and housing remodels. Doing this might require pension reform, since that’s where all extra revenue goes, but until permitting costs are lowered, only billionaire developers can afford to build.

(5) Speed up the permitting process. It can take years to get permits approved in California. Again, the practical effect of this failure is that only major developers can afford to build.

(6) Reform the California Environmental Quality Act as noted. Better yet, scrap it altogether. Federal laws already provide adequate environmental safeguards.

(7) Make it easier to extract building materials in-state. California, spectacularly rich in natural resources, has to import lumber and aggregate from as far away as Canada. This not only greatly increases construction costs, it’s hypocritical.

(8) Increase the supply of land for private development of housing. Currently only five percent of California is urbanized. There are thousands of square miles of non-farm, non critical habitat that could be opened up for massive land development.

(9) Engage in practical, appropriate zoning for infill and densification in urban cores, but only after also increasing the supply of open land for housing, and only while continuing to respect the integrity of established residential neighborhoods.

California has unaffordable housing because extreme environmentalists have imposed an agenda onto state policymakers that, unfortunately, dovetails perfectly with the agenda of special interests – in particular, public sector unions and bureaucrats, and large corporate land developers and construction contractors. This coalition is also responsible for the related problem of neglected infrastructure in California. Until California’s voters wake up and break this immoral, self-serving coalition, there is little hope that housing prices in particular, or the cost-of-living in general, will come down in California.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

Renters vs. homeowners: Political divide as wide as California’s affordability gaps

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451Renters are more worried than homeowners about California’s housing woes.

You do not have to be a pollster to figure this out. But the gap revealed in a new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California shows key differences.

For example, the survey of 1,702 California adults shows 13 percent of renters say real estate costs were their top California concern. Just 7 percent of homeowners felt the same way. One thing homeowners typically possess that renters don’t — the relative certainty of what the roof over your head will cost.

I know California renters tend to be younger, make less money and are more financially crunched than homeowners. And the survey says homeowners lean more conservatively than renters — 38 percent vs. 29 percent. But since this state is only slightly tilted toward homeowners, demographically speaking, these renter sentiments — especially on business-related issues — cannot be ignored.

Please note there was not total disagreement in the poll. Jobs and the economy were cited as the top issues to tackle in the state for renters and homeowners alike. …

Click here to read to full article from the OC Register 

Making housing more expensive to build won’t make it more affordable

Housing apartmentOnly a politician could believe that making housing more expensive to build will create more affordable housing.

But in Los Angeles, that’s what Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council are asserting. In December, they approved a new “linkage fee” on new development aimed at raising $100 million per year toward a goal of building 1,500 units of new affordable housing annually.

Don’t bother with the math. They didn’t.

The idea of a linkage fee, which exists in some other cities, is to get money from developers whose projects will displace residents in existing housing or generate a need for additional housing, something that could happen if a new workplace was built.

Hardly anybody is building a new workplace in Los Angeles unless it has a drive-through, but play along.

The “linkage fee” in Los Angeles won’t specifically be linked to the impact from a project. It’s simply a new fee for building in the city.

The early draft of the linkage fee, which has been on Mayor Garcetti’s wish-list since 2015, would have imposed the same fee for similar developments regardless of where they were located in the city. But some council members objected to the one-size-fits-all charge.

So the final version divides the city into “high-market” areas like downtown, Venice and Brentwood, and “low-market” areas like South Los Angeles.

The linkage fee for office, hotel, retail and other commercial buildings is $3 per square foot in low-market areas, $5 per square foot in high-market areas.

For residential developments, the fee is even higher: $8 per square foot in a low-market area, $15 per square foot in a high-market area.

The money will go into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and city officials say they’ll spend it to build hundreds of units of affordable housing.

Unfortunately, the number of Los Angeles residents who are in need of affordable housing is in the tens of thousands, and those are just the people sleeping on the sidewalks.

Meanwhile, the cost of all other new housing will go up, because developers have to pay these huge new linkage fees just to be allowed to build it.

