Housing Crunch is Discriminatory

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

A NIMBY group may be satisfied with stopping a housing project in their neighborhood but I wonder if they realize that their efforts are discriminatory – creating displacement and relegating people of color to areas of greater poverty. According to a recently released study, that’s exactly what those efforts produce.

The study, conducted by the California Housing Partnership (CHP) along with UC Berkeley and UCLA, revealed:

* • By a large margin, rising rents and home prices during the last decade and a half displaced thousands of Bay Area and Los Angeles people of color;
* • Displaced families tended to move to lower-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty;
* • Displaced families ended up paying a greater percentage of their incomes for rent in the new neighborhoods;
* • The lower-income households examined were more vulnerable to rent increases – for example, a Bay Area rent increase of 30 percent during the 18 months led to a 21 percent decrease in low-income households of color; and
* • A large proportion of displaced families moved out of the areas entirely.

Surely, this study will be used by housing advocates to promote Proposition 10, which by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (“the Act”) would authorize statewide rent control. They will argue that market-rate housing – particularly the new kind – drives up rents and gentrifies neighborhoods. In the end, it displaces low-income households which, they say, rent control protects.

But, the study seems to recognize the base problem underpinning California’s housing crisis: supply. Indeed, the research “adds to the discussion by providing a nuanced analysis of the relationship between housing production, affordability and displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The study found that:

* • At the regional level, both newly produced market-rate and subsidized housing helped reduce displacement pressures;
* • While near-term market-rate production was associated with a higher housing cost burden for low-income households, lower median rents materialized in subsequent decades; and
* • At the local, “block-group level”, neither market-rate nor subsidized housing production was able to protect against rents going up as it did, say, at the regional level.

The study went on to say:

Although more detailed analysis is needed to clarify the complex relationship between development, affordability and displacement at the local scale, this research implies the importance of not only increasing production of subsidized and market-rate housing in California’s coastal communities, but also investing in the preservation of housing affordability and stabilizing vulnerable communities.

Public-policy leaders didn’t escape scrutiny from the study. It found that the architects of climate-change legislation were hurting affordability.

Specifically, the study referenced Senate Bill 375, passed in 2008 to require cities and counties – through their metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) – to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) by developing new land-use planning schemes, called Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS). The SCS would, it was said, better integrate regional transportation and housing.

But, although the promoters of SB 375 argued that planning economies would be realized as a result of the legislation – and thereby ease market pressures on housing – the study found otherwise:

While the implementation of these [SB 375] strategies has the potential for environmental and economic benefits, rising housing costs and changing neighborhood conditions may compel low-income residents and households to move out of transit-oriented neighborhoods.

All told, the study seems to confirm that the housing burdens of the state are mainly brought on by a profound lack of supply. And, it found that through affordability gaps undersupply produces is uniformly displacing people of color and is more and more consigning them to seriously impoverished neighborhoods. As a result, people of color are doubly suffering from California’s housing crisis.

Meanwhile, the study acknowledges, uptown housing isn’t being approved – and built – fast enough.

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