Who’s really to blame for OC’s Housing Affordability Crisis
This past week, three separate media outlets sought my comment on Orange County’s housing affordability crisis and high-cost of living. The inquiries came on the heels of a host of news stories chronicling sky-high rents, the dismantling of homeless encampments in Anaheim, and the adequacy of wages paid by the county’s largest employers.
These were the questions news folks wanted answered: What is business doing to get more homes built? What is business doing to eliminate poverty? What is business doing to end homelessness?
Let’s get real.
Do we face a growing housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis here in Orange County and throughout California? You bet. Hardworking residents are struggling to make ends meet, and housing costs stand at the center of their paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Orange County Business Council has been arguing this for years and objective data backs it up.
A recent USC Gasden Family Forecast shows the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Orange County at a whopping $1,813 a month. For the typical renter, that’s a number that swipes more than half of their monthly take-home pay.
But the problem isn’t a lack of quality jobs or even skimpy paychecks. The problem is a lot of workers in a strong economy chasing too few available homes or apartments. That drives up housing costs and takes more of their paycheck.
Indeed, OCBC’s own Housing Scorecard reports that Orange County needs 65,000 more homes today to meet the housing needs of the people who already live and work here. But get this: Orange County has added only one new home for every 5.26 residents since 2010. And it’s not just Orange County that’s falling down on the job. Anaheim reportedly approved only eight percent of its low-income housing needs, for example.
The crisis statewide is even more pronounced. A recent report found that more than 500 counties and cities failed to meet their mandated housing goals. So it’s no wonder that California has a housing shortage exceeding 3.5 million homes. That’s what you get when your population has increased every year since 1950, but you’ve failed every year since 1989 to build enough homes to meet the need.
So who’s to blame?
Homebuilders–in an industry that has fueled California’s economy for more than half a century– are as eager as ever to build the American Dream in the Golden State. But here’s the problem: lawmakers, regulators, local governments and anti-development activists—who already own their own home–won’t let them.
Overly restrictive land-use regulations, abuses of California’s environmental laws, local ballot box initiatives that neuter good planning, and city councils that won’t say ‘yes’ are fueling the bottleneck in new-home delivery. Sure, some recent, minor actions were taken by the state legislature to streamline approvals, but ultimately local political leadership controls land use and housing decisions.
The systemic flaws that eat away at the paychecks of Orange County residents and threaten California’s economic prosperity are not caused by business but by the folks you elect to serve you in public office. The role of business is to offer goods and services, and thus create jobs, not to act as a substitute for local government or its elected officials who benefit from the significant tax revenue generated by business.
So here are the questions that need to be asked: What are your elected leaders doing to see that a good supply of affordable housing is built? What are your elected leaders doing to assure the end of homelessness in your community? What are your elected leaders doing to help grow good middle class jobs?
If you don’t like the answers, vote them out.