There’s no shortage of troubling statistics about California’s housing market.
But these stories may tell the story better than any study or chart: A condemned house in the East Bay city of Fremont — an online listing described it as “beyond fixer” — sold recently for $1.23 million. Now, a burned-out house in the Silicon Valley is listed for $1.5 million, and the listing agent says she has four cash offers in excess of the asking price.
These may be extreme examples, but they illustrate what can happen when a basic human need — shelter — is in short supply.
California has experienced steady economic growth since shaking off the effects of the Great Recession. The state added about 2.3 million jobs over the past five years. However, over the same period, fewer than 480,000 permits were issued for new residential units.
That’s about one new home for every five jobs created.
The state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst says the roots of today’s housing problems can be traced to the 1970s, when anti-growth movements started. The shortage now affects almost every region of the state, and the loss of 5,300 houses and apartments in October’s firestorm has magnified the crisis here in Sonoma County.
Actions taken by the Board of Supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Council soon after the fires should expedite rebuilding, at least for those people who are able to settle quickly and equitably with their insurers.
To their credit, the city and county are now taking steps to encourage construction of badly needed new housing throughout the community.
Under new rules adopted Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, more homeowners in unincorporated areas will be allowed to add second units on their property.
The county’s new rules also expand the amount of residential space allowed in a mixed-use developments from half to 80 percent and allow single-room-occupancy facilities — such as the Palms Inn shelter for veterans in Santa Rosa — to open in commercial areas and mid- to high-density residential areas without a special land-use permit.
These are modest changes, but by eliminating regulations and red tape, the new rules could produce more affordable rental units and some relief for the homeless — and people frustrated with homeless encampments in residential and recreational areas.
The supervisors acted one week after the Santa Rosa City Council streamlined its approval process for new housing and related development.
Under the new rules, many proposals for single-family homes, apartments, mobile home parks, mixed-use projects, child care facilities and emergency shelters can be approved by city staff members without a hearing before the Design Review Board.
To be clear, skipping the hearing doesn’t mean applications will be approved without public input. Builders are required to host pre-application neighborhood meetings, and a concept review by the Design Review Board is mandatory for projects larger than 10,000 square feet.
Housing needs locally and across the state are vast — single-family and multi-family homes for individuals and families, student housing, shelter for the homeless. Meeting those needs will require a public commitment to housing, including more work to streamline the approval process and, potentially, state and local bonds to help fill the funding gap for affordable housing. The alternative is more $1 million fixer-uppers.