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housing matters
Governor Moonbeam Gets Smart

California’s famously idealistic governor has set his eyes (for once) on an eminently achievable and critically important goal: Beating back the state’s onerous land use regulations so as to slow the growth of housing prices in the state’s rapidly-growing metropolitan core. The San Francisco Business Times reports:

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed sweeping statewide legislation that would allow new market-rate projects with onsite affordable housing to be approved “as of right,” in potentially California’s most significant housing policy change in years.

The proposal has big ramifications for the Bay Area, where many cities and well-organized residents’ groups have long fought residential development. […]

No new funding for affordable housing is proposed. But Brown is taking a significant step to reduce the approvals process for new projects, despite previously saying that potential change was limited.

If Brown’s plan gets through, it may end up being one of the most important achievements of his tenure. Regulations limiting the housing stock—often supported by an unusual coalition of wealthy NIMBYs and anti-development leftists—drive up inequality (by propping up the real estate values of the wealthy) and slow economic growth (by making it more difficult for people to move when they get new job opportunities). The San Francisco Bay Area, which has created more than half a million jobs since 2011 but added less than 100 thousand housing units, is ground zero for what is increasingly a national crisis. (San Francisco itself has started resorting to absurd measures—like making it virtually impossible to evict the city’s underpaid teachers—to try to contain the damage from its skyrocketing rents).

Unlike California’s headline-grabbing liberal initiatives of the last several years (‘Yes Means Yes’ sex regulations, a job-killing $15 minimum wage, a high-speed rail boondoggle) Brown’s zoning bill represents a real, considered answer to one of the state’s most pressing problems, rather than identity politics hand-waving or a pie-in-the-sky left-wing experiment. Here’s hoping that the bill makes it through the legislature, and that, on housing policy, state leaders across the country take a cue from Governor Moonbeam.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Like the Divider-in-Chief, the Governor appears to have little regard for the Constitution. Expect a First Amendment challenge to this new “right”. I should add that I am all in favor of reducing the regulatory burden on housing, but not of shoving affordable housing down communities’ throats. I might add that in my neck of the woods, people who bought low-income housing at below-market rates with restrictions on resale have sued to be allowed to resell at market prices.

  • CaliforniaStark

    A major reason that San Francisco and neighboring municipalities do not have much new housing being built are their rent control ordinances. Remove rent control, and a a lot of new housing would be built; but Brown would not dare touch the issue.

    Despite Brown’s current proposal; new state and local regulations about such things as limiting greenhouse gases, stringent water management, installing renewable energy systems, etc., will result in the cost of new housing in the Bay Area skyrocketing. Only the rich will be able to afford new housing units. Affordable housing depends on government subsidies; and despite having among the highest tax rates in the nation, California is again facing a financial crisis with a one billion dollar revenue shortfall.

    Also the post misses a major issue; the Tech oligarchs who are a dominant force in the Bay Area like the aesthetics and environmental policies that exist in the Bay Area. They do not appear particularly interested in investing much of their multi-billion dollar cash horde in providing affordable housing; advancing income equality and social justice; or other liberal policies. They seem more interested in hiring workers from India rather than Oakland. The employees of Tech companies are almost all either Anglo or Asian.

    Perhaps Brown should consider imposing a special tax on corporations located in the Bay Area to provide funds for affordable housing, since many of them pay their janitors and other blue collar workers relatively low wages? Maybe he will go after the billions of dollars held in overseas holdings by Tech companies, hidden from taxation? Somehow I doubt it; there is as much chance of this happening as Brown cancelling the bullet train boondoggle.

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