For months, Sacramento has wrung its hands over California’s affordable housing shortage. Print media has published countless stories about the effect the shortage has on the state’s four in ten that live near or below the poverty line.
A January 19 Mercury News story reported that a new Bay Area price record was set when the median cost of a single-family home in the nine-county region rose to $825,000, up nearly 15 percent from a year earlier. In Santa Clara County, the November median price rose a mind-boggling 26 percent on a year-over-year basis to reach $1.18 million, another record. In Alameda and Contra Costa counties, prices jumped nearly 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Bay area homes that cost less than $500,000 are an endangered species.
In Southland Los Angeles, the low-income housing crisis has forced the most desperate to live on the street in tent cities as hurry-up construction began near dangerous and polluted freeways. Last April, the California Environmental Protection Agency eased its restriction that banned home construction within 500 feet of a freeway. Even though living so close to the traffic-jammed freeway is a health hazard that the state acknowledges may cause cancer and heart disease, California is approving funding for at least ten low-cost senior citizen apartments near major highways.
When asked about the health risks associated with housing older, vulnerable residents next to the freeway, UCLA environmental epidemiologist Beate Ritz, who has studied traffic pollution’s effects for more than two decades, said that the long-term adverse health consequences far outweigh whatever short-term benefits may accrue.
“But it’s kind of stupid, because we all know we will pay for it with long-term health effects. Somebody must pay for the costs of diabetes, of cognitive decline or strokes,” said Ritz. “This is just creating a huge amount of costs for society in the long run.”
The California Association of Realtors estimates that only one-third of households in the state can afford to buy a median-priced home, and a third of renters spend half of their income on housing. The association projects that in 2018, the state’s median home price will increase 4.2 percent to $561,000. The association called the problem “a slow-moving disaster,” an assessment with which the California Legislative Analyst’s Office agreed and provided supportive detail to confirm.
The LAO said that to ease housing pressure, 100,000 new units must be built every year in addition to the 100,000 to 140,000 units that are already expected to be constructed, a total to the equivalent of a Rhode Island every four years.
Understandably, numerous city and independent agency task forces have been assembled to brainstorm about how to alleviate the housing shortage. Not one addresses the root cause. California’s population, now nearly 40 million people and driven mostly by immigration and births to immigrants, has increased to unsustainable levels. The California Department of Finance forecasts that in 2050 the state’s population will hit 50 million, a 25 percent increase from the 2017 level, and five times the size of California in 1950 when the state was home to 10 million people. Obviously, more people means more housing must be built.
Although California’s leadership isn’t on board, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) have introduced a solution. The RAISE Act, formally named Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy, would, over the next decade, halve the current one million annual legal immigrants, cap refugee resettlement at the historic 50,000 annual total, and eliminate the visa lottery. Since California has the country’s largest foreign-born population, 27 percent, RAISE would help the state establish and maintain immigration at rates that would ease the state’s housing shortage, a benefit to residents, citizens and immigrants alike.