Los Angeles Times: California lawmakers have tried for 50 years to fix the state's housing crisis. Here's why they've failed
fter an hour of debate, Herb Perez had had enough.
Perez, a councilman in the Bay Area suburb of Foster City, was tired of planning for the construction of new homes to comply with a 50-year-old state law designed to help all Californians live affordably.
Everyone knows, Perez told the crowd at a 2015 City Council meeting, that the law is a failure. It requires cities and counties to develop plans every eight years for new home building in their communities. After more than a year of work and spending nearly $50,000, Foster City had an 87-page housing plan that proposed hundreds of new homes, mapped where they would go and detailed the many ways the city could help make the construction happen. But a crucial element was missing: Foster City was never going to approve all the building called for in the voluminous proposal, Perez said.
“What I’m seeing here is an elaborate shell game,” Perez said. “Because we’re kind of lying. It’s the only word I can come up with. We have no intention of actually building the units.”
Perez’s prediction came true. Despite soaring demand for housing in the Bay Area, the city hasn’t approved any new development projects in more than five years.
Foster City’s experience is shared by governments across California: The law requires cities and counties to produce prodigious reports to plan for housing — but it doesn’t hold them accountable for any resulting home building.
The law, passed in 1967, is the state’s primary tool to encourage housing development and address a statewide shortage of homes that drives California’s affordability problems.
Now, a bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would, for the first time, force cities and counties that have fallen behind on their housing goals to take steps to eliminate some of the hurdles they put in front of development, such as multiple planning reviews for individual projects. Wiener’s legislation passed the state Senate this month and is awaiting a vote in the Assembly as part of a package of bills aimed at addressing the state’s housing problems.
“The system is so broken,” Wiener said. “It gives the public a false sense that a step has been taken toward having more housing when in fact it’s just an illusion.”
One of the main criticisms of the law is that it hasn’t spurred enough new home building. Fewer than half of the 1.5 million new homes the law said developers would need to build over eight years leading up to 2014 — the law’s most recent reporting period — were built.
In addition, state officials don’t know if cities and counties have met their housing goals. Local governments are supposed to give the state information on home building each year, but many don’t. As a result, there is no reliable measure of how many houses are being built in California for low-, middle- and upper-income residents.
State lawmakers have known about the law’s weaknesses for decades but haven’t fixed them. They have added dozens of new planning requirements to the process but have not provided any incentive, such as a greater share of tax dollars, for local governments to meet their housing goals.
“The law has been completely ineffective at addressing the issue of housing affordability,” said Paavo Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning at UCLA. “If anything, it’s a waste of people’s time.”
Read the story in its entirety on the Los Angeles Times website.