A few days ago a columnist at Bloomberg posted an op-ed about the two housing affordability issues. One would think that — by now — this is in “no duh” territory, but when you have folks appearing before the City Council affiliated with a group organized around a lack of affordable housing in Alameda asking that voters enact rent control to maintain an artificial level of affordability for a select number of people to say “don’t build housing here”, well, I guess it’s not so obvious.
From the Bloomberg piece:
The first problem is that some coastal metropolitan areas in the U.S. are generating lots of good jobs but aren’t building enough housing to keep up with employment growth. The main barrier to housing construction in these places is local regulation — zoning ordinances, environmental requirements, even affordable-housing rules.
The second housing affordability problem is less geographically limited, and more chronic: Millions of Americans can’t afford even the cheapest housing.
If we built lots of new housing that poor people can’t afford, the thinking goes — and there’s economic evidence to back it up — that will make existing housing cheaper, and some of it will fall into a price range where some households making less than $32,000 a year can afford it. That’s how solving the first affordability problem can help solve the second one.
Some people do get help with the rent. About a quarter of eligible low-income households receive federal housing assistance. Local programs such as rent control and requirements that developers include affordable housing in their projects help others, but I couldn’t find any national numbers on this and doubt that they’re very big. Overall, housing assistance is only for a lucky minority.
If you’re a member of that lucky minority living in a resurgent city such as New York or San Francisco, you may not even be feeling at all lucky. Rising rents mean federal subsidies don’t go as far as they used to, while new development at least potentially threatens existing rent-controlled tenants. That brings us back to problem No. 1 — the local regulations and political forces that keep more housing from being built. Affluent residents who don’t want tall new buildings in the neighborhood probably drive most opposition to development, but low-income tenants worried about getting pushed out may be wary of it as well.
The TL;dr is: it’s really expensive to build housing these days. And housing subsidies are only for a very small portion of people, but even those folks feel the pinch because, for example, a Section 8 voucher doesn’t stretch as far in the Bay Area as it would in Stockton.
A cross section of people in a given community are reluctant to allow housing to be built. On the higher income scale there’s a worry about “character” the the lower end the specter of gentrification looms.
But, doing nothing doesn’t seem to be working either. In Alameda and the Bay Area as a whole, we’ve done the absolute minimum necessary and we have families struggling to stay in their homes.