The housing shortage. We’ve been hearing a great deal about that problem lately. It’s driving prices up and supposedly scaring away workers from our area.

But the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valley areas may get real relief in coming years. Why? Because the long-suffering Newhall Ranch project recently won an important approval. In case you missed it, here’s the headline number: 21,500. That’s the potential number of housing units that could be built.

If that number sounds huge it’s because it is. To put it in perspective, it’s about equal to the number of houses that will be sold this year in the entire San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. In other words, a year’s worth of housing stock may soon be added to the market.

Since you’re reading a business news publication, you know how prices respond to supply and demand. If you add supply, the price moderates or even goes down. And that could be Newhall Ranch’s salutary effect on housing throughout the Valley area: as the supply of homes increases, prices likely will moderate at the same time buyers get more to choose from.

Don’t say that Newhall Ranch will be too far away to moderate prices beyond Santa Clarita. Yes, the new development will be in the Valencia area not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain – kind of distant from the heavily populated San Fernando Valley. But some percentage of buyers will be willing to drive 10 or 20 miles further out if there’s a noticeable increase in home value. That means Newhall will have an impact throughout the San Fernando, Antelope and Simi valleys.

But of course, all this brings up a crucial question: How soon will all this new housing get built? After all, we may feel no relief if only a few units are brought to the market at a time, and if those new units are scattered over years and even decades. Indeed, timing is the big variable.

The developer is optimistic, as developers are hard-wired to be, and he believes construction can begin this calendar year on the first two phases, which calls for 5,500 housing units along with a big slug of commercial space. Final approvals for the remaining three phases can be won shortly thereafter, he believes, and construction will continue at a brisk pace.

Maybe so. But you’ve seen this regulatory rodeo before, right? If so, you may be skeptical that construction of 21,500 housing units could ever be done at a brisk pace anywhere in this state.

After all, look at the tortuous route so far: Newhall Ranch was proposed 23 years ago and construction was supposed to start 20 years ago. Instead, Newhall Ranch slogged through a long fight, and finally won what was then considered final approval 12 years ago. But two years ago, the state Supreme Court set it back, saying the regulators didn’t account for today’s heightened greenhouse gas expectations. Only after the developer, Five Point Holdings of Aliso Viejo, eliminated some greenhouse gases and offset the rest did the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors finally approve the plan a couple of weeks ago. By the way, one of the offsets calls for the developer to buy cleaner-burning cook stoves in Africa.

But is it really final? Environmentalists already are complaining about Newhall Ranch’s drain on the water supply and the increased traffic that would result. More legal and regulatory challenges seem possible. (If you wonder why housing prices are so abnormally high here, kindly reread the last two paragraphs and ask yourself who pays for all of that, including the new stoves in Africa.)

Bottom line: If Newhall Ranch is unobstructed and gets built relatively quickly, our area’s housing shortage should ease up considerably. If not, well, then it won’t.