California: “Land of Opportunity” or “Land of Poverty”?

For decades, California’s housing costs have been racing ahead of incomes, as counties and local governments have imposed restrictive land-use regulations that drove up the price of land and dwellings. This has been documented by both Dartmouth economist William A Fischel and the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Middle income households have been forced to accept lower standards of living while less fortunate have been driven into poverty by the high cost of housing. Housing costs have risen in some markets compared to others that the federal government now publishes alternative poverty estimates (the Supplemental Poverty Measure), because the official poverty measure used for decades does not capture the resulting differentials. The latest figures, for 2013, show California’s housing cost adjusted poverty rate to be 23.4 percent, nearly half again as high as the national average of 15.9 percent.

Back in the years when the nation had a “California Dream,” it would have been inconceivable for things to have gotten so bad — particularly amidst what is widely hailed as a spectacular recovery. The 2013 data shows California to have the worst housing cost adjusted poverty rate among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. But it gets worse. California’s poverty rate is now more than 50 percent higher than Mississippi, which long has set the standard for extreme poverty in the United States (Figure 1).

cox1

The size of the geographic samples used to estimate the housing adjusted poverty rates are not sufficient for the Supplemental Poverty Measure to produce local, county level or metropolitan area estimates. However, a new similar measure makes that possible.

The California Poverty Measure                           

The Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality have collaborated to establish the “California Poverty Measure,” which is similar to the Supplemental Poverty Measure adjusted for housing costs.

The press release announcing release of the first edition (for 2011) said that: “California, often thought of as the land of plenty” in the words Center on Poverty and Inequality director Professor David Grusky, is “in fact the land of poverty.”

The latest California Poverty Measure estimate, for 2012, shows a statewide poverty rate of 21.8 percent, somewhat below the Supplemental Poverty Measure and well above the Official Poverty Measure that does not adjust for housing costs (16.5 percent).

The California Poverty Measure also provides data for most of California’s 58 counties, with some smaller counties combined due to statistical limitations. This makes it possible to estimate the California Poverty Measure for metropolitan areas, using American Community Survey data.

Metropolitan Area Estimates

By far the worst metropolitan area poverty rate was in Los Angeles, at 25.3 percent. The Los Angeles County poverty rate was the highest in the state at 26.1 percent, well above that of Orange County (22.4 percent), which constitutes the balance of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. However, the Orange County rate was higher than that of any other metropolitan area or region in the state (Figure 2). San Diego’s poverty rate was 21.7 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, Riverside-San Bernardcox2ino (the Inland Empire), which is generally perceived to have greater poverty, but with lower housing costs, had a rate of 20.9 percent. The two counties, Riverside and San Bernardino had lower poverty rates than all Southern California counties except for Ventura (Oxnard) and Imperial.

 

The San Francisco metropolitan area had a poverty rate of 19.4 percent, more than one-fifth below that of Los Angeles. San Jose has a somewhat lower poverty rated 18.3 percent (Note 1). The metropolitan areas making constituting the exurbs of the San Francisco Bay Area had a poverty rate of 18.7 percent. This includes Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Stockton and Vallejo. Sacramento had the lowest poverty rate of any major metropolitan area, at 18.2 percent.

The San Joaquin Valley, stretching from Bakersfield through Fresno to Modesto (Stockton is excluded because it is now a San Francisco Bay Area exurb) had a poverty rate of 21.3 percent, slightly below the state wide average of 21.8 percent. The balance of the state, not included in the metropolitan areas and regions described above had a poverty rate of 21.2 percent.

County Poverty Rates

As was noted above, Los Angeles County had the highest 2012 poverty rate in the state (Note 2), according to the California Poverty Measure (26.1 percent). Tulare County, in the San Joaquin Valley had the second-highest rate at 25.2 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, San Francisco County with its reputation for high income had the third worst poverty rate in the state at 23.4 percent. This is driven, at least in part, by San Francisco’s extraordinarily high median house price to household income ratio (median multiple). In this grisly statistic, it trails only Hong Kong, Vancouver and Sydney in the latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Wealthy Santa Barbara County has the fourth worst poverty rate in the state, at 23.8 percent. The fifth highest poverty rate is in Stanislaus County, in the San Joaquin Valley (county seat Modesto), which is already receiving housing refugees from the San Francisco Bay Area, unable to pay the high prices (Figure 3).

cox3

The two lowest poverty rates were in suburban Sacramento counties (Note 2). Placer County’s rate was 13.2 percent and El Dorado County’s rate was 13.3 percent. Another surprise is Imperial County, which borders Mexico and has generally lower income. Nonetheless, Imperial County has the third lowest poverty rate at 13.4 percent. Shasta County (county seat Redding), located at the north end of the Sacramento Valley is ranked fourth at 14.8 percent. Two counties are tied for the fifth lowest poverty rate (16.0 percent), Marin County in suburban San Francisco and Napa County, in the exurban San Francisco Bay Area (Figure 4).

Weak Labor Market and Notoriously Expensive Housing

The original Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality press release cited California’s dismal poverty rate as resulting from “a weak labor market and California’s notoriously expensive housing.” These are problems that can be moderated starting at the top, with the Governor and legislature. The notoriously expensive housing could be addressed by loosening regulations that allow more supply to be built at lower cost. True, the new supply would not be built in Santa Monica or Palo Alto. But additional, lower cost housing on the periphery, whether in Riverside County, the High Desert exurbs of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, the San Francisco Bay Area exurbs or the San Joaquin Valley could begin to remedy tcox4he situation.

