Affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing problems. The OC Register recently reported that the median price of a home in Orange County has reached $1 million, just as the median home price statewide is just under $800,000, the most expensive in the country after Hawaii.
This has many additional ramifications outside of the real estate world, as well; California lost a quarter of a million residents between July 2020 and July 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and has also lost political representation and power in Congress and the Electoral College. California’s employers are finding it hard to attract top talent despite a booming economy.
The stakes in this situation are personal, as well. An untold number of friendships have ended and families have split apart due to this lack of affordable housing as people keep moving away from California. Most alarmingly, California now has over 161,000 unhoused or homeless people, the largest number of any state in this country, and the bulk of them had previously lived here before becoming homeless.
Ultimately, all these statistics point to a dire conclusion: the California Dream is under serious threat because of our state’s failure to produce enough affordable housing.
California’s legislators have taken note. In the past couple years, through the “Building Opportunities for all” Senate Housing Package, they’ve been busy crafting and passing housing legislation to address this crisis. Although this legislative package, which has been endorsed by groups ranging from the Orange County Business Council to Habitat for Humanity California, uses a wide variety of tools to stimulate housing production, all rely on the central fact that California’s lack of housing supply is the main culprit causing our high housing costs. California ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to housing units per capita.
Senate Bill 6 allows developers to put housing developments on land zoned for commercial use, such as former strip malls, and requires that projects have a minimum density to ensure that any housing built contains affordable units.
Senate Bill 9 allows property owners in areas zoned for single-family dwellings to build a duplex and/or split an existing lot, thus creating up to four units where there was only one. This, combined with accessory dwelling units, could allow for up to 8 units on a lot.
Senate Bill 10 makes it easier for affordable housing to be built by giving cities the right to upzone near public transit and jobs, as well as exempts such projects from going through the environmental review process mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Senate Bill 330 removes various barriers regarding joint occupancy for community colleges to allow housing for students and workers, and also allows the colleges to work with private developers to get the housing built. California’s college students particularly bear the brunt of the housing crisis.
Finally, Senate Bill 791 creates a new unit within the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development that would assist the agencies in developing new housing on their surplus land.
California’s legislators are recognizing that tackling the housing crisis is best accomplished when many actors are involved, from homeowners to developers to community colleges to local agencies and communities.