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Walters: Poll Underscores California's Housing Crisis
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By Dan Walters, CalMatters Commentary
Published 5 years ago on
March 28, 2019

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Two months ago, when the Public Policy Institute of California asked the state’s residents to name the top issues that newly inaugurated Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature should address, immigration was No. 1.

Opinion

Dan Walters
CALmatters Commentary

“Housing affordability is considered a problem in every major region today, and this is causing many Californians to think seriously about moving out of the state.” — Mark Baldassare, president of PPIC

Jobs and environmental issues followed, with “homelessness” a distant fourth, cited by just 6 percent of those surveyed.

PPIC released its latest poll late Wednesday and it found that housing affordability had zoomed to the top of the public’s consciousness – so much so, in fact, that nearly half of adults and voters say the cost of housing makes them seriously consider moving, even if it means leaving the state.

Residents of Los Angeles are the most likely Californians thinking about pulling up stakes – not surprisingly because the mismatch between incomes and housing costs is the most acute in that community. Largely due to housing costs, Los Angeles County has the state’s highest level of poverty.

“Housing affordability is considered a problem in every major region today, and this is causing many Californians to think seriously about moving out of the state,” Mark Baldassare, president of PPIC, said in a statement accompanying the release of the organization’s latest survey.

Threatening to Withhold Transportation Funds

The poll found that most Californians support Newsom’s plan to spend $1.8 billion to increase housing production, which is not surprising, given the depth of concern about the issue, even though it’s no more than a drop in the housing bucket.

“If you don’t reach the goals we’re going to take (transportation) money from you.”Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened while presenting his proposed 2019-20 budget

PPIC, however, did not test sentiment on the more far-reaching Newsom proposal to spur housing construction – giving regions tighter quotas for zoning enough land for new housing and threatening to withhold transportation funds from localities that fail to meet the goals.

“If you don’t reach the goals we’re going to take (transportation) money from you,” Newsom threatened while presenting his proposed 2019-20 budget.

The threat drew sharp opposition not only from local government officials but legislators from Newsom’s own party, saying he would be wrong to use funds from the state’s new gas tax as a club for more housing. He then backed down a bit, postponing any threat of losing gas tax money until sometime next decade.

The PPIC poll does, however, serve as a warning to Newsom and legislators that they must do some serious policymaking about a crisis so serious that it might compel Californians to flee from the state.

The state should be building 200,000 units of new housing a year, but it is struggling to create half of that number.

California Already Loses More People to Other States Than It Gains

While having enough land zoned for housing is one factor in raising production, there are several others, including local red tape and building fees and even finding enough carpenters and other workers.

Still another factor is the threat in the Legislature to change a state law that limits local rent control ordinances, which would discourage new rental housing construction.

California already loses more people to other states than it gains – Texas is the No. 1 destination – and housing costs are a major factor in that exodus. A recent nationwide data study found, for instance, that young professionals moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin would see overall living costs cut in half, with comparable housing at least two-thirds less.

Moreover, housing costs are now seen as a major barrier to new job creation in California because employers in high-cost regions cannot lure enough employees.

For all those reasons it should be, as the PPIC poll indicates, at the very top of the political agenda.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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