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Building More Housing Will Build a Stronger Economy

By: Antonio Villaraigosa

Politicians like to use the word “crisis” to describe the skyrocketing cost of California housing. But that doesn’t even begin to capture a man-made housing disaster that is driving millions of families into poverty and tens of thousands more into homelessness.

California has the highest effective poverty rate in the nation, in large part because of our high cost of housing. But the good news is that addressing our housing shortage will help lift millions of families into the middle class – because it will lower the cost of their housing and create hundreds of thousands of new high-wage construction jobs.

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A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute Report found that California must build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 if it is to relieve the demand and reduce cost. Their study showed we need to identify construction opportunities by looking at vacant urban land and areas around urban transit hubs, bringing jobs closer to housing so we can make our housing problem better without making traffic gridlock worse.

Already elected officials like Berkeley city councilman Ben Bartlett and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and many others as well, are rising to this challenge. They realize that it will take the public sector working in partnership with the private sector, and innovation at every level, to fulfill our demand for new housing.

I believe a comprehensive plan for affordable housing must start with bringing back reformed Community Redevelopment Agencies, which can be done by building on the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts law enacted in 2015.

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Redevelopment Agencies once invested nearly a billion dollars a year into new housing. And when California took that tool away, we made a bad situation worse.

We must certainly reform our permitting laws. If we can waive CEQA requirements for a football stadium, we should be able to speed permitting of affordable housing.

I believe we will also need a $10 billion revolving fund to help home and property owners build Accessory Dwelling Units (“in-law units” or “granny flats”). Some estimates show that up to one third of our housing shortage could be addressed with these lower-cost units.

We should create regional housing trust funds and make sure all parts of our state share the burden of creating more housing.  If some cities refuse to build new housing, they should pay into a fund to help other cities do so.

We must encourage private-public financing to build and support workforce housing for teachers, nurses and police officers, starting with a partnership with local schools to use vacant land. We should develop pathways to affordable home ownership with programs such as “tenant opportunity to purchase acts,” and consider the establishment of a state lending institution to provide resources to lower-income tenants so they can purchase housing.

We can’t forget that by helping more people transition from renters to homeowners, we can begin to close the wealth gap which stems significantly from low home ownership for many people. Homeownership does more than build stable communities, it helps families send kids to college, start small businesses and retire in dignity.

We certainly must lower the cost of construction through the use of technology, and other innovative construction options.

And throughout this effort we can’t forget that we can help create hundreds of thousands more middle class jobs by partnering with labor, community colleges and the construction industry with apprenticeship programs to train the hundreds of thousands of new workers, including workers from traditionally disadvantaged communities, we will need for these high-wage jobs.

More housing will mean more economic opportunity, more economic equality, more families with jobs that bring respect and dignity, lower rates of homelessness and a dramatically reduced level of poverty.

Let’s get to work!

Sign our petition if you agree we need to fix California’s housing crisis now.