There are two ways that residential developers can avoid the fees. One is by reserving a percentage of units in their projects for low-income renters. The other option, which is also available to developers of commercial projects, is to get out of Los Angeles and build somewhere else.

Many cities in the Southern California region don’t have linkage fees and don’t treat the construction of a commercial or residential building as a sin that requires some sort of political or financial penance.

In some places, local governments even offer incentives for developers and businesses, to encourage building and hiring.

That’s rare in Los Angeles, where the breathtaking decay of the city is considered incentive enough.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has done extensive research into the problem of housing affordability in California, including a detailed report released in the spring of 2016 titled, “Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing.”

“The scope of the problem is massive,” the report said, “Millions of Californians struggle to find housing that is both affordable and suits their needs. The crisis also is a long time in the making, the culmination of decades of shortfalls in housing construction. And just as the crisis has taken decades to develop, it will take many years or decades to correct. There are no quick and easy fixes.”

The LAO concluded that while “affordable housing programs are vitally important to the households they assist, these programs help only a small fraction of the Californians that are struggling to cope with the state’s high housing costs.”

To build public-subsidized affordable housing for the 1.7 million low-income California households that spend more than half their income on rent would cost more than $250 billion, by the LAO’s estimate.

But the problem is not just math, it’s logic. When it becomes more expensive to build housing, then less housing is built, and what is built is more expensive.

The LAO report said the real solution is more housing construction, and the scale of the problem can only be matched by privately built, market-rate housing.

“Doing so will require policy makers to revisit long-standing state policies on local governance and environmental protection, as well as local planning and land use regimes,” the report concluded.

So there really is something the government can do about housing affordability. It can get out of the way.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Progressive Cities: Home of the Worst Housing Inequality

America’s most highly regulated housing markets are also reliably the most progressive in their political attitudes. Yet in terms of gaining an opportunity to own a house, the price impacts of the tough regulation mean profound inequality for the most disadvantaged large ethnicities, African-Americans and Hispanics.

Based on the housing affordability categories used in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey for 2016 (Table 1), housing inequality by ethnicity is the worst among the metropolitan areas rated “severely unaffordable.” In these 11 major metropolitan area markets, the most highly regulated, median multiples (median house price divided by median household income) exceed 5.0. For African-Americans, the median priced house is 10.2 times median incomes. This is 3.7 more years of additional income than the overall average in these severely unaffordable markets, where median house prices are 6.5 times median household incomes. It is only marginally better for Hispanics, with the median price house at 8.9 times median household incomes, 2.4 years more than the average in these markets (Figure 1).

The comparisons with the 13 affordable markets (median multiples of 3.0 and less) is even more stark. For African-American households things are much better than in the more progressive and most expensive metropolitan areas. The median house prices is equal to 4.6 years of median income, 5.5 years less than in the severely affordable markets. Moreover, for African-Americans, housing affordability is only marginally worse than the national average in the affordable market.

Things are even better for Hispanics, who would find the median house price 3.8 times median incomes, 5.1 years less than in the severely affordable markets. This is better than the national average housing affordability.

Among the four markets rated “seriously unaffordable,” (median multiple from 4.1 to 5.0) the inequality is slightly less, with African-Americans finding median house prices equal to 2.2 years of additional income compared to average. The disadvantage for Hispanics is 1.5 years.

In contrast, inequality is significantly reduced in the less costly “moderately unaffordable” markets (median multiple of 3.1 to 4.0) and the “affordable” markets (median multiple of 3.0 and less).

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The discussion below describes the 10 largest and smallest housing affordability gaps for African-American and Hispanic households relative to the average household, within the particular metropolitan markets. The gaps within ethnicities compared to the affordable markets would be even more. The four charts all have the same scale (a top housing affordability gap of 10 years) for easy comparison.

