A game-changing study has found that California’s urban areas are fast-approving too much luxury housing, under rules set by the legislature, and most urban areas will hit or far surpass the state’s overall housing targets for 2025. Yet this month, and again this summer, we expect state Sen. Scott Wiener to try to upzone California’s cities and towns — to produce even more luxury housing.
The Bay Area think tank Embarcadero Institute has found: “The 14 (most populous) counties have issued permits for nearly 300,000 new market-rate units, yet only about 140,000 were required by the state housing department (HCD).” Cities are eagerly approving housing, says the study summary, titled, “California Cities Surpass State’s RHNA Housing Goals.”
There are HUGE surprises in the study, compiled from the state’s own figures: Embarcadero Institute found that, amidst calls for “upzoning” and doing away with single-family zoning statewide by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and other media, California’s affordability crisis is not fueled by resistance to housing. Instead, among the 14 populous counties targeted by nearly every controversial bill authored by Wiener and his allies, 10 counties will hit or significantly outpace the state housing targets (known as RHNA). Just 4 of the 14 counties are lagging, as shown in the heart of the study, a detailed chart and spreadsheet found here.
The biggest laggers in approving housing permits are the four dissimilar counties of Sacramento, San Diego, Riverside and Kern, each facing locale-specific troubles. Sacramento may be the capital but it’s a ghost town at night and developers have not returned in a big way since the Great Recession.
Ironically, the mayors of Sacramento and San Diego support Wiener’s one-size-fits-all beliefs, urging that SB 50 be forced on all Californians.
Zoning is not the problem. The study indicates the state’s “trickle-down” laws may be the problem. Cities and counties are over-approving luxury units and under-approving affordable units — thanks to state density bonus laws that require developers to include very, very few affordable units while richly rewarding them for erecting big luxury projects.
The study found: “Since 2016, this mismatch has worsened, with a stark jump in market-rate housing permits seen alongside a corresponding dip in affordable housing unit permits. This shift correlates with the introduction of the state density bonus law, a law that was meant to boost affordable housing approvals. It may be too early to say, but it seems the density bonus incentives given under Government Code 65915–65918 may have actually exacerbated California’s mismatched housing supply.”
We at Livable California believe Sen. Wiener had his chance. He has dominated Sacramento for more than 3 years and divided people across the state. During this time, real solutions from more reasonable minds could have been pursued and approved.
We urge that legislators in 2020 ask: “How can the State of California help lagging areas — not threaten them? How can the wealthy State of California directly fund affordable housing construction or help the cities to directly fund construction of affordable housing?”
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