No Affordable Apartments in California? Check Back in a Couple Thousand Years

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California may be objectively the best state in the union (do not email me), but it has a lot of problems: Wildfires, rampant inequality, and a terrible housing (and homelessness) crisis. Rent is so high that there are entertainment workers in L.A. sleeping in their cars, and supply so short that companies can get away with renting out 11' x 8' sections of a living room.

And the problem isn’t going to be fixed any time soon at current rates of building, according to a new report from California-based think tank Next 10. In fact, at current rates in some California cities and counties, it would take thousands of years to meet the goals they’re supposed to be achieving.

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The report looked at how well cities are meeting the goals set by a 50 year-old housing law that’s supposed to encourage housing development, by examining how many permits they’ve issued for housing building at various income levels. But while the law requires cities to produce reports on their progress, as the LA Times reported in 2017, it doesn’t actually hold them accountable for not meeting their goals—and they often don’t even produce the reports, either.

State officials “don’t know if cities and counties have met their housing goals,” the Times wrote in 2017, and there is “no reliable measure of how many houses are being built in California for low-, middle- and upper-income residents.”

The Next 10 report found that levels of housing permitting are much worse for low-income housing than for higher income levels. Over half of jurisdictions that reported data had issued permits for zero units in the Very Low-Income category (below 50 percent of the median income of the area), and 72 percent had met less than 10 percent of the goal in that category. In one particularly ridiculous case, the report found that it would take over 3,000 years for the Silicon Valley area city of Santa Clara to meet its target for very-low income units. (According to the Census Bureau, Santa Clara’s median household income from 2013-2017 was $108,609.)

As of 2017, the report says, only 7.3 percent of the goal for permits for Very Low-Income housing had been issued, as had only 9.8 percent of the goal for Low-Income (between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income) housing permits. At the same time, 45.6 percent of Above Moderate Income (over 120 percent of the area median income) permits had been issued.

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This is the result of a market-based approach to housing: the market will always want to provide more housing for richer people. It’s simply not as profitable to build housing for poor people, which is why 65 percent of new construction in 2016 was for units renting for more than $1,100.

The best solution to this problem is quite simple. Instead of trying to let the market fix a problem it will never be interested in fixing, the state government should just build social housing. If California wants to build enough housing for everyone in every city before the year in which Futurama is set, it’s going to have to do something drastic.

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About the author

Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com