Largest Housing Affordability Gaps: African American

African-Americans have the largest housing affordability inequality gap. And these gaps are most evident in some of the nation’s most progressive cities. The largest gap is in San Francisco, where the median income African-American household faces median house prices that are 9.3 years of income more than the average. In nearby San Jose ranks the second worst, where the gap is 6.2 years. Overall, the San Francisco Bay Area suffers by far the area of least housing affordability for African-Americans compared to the average household.

Portland, long the darling of the international urban planning community, ranks third worst, where the median income African-American household to purchase the median priced house. Milwaukee and Minneapolis – St. Paul ranked fourth and fifth worst followed by Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Chicago (Figure 2).

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Largest Housing Affordability Gaps: Hispanics

Two of the three worst positions are occupied by the two metropolitan areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. The worst housing affordability gap for Hispanics is in San Jose, a more than one-quarter Hispanic metropolitan area where the median income Hispanic household would require 5.0 years of additional income to pay for the median priced house compared to the average. Boston ranks second worst at 3.9. San Francisco third worst at 3.3 years. Providence and New York rank fourth and fifth worst. The second five worst housing inequality for Hispanics is in San Diego, Hartford, Rochester, Philadelphia and Raleigh (Figure 3).

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The San Francisco Bay Area: “Inequality City”

Perhaps no part of the country is more renowned for its progressive politics and politicians than the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, in housing equality, the Bay Area is anything but progressive. If the African-American and Hispanic housing inequality measures are averaged, disadvantaged minorities face house prices that average approximately 6.25 years more years of median income in San Francisco and 5.60 more years of median income in San Jose.

Moreover, no one should imagine that recent state law authorizing a $4 billion “affordable housing” bond election will have any significant impact. According to the Sacramento Bee, voter approval would lead to 70,000 new housing units annually, when the need for low and very low income households is 1.5 million. The bond issue would do virtually nothing for the many middle-income households who are struggling to pay the insanely high housing costs California’s regulatory nightmare has developed.

Smallest Housing Affordability Gaps: African-American

Tucson has the smallest housing affordability gap for African-Americans. In Tucson, the median income African-American household would pay approximately 0.4 years (four months) more in income for the median priced house than the average household. In San Antonio, Atlanta and Tampa – St. Petersburg, the housing affordability gaps are under 1.0. Houston, Riverside – San Bernardino, Virginia Beach – Norfolk, Memphis, Dallas – Fort Worth and Birmingham round out the second five. It may be surprising that eight of the metropolitan areas with the smallest housing affordability gaps for African-Americans are in the South and perhaps most surprisingly of all that one of the best, at number 10, is Birmingham. (Figure 4).

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Smallest Housing Affordability Gaps: Hispanic

Among Hispanic households, the smallest housing affordability gap is in Pittsburgh, where the median priced house would require less than 10 days more in median income for a Hispanic household compared the overall average. In Jacksonville the housing affordability gap for Hispanics would be less than two months. In Baltimore, Birmingham, St. Louis and Cincinnati, the median house price is the equivalent of less than six months of median income for an Hispanic household. Detroit, Memphis, Virginia Beach – Norfolk and Cleveland round out the ten smallest housing affordability gaps for Hispanics (Figure 5).

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Housing Affordability is the Best for Asians

Recent American Community Survey data indicated that Asians have median household incomes a quarter above those of White Non-– Hispanics. This advantage is also illustrated in the housing affordability data. Asians have better housing affordability than White Non-– Hispanics in 37 of the 53 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population).

The Importance of Housing Opportunity

Housing opportunity is important. African-Americans and Hispanics already face challenges given their generally lower incomes. However, by no serious political philosophy, progressive or otherwise, should any ethnicity find themselves even further disadvantaged by political barriers, such as have been created by over-zealous land and housing regulators.

Cross-posted at New Geography.

isiting professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris

Jerry Brown signs new California affordable housing laws

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed a robust package of housing legislation aimed at addressing California’s unprecedented affordability crisis.

“These new laws will help cut red tape and encourage more affordable housing, including shelter for the growing number of homeless in California,” Brown said in a statement.

