PD Editorial: A little relief from California’s housing crisis

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What state has the nation’s highest “supplemental” poverty rate?

If you guessed Mississippi or West Virginia, try again.

The correct answer is California, where about one family in five is living below the Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty line, according to a report released last week.

Several additional factors are considered in the Census Bureau’s supplemental calculation, which covers 2014-16. Most notable is housing, and it’s no secret that, here in the Golden State, prices are up, homeownership is down, and many people are forced to choose between crushing commutes or paying half or more of the income for housing.

Almost half of California voters identified housing costs as an extremely serious problem in a statewide poll released Tuesday by the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley. Fifty-six percent said they have considered moving because of high housing costs.

“The only folks who are cheering our region’s astronomical housing costs are the folks at U-Haul who are helping residents move right out of the state,” Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group told the San Jose Mercury News. “But this problem is eminently fixable with political courage. People with jobs need a place to go home to sleep at night.”

There isn’t a quick fix. But a package of bills passed in the final hours of this year’s legislative session should deliver some relief. The major components include:

SB 2 by state Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would impose a fee of up to $225 on certain real estate transactions, including mortgage refinances, to assist the homeless and to subsidize housing for low- and moderate-income families. The fee is expected to generate $200 million to $300 million a year for state and local housing programs.

SB 3 by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would place a $4 billion bond on the ballot next year for housing, including $1 billion earmarked for Cal-Vet loans. Beall cited a study showing that the state can leverage $3 in federal aid for every 70 cents invested in housing programs and projected that his measure could pay for 50,000 new and refurbished units.

SB 35 by state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, is intended to expedite approval of housing projects by limiting environmental, planning and design reviews for infill development applications that don’t exceed the number of units allowed by local zoning codes. The rules would apply to communities that haven’t provided their share of housing under regional guidelines.

California has been adding about 80,000 housing units annually, but analysts say the state needs 180,000 units — a total that hasn’t been met since 2005 — to accommodate population growth. A stable housing market promises relief for people who can’t afford to live near their job, and it’s vital to maintaining a healthy economy in a state that isn’t accustomed to being known for poverty.

The bills passed last week in Sacramento won’t solve the problem, but they could keep it from getting worse. That would be a good first step.

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