Monday, March 4, 2019




          It turns out Gov. Gavin Newsom was deadly serious when he insisted as a candidate last year that California needs to build 3.5 million new housing units each year for the next ten in order to solve its affordable housing crisis. That’s a total of 3.5 million, more than double what builders around the state have put up in any of the last few decades.

          Newsome resent that message a few weeks into his new job, when he successfully urged Attorney General Xavier Becerra to sue the Orange County city of Huntington Beach for allegedly failing to allow enough new housing to handle its population growth.

          With about 202,000 residents, the median home value in “Surf City” tops $830,000, according to the website Typical one-bedroom apartments there rent for between $1,500 and $2,700 per month. For those rents to eat up less than 30 percent of a tenant’s income, the renter must earn more than $60,000 per year, making many tenants “rent-burdened” by federal standards.

          The state lawsuit charges Huntington Beach has for years ignored a state law requiring cities to zone land for new housing construction. Meanwhile, many city residents feel Huntington Beach is growing too fast.

          So the Newsom/Becerra lawsuit is likely just the first salvo in a state vs. local conflict over the governor’s preferred way of solving the housing problem.

          But even if cities like Huntington Beach can be forced to allow the millions of “affordable” units Newsom and some activist state legislators want, it’s highly questionable they can solve the most visible part of California’s housing crunch – homelessness.

          Yes, cities have built thousands of transitional housing units (generally small apartments) for formerly homeless persons, who pay low, federally subsidized rent. But that hasn’t reduced homelessness.

          “Every time we build new units and move people in, at least the same number of homeless people move into whatever cities do the building,” said the city manager of a city of more than 100,000, who previously was the top administrator of two other cities. “With our climate and our policies, we are attracting homeless people from all over America.”

          Then there’s the question of affordability. Anyone who’s visited a homeless shelter like those in gymnasiums and National Guard armories on cold winter nights will know that not many of their occupants could afford even low rent.

          So while affordable housing in most cities is set up to remain relatively low-priced a long as it stands, well below market rates, the rents or costs to buy are still above what most homeless folks can pay. Especially the large component of the homeless who are mentally ill, but not institutionalized, largely because of policies that began almost 50 years ago, when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan spurred the shutdown of several public mental hospitals, intending to replace them with community-based housing.

          Such housing never materialized in significant quantities, and mentally ill homeless became a California staple.

          Meanwhile, rents on affordable apartments generally run about 30 percent of the median income in any region. Under those terms, an affordable unit in the Los Angeles region would rent for about $1,350 per month, more in the San Francisco Bay area.

          Not exactly affordable if you’re unemployed, mentally ill and living on the streets.

          So it’s naïve to believe affordable housing or the governor’s new initiative can solve the homeless problem.

          And there’s still the problem of housing being too expensive for even middle-class workers to buy. So the percentage of renters in California continues to rise, meaning that ever fewer residents feel rooted in the state, with a stake in its future.

          All this makes some wonder if it’s sensible to invest heavily in affordable housing. In 2017, the average affordable unit in the state cost $425,000 to build if it was part of a project of 100 units or more. The cost was higher when fewer units were involved.

          This picture leaves many questions to be answered before the state goes full blast on a government-funded or government-mandated home building spree. But don’t expect anything to dampen Newsom’s deeply felt drive to solve the housing issue, and quickly.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

1 comment:

  1. The noses of the state elected officials are growing longer and longer. If a county is on the special HCD list, little low income housing is required. On the HCD "bad" list - cites are told to up-zone more and more land in the city. HCD, doesn't see a housing crisis and didn't see a housing crisis when they divided up the number of housing units (mostly apartments for low income) among the counties or COGs for the 5th cycle housing element (2013-2021). All this news about affordable housing without notice of how many cities are removed from building the low income housing.

    Los Angeles County received a housing quota that was 100,000 housing units less than the previous 8 year 4th cycle. Orange County also had a lower housing quota. The residents of California have been manipulated by the politicians and the building industry that donate money to the political campaigns.

    Check out the RHNA numbers for the regional SCAG agency. Cities such as Malibu, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Hermosa Beach, and Compton are only required to up-zone for 2 low income restricted houses. Huntington Beach was told they had to up-zone for 533 low income houses. The "law" according to HCD is that cities must up-zone property to higher density, that is 30 housing units per acre. The theory is that the increased density would mean apartments buildings and a few apartments in the building could be low income while the rest would be market rate. There's no consideration of gridlock, overcrowding of schools, etc. in the thinking of the legislature that passes these bills.

    Get rid of the state housing elements and rescind the housing law.