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As anybody looking for a house or apartment can easily verify, California is in the throes of a housing crisis. In Oroville, for example, many low-income residents live in 1960s-vintage housing built for dam construction workers. Across the state, home ownership rates are the lowest since the 1940s and according to California’s Housing Future: Challenges and Opportunities, from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the annual 80,000 new homes over the past ten years falls far short of the 180,000 needed. Politicians have started to take notice.
More than 100 housing bills now jostle in the legislature, and according to Sara Libby of Voice of San Diego, “California Democrats are uniting against a common enemy who they believe is making residents miserable and imperiling the state’s future. The target: NIMBYs across the state who continually shoot down new housing projects, and the localities that bend to their will.”
For Joe Mathews of Zócalo Public Square, “The state of California has begun a takeover of local housing policy,” and the more than 100 bills “clearly signal the state’s intention to take a leading role in how California houses itself.” Such intervention is usually worrisome, he explains, but this one should be welcome because it forms “the last, best hope for pressuring the biggest obstacles to new housing – local governments – to get out of the way.”
In reality, government at all levels is the biggest obstacle to housing, and with state government taking “a leading role,” the crisis will only get worse, as Mathews appears to understand. “Some of the more than 100 housing bills could make the shortage worse,” he warns, “by adding to the costs of housing or creating disincentives for local governments to approve housing.”
Sara Libby recalls that during the recession, “government was the only entity doing any building,” and market-rate projects were abandoned. Government should get out of the way and let the housing market function. That will provide the housing Californians need and help fuel an economic recovery.
A good place to start would be to eliminate the California Coastal Commission, an unelected body that runs roughshod over property rights and overrides the voters on land-use issues. CEQA, the state’s onerous environmental law, also blocks housing development and adds delays and costs. Legislators have failed to reform this institutionalized regulatory zealotry, a major cause of the housing crisis.