Voters want housing shortage addressed

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

California voters are anxious about housing affordability and skeptical of laws that would increase housing costs and worker commutes.

During the next two weeks, Governor Brown and the Legislature will attempt to address some of those anxieties – considering tax increases or new state debt to subsidize affordable housing. They will also debate limited incentives for builders to construct more private housing and making it harder for local governments to deny it.

But even this may not be enough to satisfy voters.

The California Chamber of Commerce conducted three voter surveys over the past three years – with remarkably consistent findings: voters of all ages and ethnicities and in all regions say that housing shortages and access to affordable housing are significant issues in California.

Parents are particularly concerned about how the broken housing market affects their families. Two out of three likely voters with children living at home say their kids will have a harder time purchasing their first home.

More than sixty percent of these same voters believe their children will have a better future if they leave California.

This is the CalExit we should really be concerned about.

Californians are fully invested in the American Dream of owning their own homes.

Nearly four of five likely voters say high homeownership rates are good for California communities.

Renters, who comprise 28% of likely voters, say ownership is a high priority, with younger renters the most supportive.

Indeed, two-thirds of renters who prioritize home ownership would leave the state if it gave them a better opportunity to purchase a home.

Hard data supports voter attitudes. Next 10 reports that low- and middle-wage workers are leaving California even as higher-wage earners continue to arrive. Domestically, more people are moving out than moving in.

The cost of housing is the primary motivation for this out-migration by residents seeking upward mobility.

Study after study insist that the primary cause of unaffordability is a lack of home building. McKinsey and the Legislative Analyst conclude that builders must roughly double the 100,000 homes they produce each year to stabilize housing costs.

According to economist Chris Thornberg, this intensifying focus is warranted now more than ever given how “the crisis has moved from simply eating up the disposable income of residents to slowing overall employment growth in coastal economies – something driven by a lack of available workers, which in turn is driven by the housing shortage.”

But while the Legislature may propose housing subsidies with one hand, they worsen housing supply and commute times with the other, by adding new costs on construction and new burdens on personal travel.

Even a long-sought proposal to streamline environmental litigation is burdened with higher-cost labor mandates, likely negating any benefit from the lawsuit reforms.

The Legislature recently passed a cap-and-trade program designed to ease the cost of reaching the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas mandates. But other California carbon reduction directives unaffected by cap-and-trade threaten to increase the cost of housing by more than $50,000 per unit, requiring new housing developments to produce their own clean electricity and to reduce automobile use.

A strong majority of California voters oppose these expensive mandates. In the less wealthy and more auto-dependent regions of the state such as the Central Valley and Inland Empire, voters oppose these mandates by a two-to-one margin, as do low-income voters everywhere.

State agencies are at work to reduce personal automobile travel to cut global warming gases. Some of these strategies include charging a fee to drive, purposely designing roads to be more congested, or not expanding highway capacity at all. Planners call this a “road diet.”

But while Californians may famously watch their waistlines, they aren’t so interested in this kind of a diet. Voters of every description and ideology reject these measures. The strongest opposition to a “road diet” came from low income voters, those who reside in inland California, renters, and political independents.

The Legislature and Governor Brown deserve credit for making the housing crisis job-one as they complete business for 2017. But voters will likely consider the job unfinished if legislators do not roll back some of the existing permit tangles, construction costs, and commute burdens plaguing residents.

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