Readers of a certain age may remember Pogo, a comic strip character best known for saying, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst effectively said the same thing about the shortage of affordable housing in the Golden State.
There are practical barriers, including topography and water supplies, especially in coastal areas, that limit the availability and drive up the cost of land for housing. But there also are political barriers, most notably resistance to growth from people who already live here and worry about traffic congestion and other negative impacts associated with new housing.
“There are no easy solutions to this problem,” the legislative analyst said in a report issued this week, the most recent in a series on California’s housing problems. The report said “real improvement can come only with a major shift in how communities and their residents think about and value new housing. Such a change is unlikely to happen on its own.”
Barring such a change, the report concluded that “no state intervention is likely to make significant progress on addressing the state’s housing challenges.”
State lawmakers ought to pay attention, especially those who favor broad restrictions on the discretion of cities and counties to review housing proposals.
The issue here isn’t whether California has a housing shortage, perhaps even a housing crisis. It does, and it will keep getting worse unless the supply starts catching up with the demand.
An average California home costs more than double the national average, and rents are about 50 percent higher than the national average. With the state’s population projected to grow by 3.4 million over the next eight years, housing almost certainly will become even less affordable for people with middle-lass incomes or less.
The projected growth isn’t a function of immigration from other states or other countries. More people are moving out of the state than moving in, so population growth is a consequence of the birth rate. In short, our own children are driving the demand for more housing.
The state’s ambitious climate goals also are dependent on building more housing — specifically denser housing near employment and commercial centers that will reduce our reliance on automobiles for commuting.
Cities and counties are required to ensure that zoning and planning rules adequately accommodate future housing needs. And many local jurisdictions fall short of their obligation.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed legislation that would have granted automatic approval to some development plans, effectively cutting cities and counties out of the process. It didn’t get very far and may even serve to make some communities more resistant to new housing.
A more targeted measure has been introduced by state Sen. Scott Weiner, a former San Francisco supervisor. His bill would streamline the permitting process in cities that have failed to provide sufficient affordable housing.
The legislative analyst suggested some other incentives including allocating new revenue streams based on population growth.
Californians oppose sprawl development, and they want to combat climate change. Those goals can’t be accomplished without providing adequate housing for a growing state, a message many of us don’t want to hear.