By Dan Monte
An economist might say California’s housing supply and demand curves are out of whack. What this means is that the private market is not building for the vast majority of us. Folks are telling me on the campaign trail that they are being forced out of their homes with no viable alternatives in their communities. The threat of eviction should not be a fear in the richest state in the union. However, because of legislative missteps and inaction, that is an all too prevalent reality. As a candidate for state Assembly, I pledge to provide all Californians the right to safe and affordable housing, regardless of their income.
Anecdotal evidence aside, recent polling of California and the Bay Area inform us that nearly half of all residents think that our cost of living is so high that they are contemplating leaving. Data show that one-third of renters in California spend half of their income on housing. A quarter of America’s homeless live in California. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California, based on our high cost of living, has the highest rate of poverty in the United States.
This November, California voters have the opportunity to reverse one legislative misstep. In 1995, our state passed the Costa Hawkins Act, which blocked local communities from enacting rent control under the belief that it would increase the supply of housing. Clearly this law has failed. California should vote to overturn the Costa Hawkins Act so that local communities can decide for themselves whether or not they need rent control.
But we need more than just protection for current tenants. Because of our booming economy, California’s population is still growing. Prior to the 2008 recession, we were building over 200,000 housing units annually. We have not yet returned to that level of construction. Providing for development while protecting our environment and our communities is my top priority. Resolving the tension between new development and existing communities requires creativity, cooperation, and forthright leadership.
To address our housing shortage, our Legislature in 2017 considered 130 bills. Most of them have stalled. One misguided bill specifically targeting Marin was forced through, reducing the number of units per acre from 30 to 20, in effect making the land 50 percent more expensive. To prevent sprawl into our open and agricultural spaces, we need to build more densely in our urban corridors, not less so.
Some believe that the solution lies in weakening the California Environmental Quality Act. CEQA mandates citizen participation in the environmental review process. In my experience that participation improves projects. And when citizen input is ignored and CEQA lawsuits follow they sometimes overcome developer and agency collusion. Weakening CEQA leads to environmental degradation, not to more affordable housing.
The real solution to our housing crisis lies in government investment in community-directed housing, not in giving license to the private industry that only builds for the top 20 percent of the market. We need to create a reformed version of the redevelopment agencies that were dissolved in 2012. We need to replace their billions of dollars of annual investment for truly affordable housing.
Finding solutions for our housing crisis requires standing up to lobbyists and special interest money. It requires a clear focus guided by three principles: that housing be truly affordable, that it be environmentally conscious, and that it be locally appropriate.
Now is the time for political courage. Californians should not be living in fear that they will be forced to leave the place they call home.
Dan Monte of San Anselmo will face Assemblyman Marc Levine in the Nov. 6 election. He was offered this space to address an issue of his choice.