Livable California Housing Background

Two Camps

At a high level, there are 2 “camps” on California housing.

The developer / “trickle-down” camp wants free reign to build what they want, where they want, without oversight from local communities and their elected representatives. They believe that building more of anything, no matter how expensive, will eventually bring housing prices down by a factor of two or three to where housing becomes affordable again.

The affordability / livability camp wants housing that is affordable to a majority of the people and is built with community input and local oversight to maintain and enhance the livability of communities. They believe that affordable housing requires doing something different and smarter than just building more high-end housing and hoping the benefits trickle down.

The developer / “trickle-down” camp wants centralized control of land use through state laws that pre-empt and override local cities and communities. The livability camp believes that in such a diverse state, top down one-size-fits-all solutions can’t work for most communities.

The developer / “trickle-down” camp has billions of dollars available to get their way. They can make large campaign contributions, lobby legislators, advertise; sponsor legislation, studies, and polls, litigate, etc. This camp includes big real estate, global financial institutions, large corporations, and big technology companies.

The livability camp relies on grassroots organizing and small contributions. Livable California is in this camp along with many local elected officials and tenant’s and neighborhood organizations.

The Policies Each Advocate

The developer / “trickle-down” camp advocates for building as much as possible, as densely as possible. They advocate for rezoning for density. They attack single family zoning as the greatest opportunity to split lots and put up to 8 units (including accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats”) where one home is now. They advocate for 10-unit buildings virtually anywhere with little or no local oversight. They advocate for unattainably high numbers of housing units to be forced on cities as “targets” and create punishing legislation for when those targets are not met. Much of their focus is on rental housing. They have access to virtually unlimited global pools of capital for buying and controlling California real estate for the long term, renting it back to us, and extracting the profits for shareholders around the world.

The livability camp advocates for state laws that focus on affordable housing over luxury market rate housing. They want to keep local communities and their locally elected officials as the final decision makers on development. They advocate for housing to be built along mixed-use commercial boulevards in a way that does not infringe upon neighborhoods. They advocate for protections for stable low income and communities of color. They advocate for state funding for affordable housing. They advocate for home ownership and teleworking.

The livability camp points to the role of real estate speculation, the global financialization of real estate as an investment, and short-term rentals in making housing unaffordable in California.

Locational Focus

Much of the developer driven legislation is sponsored by Bay Area legislators and seems to be tailored for high-cost urban centers.

The livability groups support providing for needed affordable housing in the high-cost urban centers but believe housing needs to be allowed in lower cost suburban and exurban areas also.

False Premises

The developer / “trickle down” camp claims California has a “crisis level” 3.5 million housing unit deficit that requires state level interventions. The livability camp believes studies have shown the real need is around 1.1 million, a level that can be achieved without undue state interference. The livability camp believes the crisis is affordability.

The developer / “trickle down” camp claims adding housing stock at any level of affordability will trickle down to make all housing more affordable. The livability camp says this effect is minor because California is not a closed system (expensive units draw high-income owners from outside the state, they do not reduce the demand for affordable units by the people who live here) and take generations to have any effect.

The developer / “trickle-down” camp claims single family zoning is racist and points to past practices to validate that claim. The livability camp refutes that, pointing out the many stable low income and communities of color that are single family zoned and says developers want to gentrify and “reverse redline” high value properties into those neighborhoods for profit.

The developer / “trickle-down” camp claims “more supply” will bring down housing costs in high-demand costly concentrated urban areas and rezoning is a key process for that. The livability camp refutes that premise, showing that no constrained urban center has ever brought down housing cost through supply. The livability camp believes that development should be encouraged outside of dense urban centers where housing cost (land cost) is lower, and jobs would be welcome.

The development / “trickle-down” camp claims cities are to blame for the housing deficit and should be forced to build more housing. Of course, cities don’t build housing, developers do. Most cities have adequate zoning to meet reasonable housing targets and approve most projects proposed to them. But cities cannot control developers or even force them to build projects that cities have approved. The livability camp sees “blaming cities” as a way for developers to get the state to take away local land use powers and hand it over to the developers.

The Jobs / Housing Issue

The developers maximize profit by building in high demand, job rich areas which are already high cost. High-end jobs have been concentrated in big urban centers for their own perceived corporate efficiencies. That concentration has put housing pressures in these areas, creating the unaffordability problem, displacing lower income people to far out fringes. Further, concentration of jobs has drawn talent from across the state, draining many communities of their talented sons and daughters.

The livability camp believes in economic and geographic equity. We believe communities across the state would be better served if companies would create satellite offices in communities where the cost of housing is lower and would welcome more jobs. Teleworking will also help these communities, especially when accompanied by an expanded broadband infrastructure.

The Media and Housing

The media has done a poor job of educating the public on housing issues. Over the years, media has consolidated and shrunk such that independent in-depth reporting is rare. Reporters now often just quote a bill’s sponsor, repeating the “sales pitch” of the developer sponsors. Media is often “lobbied” by PR firms paid by the developer camp. And some believe that real-estate advertising payments to some outlets bias their reporting.

How Livable California Participates in the Housing Issues

We provide a statewide platform to educate and influence legislation toward policies that benefit communities. We hold twice monthly teleconferences with experts in the field for the public. We network with tens-of-thousands individuals, community leaders, and local officials across the state.

During the legislative sessions, we analyze bills and provide information and actions for our supporters and allies to take. We employ lobbyists to also carry our message. Year around, we meet with legislators to educate them on housing and equity issues so they are better prepared to debate these issues in Sacramento.

We are mostly volunteers and operate on donations from our members. Livable California helps people like you protect neighborhoods around the state. Supporting Livable California helps us help you.