California Housing

A good article from New Geography about the expense of buying a home in California.

An excerpt.

Important attention has been drawn to the shameful condition of middle income housing affordability in California. The state that had earlier earned its own “California Dream” label now limits the dream of homeownership principally to people either fortunate enough to have purchased their homes years ago and to the more affluent. Many middle income residents may have to face the choice of renting permanently or moving away.

However, finally, an important organ of the state has now called attention to the housing affordability problem. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has published “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences,” which provides a compelling overview of how California’s housing costs have risen to be by far the most unaffordable in the nation. It also sets out the serious consequences.

The LAO says that:

Today, an average California home costs $440,000, about two-and-a-half times the average national home price ($180,000). Also, California’s average monthly rent is about $1,240, 50 percent higher than the rest of the country ($840 per month).
LAO describes the evolution:

Beginning in about 1970, however, the gap between California’s home prices and those in the rest country started to widen. Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher. This trend has continued.

Much of the LAO focus is on California’s coastal counties, where:

….community resistance to housing, environmental policies, lack of fiscal incentives for local governments to approve housing, and limited land constrains new housing construction.

These causes result from conscious political decisions. While California’s coastal counties do not have the vast stretches of flat, appropriately developable land that existed 50 years ago, building is increasingly prohibited on that which remains (for example, Ventura County, northern Los Angeles county and the southern San Jose metropolitan area).

Demonstrating an understanding of economic basics not generally shared by California policymakers or the urban planning community, LAO squarely places the blame on the public policy limits to new housing construction:

This competition bids up home prices and rents.

In other words, where the supply of a demanded good is limited, prices can be expected to rise, other things being equal. LAO describes the impact of so-called “growth control” policies, which are also called “urban containment” or “smart growth:”

Many Coastal Communities Have Growth Controls. Over two-thirds of cities and counties in California’s coastal metros have adopted policies (known as growth controls) explicitly aimed at limiting housing growth. Many policies directly limit growth—for example, by capping the number of new homes that may be built in a given year or limiting building heights and densities. Other policies indirectly limit growth—for example, by requiring a supermajority of local boards to approve housing projects. Research has found that these policies have been effective at limiting growth and consequently increasing housing costs.

According to LAO, the problem is exacerbated by voter initiatives: “More often than not, voters in California’s coastal communities vote to limit housing development when given the option.” It is hard to imagine a more sinister disincentive to aspiration, under which voters can deny equality of opportunity in housing to others by artificially driving up the price. Because new housing further from coast is also limited, options for a middle income living standard are also diminished.

Retrieved March 24, 2015 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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