Distributive policy

A New Approach to Politics and Housing Policy in California – Daily Bulletin

Earlier this spring, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration set a goal to build 2.5 million homes by 2030, recognizing the need to dramatically expand supply – including affordable housing – to make in the face of the state’s housing crisis. That same week, Bay Area landlords filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the eviction moratorium in Oakland and Alameda County.

A month earlier, the affluent suburb of Woodside on the peninsula had argued that its status as “mountain lion habitat” outweighed its responsibility to provide its fair share of affordable housing. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County now has nearly 70,000 homeless residents and has the fewest homes per adult of any region in the country.

Housing policy in the state seems to be caught in a vicious circle. In poor and working-class communities, supply-side solutions raise concerns about gentrification, displacement and local control, while in affluent neighborhoods, landlords with a not-in-my-backyard policy dominate the conversation. Meanwhile, solutions centered on tenants’ rights or increased subsidies raise concerns about public spending, property rights and their moderating effects on production. This begs the question: are we solving the housing crisis with stronger protections and subsidies for the state’s most vulnerable residents, or are we building our way out, creating millions of homes to meet growing demand ?

The answer, according to interviews with dozens of housing experts from across the state, is both. We have heard, time and time again, that any future that does not include true social equity and an abundance of housing is indeed a bleak future.

We agree.

If you were to pay attention only to polemical social media chatter or public hearings for local development proposals, you could be forgiven for believing that everyone falls into one of two camps: pro-housing or pro- tenant. If you support building more housing — especially market-priced, mixed-income housing — then you’re anti-renter, and if you support stronger protections for renters, you’re anti-housing. But the reality is that most Californians support both of these efforts: the goals of building more homes and supporting renters (and other vulnerable people) are not only compatible, they are interconnected.

If housing production increases without emphasizing everyone’s right to a safe and dignified home, California will fail its most vulnerable residents and ultimately undermine its economic strength as well as its moral standing. But if we focus on social equity alone, ignoring production, then scarcity will persist and the cost of housing assistance will become even more prohibitive fiscally. A third possibility is a worst-of-both-worlds scenario: the state fails to build enough new housing and fails to address issues of displacement, housing insecurity and homelessness. According to most of our experts, this is our current trajectory, despite recent efforts to change course.

California must reject a binary framing of housing abundance versus social equity, and instead work toward a future where both goals take precedence. The future depends on building more accessible and affordable housing for people of all backgrounds and abilities. The realization of housing as a human right requires construction as well as equity. It requires attention to both quantity and distribution of housing. Attention also needs to be paid to where these homes are built, to address both climate change and fair housing goals.

What would success look like? That would mean meeting or exceeding Governor Newsom’s goal of building 2.5 million homes by 2030 and investing significantly more in tenant assistance, homeless services and building subsidized housing. It would also mean directing a disproportionate share of these homes to historically exclusive and high-opportunity cities, especially those on the coast.

This would require stronger protections for tenants, including reform of the Ellis Act and a legal right to counsel for those facing eviction. And that would require innovation in both the public and private sectors, from more efficient and sustainable building technologies to new models of community ownership and financing.

Despite significant progress in recent years, evident in everything from zoning reform legislation to capping statewide rent increases, we are not yet on track to improve the affordability of the housing, reduce homelessness and housing instability, or respond adequately to the threat of climate change.

California housing experts agree: We need a “yes and” approach to housing — yes to more homes and yes to a social equity agenda. These solutions are popular and bundled together, they form a vision of the future – a vision of safety, fairness, sustainability and choice – that Californians are ready to embrace.

It’s an idealistic but achievable vision, and California deserves nothing less.

Shane Phillips is the Housing Initiative Project Manager at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. Carolina Reid is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Research Advisor for the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. Dana Cuff is the director of cityLAB UCLA. All three were part of the team that wrote the California 100’s Future of Housing and Community Development Policy and Future Scenarios Report.