Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 17, 2017

Angela Hockabout: Our House in the Middle of the Street, part 1 of 2

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

Lauren has been kind enough to lend me her platform today and it should be no surprise to you that I’m going to use it to discuss housing. It will also not surprise you that I will be blunt about it.

A Fubar Housing Market

Our housing market is f*cked up beyond all recognition. There’s an acronym for that. It’s FUBAR. If you don’t like FUBAR, you can call it BUBAR, broken up beyond all recognition. Personally, I believe the F word more accurately states our crisis level of housing shortage in California.

A FUBAR housing market looks like this:

  1. People paying more than 30% of their incomes on rents or mortgages.
  2. People are unable to afford to move close to where they work even if they’re working 40+ hours a week. They have to drive long distances to and from work.
  3. People are unable to sell their homes because there isn’t enough inventory to downsize or move elsewhere within our region.
  4.  The homeless population is growing rapidly 
  5. Folks with median incomes are unable to afford local housing
  6. Housing prices are so high that folks can’t move out of the rental market to become homeowners.
  7. Lower income folks are moving to more affordable areas, meaning that there are fewer available employees for lower income, yet valuable jobs to ensure that our society functions well.
  8. Families are living in substandard housing for their family size.
  9. Folks are unable to change their housing based on their family’s needs, unless they move out of the area.
  10. Local small businesses are folding because folks are paying such high housing costs and have little to no disposable income to support local small businesses.
  11. Renters are clamoring for rent control because housing costs are going up so high and there are no alternatives to their existing housing.

Sound familiar?

For facts and figures that speak to those assertions you can read the California State Housing Assessment. It’s a fascinating read, especially when you realize that we have built less than 50% of our housing need for the last ten years. You can argue that there are other causes to the shortage, and there are, but you can’t ignore that building must be part of the solution.

You can also read the California Legislative Analyst’s reports:

California’s High Housing Costs
Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians
Do Communities Adequately Plan for Housing?

You can also check out the McKinsey Report on Closing the Housing Gap.

A Functional Housing Market

By extrapolating the opposite of a broken housing market here’s what a functional housing market looks like:

  1. The majority of the population is paying less than 30% of their incomes on rent/mortgages.
  2. People are able to move closer to where they work, spending less time commuting and more time with their families. They can bike, ride transit and walk to work and shopping centers.
  3. People are able to sell their homes and then move to homes that fit their family sizes and location needs.
  4. The homeless population has access temporary housing that fits their needs and allows them to receive wraparound services that allows them to live in the way that they see fit. Then they can move on to low income housing that they can move into when they get back on their feet, or live in permanent supportive housing.
  5. People have multiple housing options at a variety of price points.
  6. There is so much housing available that folks are able to stay in the region instead of fleeing to lower cost areas out of state and our state is able to retain low income workers.
  7. Our local businesses are able to hire employees at every economic level who live in the city where they work, or within 15 minutes commute distance via bus/bike/transit.
  8.  Families live in homes appropriate to their needs.
  9. Folks can move within 3 months to new housing that suits their changing needs.
  10. Folks are spending significantly less on housing costs to the point where they have some disposable in

Which of these housing markets looks more democratic to you?

A housing market with choices only for the very rich is not a fair market.

A housing market where working families have to live in RVs, tents and cars is not a fair market.

Restrictive housing policies (like say Measure A), do not create fair housing markets.

The Have Housing and The Have Not

When one uses their housing privilege to prevent housing from being built they are condemning others to poverty and suffering by way of high housing prices. Housing privilege is when someone has stable housing costs that will not change. Examples of this include a house that is already paid for, or low property taxes. In some areas this can even mean a traditional rent controlled apartment. Because these folks have stable housing and don’t have to worry about being displaced they have time to worry about things like traffic, or what new buildings will look like, or whether a new building might take away their beloved view. They even have the time to go to city council and planning board to promote these anti-housing points of view that their concerns are more important than ensuring that our local population has proper housing.

Most folks with stable housing don’t realize that their desire to keep a neighborhood the same since 1952 has significant impacts on everyone who does not have stable housing. When we “preserve” neighborhood character, what we’re really saying is that we don’t want working people to live there. When we refuse to build the tall dense housing that workers can afford, we facilitate exclusionary housing policy that is classist and racist. You can read all about that here.

Economically and socially vulnerable people in our cities are the ones who suffer the most in the housing shortage. They are people who don’t have family to rely on, do not have savings to back up on when rents go up, or they lose a source of income. The most vulnerable have these issues and might have mental illness or another disability that prevents them from finding affordable housing. Our society has an obligation to make sure that everyone has stable housing, especially for folks with the fewest resources.

Who are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable? Children. We have homeless children who live in our district. I was shocked when I realized that there are ten children from four families at my children’s school that are homeless, according to the school administrators. Those class pictures you see? In ten class photos in my kid’s yearbook there’s one smiling kid there who is facing some of the biggest challenges that you would never want your own children to experience.

Curious about how our homeless numbers look for children across the school district, I reached out to Susan Davis at AUSD. These are the numbers over the past five years. You’ll note that the numbers dipped, but it’s my understanding that a transitional homeless shelter closed, which isn’t to say that those children found homes. The disturbing number for me is once we saw that dip, that the number of homeless children rose by 18 children from 2015-16 to 2016-2017. That means that there are 18 more children who are living in compromised housing circumstances -without a transitional emergency shelter. Look at last school year’s number -112 children in our school district who qualify under McKinney-Vento  to attend our schools. You qualify for McKinney-Vento if you life with the following conditions:

  • In a shelter (family, domestic violence, or youth shelter or transitional living program)
  • In a motel, hotel or weekly rate housing
  • In a house or apartment with more than one family because of economic hardship or loss
  • In an abandoned building, in car, at a campground, or on the street
  • In temporary foster care or with an adult who is not your parent or guardian
  • In substandard housing (without electricity, water, or heat)
  • With friends or family because you are a runaway or an unaccompanied youth

That’s 112 children who have unstable housing. You can read here from the Urban Institute the repercussions of unstable housing conditions on academic achievement.