The improvement in housing affordability could help to strengthen the weak job market, by attracting both new business investment and households moving from other states.

Regrettably, Sacramento does not seem to be paying attention. Liberalizing land use regulations is not only absent from the public agenda, but restrictions are being strengthened (especially under the requirements of Senate Bill 375). In this environment, metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego could become even more grotesquely unaffordable, and the already high price to income ratios in the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley could worsen. All of this could lead to slower economic growth and to even greater poverty, as more lower-middle-income households fall into poverty.

Note 1: San Benito County is excluded from the San Jose metropolitan area data. The California Poverty Measure does not report a separate poverty rate for San Benito County.

Note 2: Among the counties for which specific poverty rates are provided.

isiting professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris

Cross-posted at New Geography.

CA Supreme Court Forces Affordable Housing on Developers

affordable housingMany Golden State developers must now include so-called affordable housing units in their sales plans. The California Supreme Court sided against the builders, who brought a contentious, high-profile suit against municipal policymakers.

“At issue was a 2010 San Jose law that requires some new residential developments to set aside 15 percent of their units for sale at below-market rates,” noted the San Jose Mercury News. “The California Building Industry Association said the city failed to justify the 15 percent requirement and should base any such quota on an assessment of possible negative effects of the market-rate housing.”

But the impact of the ruling went far beyond San Jose city limits. “The League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties estimate more than 170 municipalities have some kind of ordinance on the books,” according to KQED. Officials in Sacramento have also brought attention to the diminishing quantity of less costly urban housing. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the state’s Legislative Analyst reported months ago that California’s housing is among the nation’s most expensive.

Given the court’s protection of the laws, their continued expansion became all but certain in liberal-leaning urban areas. “The decision clears the way for Los Angeles and other cities to require developers to sell a percentage of the units they build at below-market rates as a condition of a building permit. Developers also could be given the option of paying into a fund for low-cost housing,” the Times reported.

In a statement, the Times added, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti applauded the ruling. “This gives Los Angeles and other local governments another possible tool to use as we tackle our affordable housing crisis,” he said.

A hands-off approach

Describing California’s paucity of cheap housing as a crisis of “epic proportions,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye went well beyond the bounds of San Jose’s set-asides to endorse broad municipal regulatory powers. Cities, she wrote, should “regulate the use of real property to serve the legitimate interests of the general public and the community at large.”

Rather than seeing itself as indulging in judicial activism, however, the court embraced city attorneys’ contentions that its powers simply didn’t extend to pricing rules. “There is no basis for the courts to second-guess the City Council’s considered judgment in adopting an inclusionary housing ordinance as a means to comply with its affordable housing aims,” they argued, according to the Associated Press.

Judicial gymnastics

Behind the hands-off approach, however, the court followed a complex line of legal interpretation. Plaintiffs claimed that San Jose’s “inclusive housing ordinance,” or IHO, amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of property. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the possibility of such a taking triggered heightened judicial scrutiny, a stricter standard of interpretation than the city’s attorneys wanted the California Supreme Court to use.

Under heightened scrutiny, a so-called “exaction” imposed by an IHO can only pass constitutional muster if regulators “can establish a reasonable relationship between the amount of a city’s need for affordable housing and the portion of that need attributable to a particular development project,” as the National Law Review noted.

The city admitted that it broke new ground in the aggressiveness of its housing regulations. As KQED noted, “the city side-stepped the usual study showing a relationship between the development of for-sale housing and the city’s need for affordable housing.”

But the court, the Review continued, ruled the set-aside in San Jose’s IHO was not an exaction at all, “because it did not constitute the payment of a monetary fee but rather simply placed a limit on the way a developer may use its property.” Rather than requiring developers to pay money or turn over its property to the public, the IHO placed “a restriction on the property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer certain units for sale.”

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Assembly Democrats Want Real Estate Fees, Tax Credits for Affordable Housing

As reported by KQED:

The leader of the state Assembly is unveiling an ambitious affordable housing proposal, one that could pump more than $600 million a year into  development at the local level.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was joined Wednesday afternoon by a wide range of prominent Democrats in Los Angeles, including state Treasurer John Chiang and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, to announce her plan. At its center: A proposal to institute a new transfer fee on real estate transactions, one Atkins’ staff characterizes as small; and expanding legislation proposed by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to increase the tax credit that real estate developers can claim when they build affordable housing.

“The bottom line is that every Californian deserves a stable, safe place to live,” Atkins said.

Click here to read the full story

All rise for Supreme Court hearing on redevelopment

From the Sac Bee:

The California Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this morning in one of the state’s budget nail-biters, California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos.

Cities and redevelopment agencies have sued to stop the state from axing 400 or so agencies while letting them reopen if they contribute funds to schools. Here’s the case summary, courtesy of the court:

Original proceeding. The court issued an order to show cause directing the parties to show cause why the relief prayed for in the petition for writ of mandate should not be granted. This case involves the validity of recent legislation … dissolving and reenacting with changes the statutory framework for redevelopment agencies.

The state Supreme Court put the case on a fast track, placing most of the new provisions on hold and promising to issue a ruling by mid-January. The California Channel will air the hearing on its local cable channels as well as its website, www.calchannel.com. It runs from 9 to 10 a.m.

(Read Full Article)