California’s chronic housing shortage shows no signs of abating with construction of barely half of the 180,000 new units the state says are needed each year to fill the supply and demand gap .
There is no single reason, but rather a toxic mix of high costs, over-regulation and stubborn resistance from local authorities responding to the not-in-my-court sentiments of their constituents.
Four very recent situations frame the housing dilemma and indicate that housing pressures can have some effect:
Sacrament: Anyone doubting the negative impact of high costs on housing should take a look at the budget for a 124-unit affordable housing project on the state-owned site of a former National Guard armory. .
The state is donating the land to the nonprofit developer, Bridge Housing Corp., at no cost and the city of Sacramento is waiving $468,624 in impact fees. But the project’s budget is still $82.4 million, which equates to about $665,000 per unit, enough to buy a very nice house for each projected low-income tenant.
Less than half of the projected cost is for construction; most of it is consumed in paper expenses, including $1.1 million for “permit processing fees” and $9.9 million for Bridge.
Concord: What would be the largest housing development ever in the San Francisco Bay Area, 13,000 units on the site of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, has stalled.
Development projects for the site have been in the works for decades and one developer spent $15 million before abandoning its efforts as it hit a stalemate with local building unions. A second development team, Concord First Partners, has been trying to do this for several years, but recently warned that it too may have to pull out.
“We have re-examined our assumptions time and time again,” the consortium said in a letter to local officials. “We apply actual construction costs based on our knowledge of the area,” the letter says. “The conclusion is that the project, as we have analyzed it in its current form, does not work for any responsible development entity.”
Huntington Beach: This coastal Orange County community has been a poster child for resistance to housing projects it deems incompatible with its upscale vibe, but after years of delays, it finally approved a 48-unit condominium project.
Years of court battles with pro-housing groups and pressure from new state laws finally forced the city to throw in its beach towel last month.
Ursula Luna-Reynosa, Huntington Beach’s director of development, cited the state’s tough new laws targeting holdout towns. “Under the Housing Accountability Act, if it meets those goals and there are no health and safety concerns, the city’s ability to deny the project is very difficult” , Luna-Reynosa told the city council before its vote.
Tiburon: Marin County is another hotbed of opposition to new housing, but the state Court of Appeals last month ended Tiburon’s nearly half-century-long effort to block construction of a few new houses at Easton Point overlooking the small town.
In dismissing Tiburon’s last-ditch effort to block the project by invoking California’s environmental quality law, the court complained that the law was being misused, echoing the sentiments of housing advocates.
“It must be quite hard when the opposition is purely private”, concludes the opinion. “However, when private opposition joins official hostility, the CEQA becomes an even more formidable weapon. When the project developer faces sustained private opposition, in addition to the combined animosity of two levels of local government, the temptation to throw in the towel must be overwhelming. Something is wrong with this picture.”
Yes it is.
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending most of those years working for California newspapers. His commentary comes via CalMatters.org, a public interest journalism firm committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. To learn more, visit calmmatters.org/commentary.