In California, “there is this debate between market dynamics and the need to invest in some sort of subsidized housing,” said Matt Schwartz, president and CEO of the California Housing Partnership, a San Francisco-based nonprofit created by the legislature in 1988.
Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., last year passed a variety of legislation that addresses the housing affordability problem, from tax credits for developers to rental assistance and eviction protections for residents, said Sarah Scherer, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonprofit with offices in Denver and D.C. California, Washington and Hawaii passed the most laws.
This year, legislators in eight states pre-filed housing bills before their sessions began, Scherer said.
Both Democratic and Republican governors are calling for affordable housing fixes. In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu backs a pair of bills — filed by a bipartisan group of young lawmakers — that would offer localities more planning assistance and tax incentives and require planning and zoning boards to streamline building approvals.
“It really is an issue that affects everyone, but especially young people,” said Republican state Rep. Joe Alexander, who’s sponsoring one of the housing bills.
Among the diverse efforts, state zoning proposals have become a hot topic, said Flora Arabo, national senior director of state and local policy at Enterprise Community Partners, a housing nonprofit based in Columbia, Maryland. “I’ve only seen the conversation increasing.”
In addition to Wiener’s bill in California, Democrats have put forward legislation that would allow the construction of accessory dwelling units — also known as granny flats — or duplexes and townhomes on single-family plots in Virginia, Maryland and Nebraska.
Oregon last year became the first state to require most cities to allow duplexes on single-family properties, and larger cities to allow townhouses, triplexes and fourplexes.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, filed legislation that would let cities and towns make zoning changes by a simple majority vote.
“It’s market economics,” said Democratic Virginia state Del. Ibraheem Samirah, of his proposals to allow accessory dwelling units and duplexes on all single-family plots. “It’s a zero-cost solution.”
A Georgia bill would copy North Carolina and Arkansas and ban cities from requiring most one- or two-family homes to have a particular aesthetic, such as a certain number of windows. Supporters of the bill argue that such requirements violate private property rights and can raise development costs.
“I don’t want the government to tell me what color my house has to be,” said Georgia state Rep. Vance Smith, the bill’s Republican sponsor.
Wiener said his bill would increase the supply of both market-rate and affordable housing, and he recently announced amendments that would give cities more control over how they increase density.
But his critics aren’t satisfied. When Wiener held a news conference in Oakland this month to tout his Senate Bill 50, he was shouted down by members of an anti-homelessness group called Moms for Housing, who in an online statement argued that the bill would benefit “real estate speculators.”
Americans struggle to find affordable rental housing nationwide — not just in expensive, coastal cities. “Everybody’s feeling the pinch,” said Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Nearly half of U.S. renters spend more than a third of their earnings on housing, according to the center, down 3 percentage points from 2011. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counts people who spend that much on housing as “cost-burdened.”
However, the share of cost-burdened middle-class renters increased and the share among very-low-income renters stayed the same.
Inexpensive units — $800 or less a month — are disappearing, the center found. At least half of the low-cost units in metro areas such as Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon, have gone since 2011. Most new housing these days is built for the high end of the market, the center found.
Fewer people are experiencing homelessness today than in 2011, but the number has ticked back up in recent years. Since 2015, the homeless population jumped by double-digit percentages in five Western states, led by California at 30%, according to HUD.
Housing experts say many factors are to blame for housing price increases. Land, labor and material costs have gone up in many jurisdictions. Developers have been slow to embrace cheaper production technologies, such as factory-built modular homes.
Local regulations and planning bureaucracy can restrict what can be built and slow projects down. City and state development fees and requirements add to building costs.
And as housing prices have risen, many people’s earnings haven’t kept pace. “Increasing rents alone are not problematic, if wages can keep up,” said Arabo, of Enterprise Community Partners. “They just haven’t.”
Meanwhile, inadequate congressional funding means only a quarter of very-low-income people get the federal housing vouchers they are eligible for.
The federal government stopped paying for new public housing decades ago, leaving cities and states to piece together money to subsidize units.
A Market-Based Solution
Housing affordability is particularly pressing in California, which is home to 12% of U.S. residents but, according to HUD, 27% of the nation’s homeless people.
Homebuilders and real estate agents there have championed efforts to roll back zoning regulations, such as Wiener’s plan to override single-family zoning rules near public transit and job centers.
In California, it can take 20 years to complete a development that in Texas would take a year or less, said Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based California Building Industry Association. Local fees can increase the price of a California home by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s cheaper to build three units as a triplex than it is to build three separate single-family houses,” Dunmoyer said. “You get some economies of scale.”
Cities, however, oppose bills that would take away local control. “We obviously have serious concerns about allowing developers to dictate land-use policy in our jurisdictions,” said Jason Rhine, assistant legislative director for the League of California Cities, a Sacramento-based association.
The league opposes Senate Bill 50 and expects California lawmakers to put forward new bills this year that would override local rules, such as by allowing the construction of accessory dwelling units.
“I don’t know where we’re going to end up on those,” Rhine said, “but that’s certainly been a hot topic among cities.”
The league supports a bill that would give cities money for affordable housing and other development projects. But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last year vetoed a prior version, saying that a program costing $2 billion a year should be part of budget negotiations.
Zoning changes put a much smaller dent in the state budget. Legislative analysts projected it would cost about $325,000 to administer Senate Bill 50.
Some affordable housing advocates worry that increasing the overall housing supply will accelerate gentrification and fail to create more homes for low-income people.
“We’re really interested in legislation that specifically targets families that are struggling the most,” said David Zisser, associate director of Housing California, a Sacramento-based group advocating for people who are homeless or in need of affordable housing.