He signed the bills at the Hunter’s View public housing project in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, with the Bay Bridge as a backdrop.

“Today, you can be sure we got 15 good bills. Have they ended the need for further legislation? Unfortunately not,” Brown said. …

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Will Democratic legislation actually worsen the California housing crisis?

urban-housing-sprawl-366c0The first major votes on a raft of bills meant to address California’s housing crisis could come up for a vote Friday, with the Democrats who control the Legislature eager to demonstrate they know how much extreme housing costs are harming low- and middle-income families.

Gov. Jerry Brown has often been critical of plans to add new dollars to California’s traditional method of providing affordable housing – by building subsidized units that help a relatively small number of residents. He prefers to sharply streamline the housing approval process.

But after horse-trading this year with Democrats, Brown agreed to support two affordable housing initiatives, apparently in return for support for Senate Bill 35, a measure by state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco. It would hasten approvals for new housing units in cities that aren’t creating the volume of units mandated under state law and make it significantly more difficult for local opponents to block construction.

Unlike Weiner’s measure, both the affordable housing initiatives require two-thirds support to win passage in the Legislature.

Real-estate fee struggles to win two-thirds support

One of the measures – SB3 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose – appears to have sufficient support. It would put $4 billion in general obligation bonds before state voters next year to fund construction of affordable rental units and to fund “smart growth” projects near transit centers and other housing projects. It would also provide $1 billion to the state’s veteran home loan program, which the San Francisco Chronicle reported would otherwise run out of money next summer.

The other affordable housing initiative – SB2 by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego – appears to be in trouble. It would add fees of $75 on some real-estate transactions to provide ongoing permanent funding for affordable housing, estimated at $250 million a year. The Los Angeles Times reported that in a bid to boost support, Atkins had made changes this week to her bill to provide some of the funds it would generate to local governments. But it is unlikely to win any GOP votes in the Assembly, meaning all 54 Assembly Democrats would have to support it.

Many of the 54 have already voted this year to raise gasoline and diesel taxes and to approve a continuation of the state’s cap-and-trade emissions trading program, which also makes fuel more expensive. For those in swing districts, backing SB2 may seem risky.

“My concern is that it looks and smells like a tax,” Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, told the Times.

Prevailing wage mandate in Weiner bill questioned

Weiner’s proposal reflects the Republican view that regulatory relief is the only way to build enough housing to stabilize rents and home prices. With two-bedroom apartments renting for more than $2,000 a month in most big cities – and double that in parts of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley – there’s a growing fear among California business executives that housing costs will drive off talented workers and make it difficult to recruit new ones.

But in recent days, a new GOP talking point has emerged that takes dead aim at the idea that Weiner’s bill would accomplish much. It notes that by requiring projects that win quick approvals to use “prevailing wages” – union-level pay – those projects would be far costlier than those built with non-union crews.

Earlier this year – in a fight over another bill before the Legislature seeking to require “prevailing wages” on construction projects – the Building Industry Association estimated the mandate would add $90,000 to the cost of building a 2,000-square-foot home in California.

State housing officials say California has added about 800,000 housing units over the past decade – 1 million less than needed.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Five issues to watch in the California Legislature’s final month

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

State lawmakers return from summer break today to a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse and tens of thousands of people crowding into Capitol Mall for a free concert to urge passage of a trio of criminal justice bills.

Monday also marks the beginning of the end of session. Legislators have one month to get their bills to the governor’s desk before the Senate and Assembly call it quits for the year. It’ll be a busy time with plenty of action. Here’s our take on issues to watch as the session resumes:

▪ Housing: This tops the Legislature’s agenda this month, with Democrats hoping to reach a deal that includes long-term funding for affordable housing construction and regulatory changes to speed the development process. Democratic lawmakers say a housing package could be announced as soon as this week. At the core of the debate is financing: Can Democrats muster a two-thirds vote for a real estate fee and persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to sign off on a multibillion-dollar housing bond measure?

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