Homeless children served by Alameda Unified School District

2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
134 158 136 150 94 112

Some people say that taller buildings ruin their “small town Alameda”. The idea that we have so few resources for homeless families with children ruin small town Alameda for me. We are a compassionate people. We should be able to find solutions to ensure that homeless children have opportunities to have stable homes with their families intact. Their futures depend on it and it’s something I think about daily as I fight for more housing for everyone. It’s one of the reasons that I’m so blunt and unapologetic about the need for housing.

If you want to support low income and homeless children in our school district, please consider donating to Alameda Education Foundation’s backpack drive.

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15 Comments »

  1. According to David Brooks, in his regular column in the New York Times dated July 11, 2017, not only long-time residents support policies to maintain their “privileged status” at the expense of those not so privileged, but so do the “college-educated class.” He sites exclusive residential zoning as the tool the privileged use most often to maintain their status and that of their children. Such restrictions have limited economic growth and generated much of the economic despair that throughout history has emboldened citizens to reach out to demagogues and despots for quick answers.

    Excerpt from Mr. Brook’s column about how the college-educated are ruining America
    New York Times, July 11, 2017
    ============================================================

    It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the
    same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the
    Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing
    some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

    The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people
    tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing
    and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with
    good schools and good job opportunities.

    These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research
    by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions
    in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50
    percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening
    inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities
    became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods
    would be cut in half.

    Comment by William (Bill) Smith — July 17, 2017 @ 7:22 am

  2. Angela- thank for advocating for an important group without a voice-homeless children. I agree that the taxpayers should subsidize their housing needs, although it seemed you want a “tall building” to house them. What I wonder about is whether long term trends are taken into account when determining housing needs? The US Department of Housing and Urban Development stated in April 2017:

    “HUD says a family of four in San Francisco or San Mateo County with an income of $105,350 is now considered “low income.” For Alameda and Contra Costa County, $80,400 is considered low income.” By comparison, the $80,400 “low-income” salary is higher than the median teachers salary in the AUSD and there are no prospects for a raise despite a state wide teacher shortage.

    What you describe as FUBAR is the new normal, and is only getting worse. More than half of low income jobs will be replaced by automation within the next ten years, so for both the short and long term the prospects for the working poor are not good in the Bay Area. The grim “future” has arrived.

    Comment by Nowyouknow — July 17, 2017 @ 7:35 am

  3. What I want is enough density to provide enough market rate opportunities for everyone. Density doesn’t have to be super tall all the time. If our infrastructure can accommodate 6 stories, I think that’s a great place to start -especially when we understand that much of our island will not go that tall. I’m willing to adjust to new buildings if it means that more people will get access to a larger housing inventory and will encourage folks to stop driving and use public transit.

    Comment by Angela — July 17, 2017 @ 7:44 am

  4. While you’re here, enjoy the NY Times description of our severe housing shortage: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/california-housing-crisis.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&referer=

    Comment by Angela — July 17, 2017 @ 7:47 am

  5. And also enjoy Canada’s solution and what the commoners think about it..

    The bureaucrats

    And the others:

    Comment by jack — July 17, 2017 @ 8:48 am

  6. Jack-interesting video interview with the SF investor- by failing to properly vett money coming in from overseas and ignoring the $50,000 maximum, the Obama administration allowed Chinese criminal money to be laundered by investing it in the housing market and funneling it to elected officials in Oregon and California thereby raising housing costs….

    Comment by Nowyouknow — July 17, 2017 @ 9:11 am

    • Wonder what Brooklyn Basin will be like. Thriving community or money laundering ghost town? Talk about no public transportation! All those cars will be using the same freeway and access as us Alamedans.

      Comment by Retiredteacher — July 18, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

  7. Good post!

    Comment by BC — July 17, 2017 @ 10:54 am

  8. The writer clamors for more supply, yet also worked very hard to pass rent control, which is well known to reduce supply and increase rents for new residents.

    Comment by dave — July 17, 2017 @ 11:19 am

    • And yet there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of investment to build–it’s the difficulty to getting stuff approved that is the constraint.

      Comment by BC — July 17, 2017 @ 11:45 am

      • There will still be much pressure to build owner occupied housing, to the extent our limited land allows, but the jury is very much out on more rental housing. New rentals wouldn’t be subject to rent control per Costa Hawkins (I *think* that is so, please correct me if I’m wrong) but eviction restrictions and the ransom payments upon lease termination will cool the new building rush somewhat. There is also quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that pre 1995 rentals are being removed from the market and sold to owner-occupiers. There is a distinct likelihood that rental inventory will shrink for the foreseeable future.

        Comment by dave — July 17, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

  9. There is an interesting article on page 2 of the Wall Street Journal showing the correlation between the difficulty of getting a permit to build and cost of housing. It is interesting that all of the places that are difficult to build are Democratic enclaves

    Comment by Ed Hirshberg — July 17, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    • Not Democratic, Democrat. Democrats aren’t democratic.

      Comment by jack — July 17, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

      • They call themselves the Democratic Party and consider democrat to be a slur. I try to avoid insulting anyone as that does not help to persuade them.

        Comment by Ed Hirshberg — July 17, 2017 @ 7:18 pm

        • Why, they don’t mind insulting you? And if you think you’re going to persuade them of anything contrary to the national thinkspeak you’re smoking the wrong stuff.

          Comment by jack — July 17, 2017 @ 8:28 pm


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