California lawmakers have introduced so many housing bills that they may end up passing a package that addresses land-use policy and money for affordable housing, he said. “We need both.”
Existing state law may prod city leaders to make zoning changes anyway, Rhine said.
That’s because California law requires cities to plan to house all residents and update their plans every eight years. Some cities are seeing big increases in housing need this planning cycle, Rhine said. “Our cities are going to have to increase allowable densities, in all likelihood, in order to address those numbers.”
Some governors this year have proposed big spending increases for affordable housing and combating homelessness. Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has called for investing $276 million in affordable housing. Newsom in California has proposed spending $1 billion to address homelessness.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, wants to build 17,000 affordable rental units. And Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has recommended spending $387 million to fully fund the state’s affordable housing programs.
Yet some activists say the federal government needs to step in. “I don’t see the states and the cities replacing the loss of federal funding,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a San Francisco-based group that advocates for homeless people.
Boden said he’s weary of state and local programs that fall short of building enough subsidized housing. That’s why he’s backing a long-shot proposal from U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, to spend $800 billion on 8.5 million new units of public housing.
“Let’s get freaking real,” Boden said, “let’s pass Omar’s bill.”
–Sophie Quinton, Stateline
CB from PC says
Go to Baltimore if you want to see the “face of public housing” and all the problems attached to it.
Or better yet, visit any metropolitan area and you will see the same failure.
Using tax dollars for these crappy project complexes solves nothing unless there is a defined path to home ownership.
Like it or not, most people want a single family home with a yard, especially if they have kids.
Hopefully, the new UNF complex being proposed is required to train a substantial percentage of those who will be living in the public housing, section 8 apartments currently being built.
Employment after graduation will permit this opportunity to move into their own homes.
This is a perfect opportunity for the PC politicians to show their colors.
Well, I can dream.
Michael Schottey says
This article has nothing to do with “public housing” or “Section 8” and you’re showing your true colors by being wholly unable to talk about anything other than a “1/4 acre, 3bed/2bath, 2 car garage” as anything other than a lesser form of housing for (what you clearly believe is) a lesser form of Palm Coast resident.
No, like it or not, most people in this country DON’T want a single family home with a yard. A generation or two ago? Yeah, that was true. It no longer is. Don’t believe me? Head to Netflix, you don’t see “Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous” anywhere. Instead, you see “Tiny Home Revolution” and about a dozen shows out there like it.
Creating (even supporting) a diverse array of housing inventory is not, in any way, a government handout to anyone. It’s letting the market decide to provide for what people would like to buy.
I find it difficult to believe that young families with children don’t want to live in their own house with a yard ..
I’ve also been around the Tiny House movement for 10 years . I built my first 1/1 in the late 80’s, a little larger than the current tiny House on Wheels trend, but smaller than the average ..
When Jay Shafer built his THoW to escape the minimum housing code, and his being featured on Oprah really blossomed the nationwide/worldwide TH Movement .. (Actually Tiny/Small housing has been available all thru history)
Since then all sort of ideas have been presented as reasons for “the movement” ..
IF you really want to: ” … letting the market decide to provide for what people would like to buy.”
Then STOP the governmental subsidized housing projects … NO new units of public housing.
Michael Schottey says
Young families want an economy and quality of life that doesn’t force their children to leave at 18 and never come back.
Continuing to build the exact same kind of housing inventory that’s already overpriced due to a bubble isn’t building the kind of economy and community we need.
Also, again…zoning for a diverse array of housing types has NOTHING to do with government housing and its irresponsible to keep bringing it up.
Hopefully our Florida legislators read this. It’s been well documented that the proliferation of short-term rentals removes housing inventory and drives up prices. So, a start would be to ensure SB 1128 and HB 1101 do not pass. This legislation would allow all homes to become short-term rentals, driving out residents, reducing inventory, and driving up housing prices.
And, building more affordable housing/multi-unit housing in our Town Center is one example of a perfect location. This should develop into a desirable location that is walkable to restaurants and the theater, is close to 95 and Route 100, and homes, condos, and apartments should be affordable for those who want to live and work in Palm Coast.
Look at Sedona. It was reported by ABC 15 News on 1/10/2020 that now fully 30% of Sedona’s housing is short-term rentals. Is that what we want?
So, defeating these bills would be a good start. Contact Senator Hutson and Representative Renner – our local representatives, and let them know how you feel about investors taking away affordable housing.
Well folks are trying to live on 1970s inflation adjusted wages . No wonder Families cant afford Housing. Raise the minimum and pay people more money to work. Largest Wealth gap since the 70s. Its not rocket Science Smh
Curious Georgia says
Nothing is affordable. We are headed for another housing bubble of we keep approving zero down loans. Soon as the next president is in office the housing market will tank. All around us are rentals now. Who owns???
Name (required) says
Leave Florida like it’s a plague, Its a mere amalgamation of the worst things (and people) that life has to offer. Hurry. Run! Go home. It’s not worth the 18 days a year of fair weather. It in this area, definitely.
The people who cry about housing prices and rent being so high are mostly the unskilled and uneducated in low paying jobs. Look in the mirror, you will see who is the one to blame.
Michael Schottey says
Yeah, no…that’s not only a cruel way to think, but it’s wholly untrue.
You know who else needs homes for less thank 200K or rent for under $1,500/month…single moms, nurses, military families, firefighters and police officers, teachers, or…you know…literally anyone under the age of 50 who realizes that they spend 60 hours a week working and then 20+ hours running errands/kids to sports/etc and don’t want to spend the vast majority of their income on a place they never spend time in.
Not everyone who is different from you is less than you.