California housing is a crisis that Newsom could take into its own hands


The median home price in California has eclipsed $800,000. Tenants in the state are among the most cost-effective in the country. Every night, more than 100,000 residents sleep outside or in their cars. AN crisis, a disaster, the religion of sorrow, An shame – whatever journalists and politicians call it, people across the state, including all major candidates for governor in the recall voice this week, agree that the situation is untenable.

The question is what the governor could possibly do about it. It’s something Governor Gavin Newsom has been talking about for the past three years. And now that he has won a decisive victory in the recall that cost nearly $300 million and captured the attention of the state and governor for several months, Mr. Newsom turned his attention to problems such as housing.

In many ways, the answer there is different than when he took office in 2019.

Right now, the focus is on Senate Bill 9, which would allow duplexes in neighborhoods across the state, and it is one of hundreds of unsigned bills that have piled up on Mr. Newsom’s desk during the recall campaign. But even if Mr. Newsom signs it, which is widely expected of him in the coming days, his housing legacy will likely be less about laws passed under his oversight than his government’s ability to enact them. force. That’s because the executive has been given much more power over state housing policy than it was a few years ago, after years of frustration from the state over how difficult it is for local governments to build housing in California.

The government of Mr. Newsom has come to embrace the role and take action, such as suing cities for not building enough to keep up with population growth and creating a team to make sure cities approve new housing. The moves are part of a nationwide power shift — away from city councils and into state houses — over the $1 trillion annual housing market.

“In the past, housing was managed by the local planning departments and California governors didn’t really pay attention,” said Ben Metcalf, director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. “That has changed.”

Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, has tried to weather the pandemic emergency by extending the state’s eviction moratorium even as it expires federal, and pouring money from the state’s budget surplus and various coronavirus aid packages into homeless funding and programs such as an attempt to turn hotels into supportive residences.

But California remains one of the hardest places in America to build homes, causing supply and demand to be unbalanced. It is at the forefront of a nationwide problem that is pricing middle-income households from property, with one in four rental households paying more than half of their pre-tax income on rent.

Planners, economists and both political parties have long called states to use their power to reduce the housing shortage by breaking local blockades. They point out that suburban governments have little incentive to solve the problem, as they have to answer to homeowners who would rather see prices just go up. That conundrum has haunted would-be housing reformers since the 1970s, emerging during California’s recall campaign in Republican debates, where candidates talked a lot about adding more homes but shying away from discussions about where those homes would go.

These often contradictory comments perfectly reflect the mood of Californians: They are generally unhappy with the state’s cost of living and the tent cities that have sprung up along highways, in parks, and on beaches. But homeowners remain fiercely protective of their power to say what’s being built near them. Kevin Faulconer, a former mayor of San Diego and a Republican nominee in the recall, anything but run away of its own pro-density policy in California’s second-largest city by saying, “If we see some of these pieces of legislation that seeks to eliminate single-family zoning in California, that’s wrong.”

mr. Newsom has tried to follow the same line. In 2018, he campaigned on a “Marshall plan for housing” which had a purpose to deliver 3.5 million new homes by 2025. He regretted the figure when he was in the governor’s chair, and it became fodder for his main recall opponent, talk show host Larry Elder, who grabbed it as an example of broken promises. Mr. Elder didn’t need advanced research to find errors in the numbers: In a state that allows about 100,000 homes a year, supplying 3.5 million — 35 years of homes at the current rate — is almost a physical impossibility.

Mr. Newsom has been mostly silent about major zoning plans ever since. He took no position on Senate Bill 50, a controversial measure that would have allowed apartment buildings in neighborhoods across the state. And he was largely silent about Senate Bill 9 as it passed through both houses of the state legislature and lingered on his desk.

What he has done instead is enforce existing laws more aggressively than his predecessors did. Two weeks after Mr. Newsom took office, the California Attorney General stated… sued Huntington Beach for not planning enough new homes. Since then, the Ministry of Housing and Community Development has hundreds of letters telling cities to change or simplify their planning codes to comply with state law.

The governor’s most recent budget allocated $4.3 million to the staff of a “housing responsibilityConsisting of planners and lawyers who will monitor local government housing decisions and intervene when they fail to follow state law.

Zoning defines the physical nature of a neighborhood and who might live next door, so it has attracted most of the attention in the California housing debate. But in recent years, the legislature has quietly passed a slew of smaller measures that, when laced together, have radically changed the relationship between the state and local government. The new rules change how much residential cities must plan, make it harder for developers to stop building, and ultimately rob them of funding and local control if they drift too far from state mandates.

As they transfer more oversight of housing from places to Sacramento, the question of how aggressively those laws are enforced has come to the executive. It’s one thing for the state to pass laws desegregate neighborhoods, put aside more land for social housing and require cities to give permission backyard houses. If enforcing it isn’t a priority – and it has long been the case with housing laws – they will certainly be ignored.

In an interview following the revocation vote, Jason Elliott, a senior adviser to Mr. Newsom working on housing policies, a series of account numbers and the esoteric text of planning codes to point out dozens of housing rules that remain largely unused. Environmental measures that support increasing densification to reduce car journeys. Various Laws Allowing Backyard Units. A way for developers to sue cities that do not follow their own zoning plans. These are the types of statutes the new housing unit of account will try to enforce.

“I’m never going to say we’re done passing laws and we can’t do more,” Mr Elliott said. “But what we really need to do if we want to see units emerge is get a few dozen people to think about this and only this, and allow them to reach cities.”

Will mr. Newsom ever get close to 3.5 million new units? New. Even if it were politically possible, it would put pressure on timber and labor supplies.

It has taken California decades to have a housing crisis like this. Raised rhetoric and promises to millions of units suffice with a campaign slogan, but the reality is more like a slow-digging process.

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