News & Updates - Here’s how to attack inequality in California

Here’s how to attack inequality in California

By Rob Lapsley, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 1, 2016

The California Dream — affordable higher education, a glut of middle-class jobs and moderate housing costs — attracted families from across the nation to our state after World War II. Now, that California Dream is out of reach to all but the highest wage earners. The Legislature must step up and pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious “by right” housing legislation so we can increase the amount of affordable housing and make major strides in addressing persistent poverty in our state.

Our housing costs are 56 percent higher than the national average, and in the Bay Area, they are 127 percent higher. The annual median rent has increased by 21 percent since 2000, while the annual median income for renter households has decreased 8 percent. Even those who can afford to dedicate two-thirds of their income to rent, in addition to food and transportation costs, cannot afford to put money away to realize their dream of homeownership.

But our housing costs are causing more than just an exodus; we are the poverty capital of the nation, and we have housing costs to blame. Nearly 1 in 4 Californians is not able to make ends meet.

Until now, the only attempts to address California’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate have focused on efforts such as raising the minimum wage, using our temporary budget surplus to fund ongoing safety-net programs and increasing affordable housing programs. These are, at best, halfhearted measures that can stabilize the situation for a few; they do nothing to change the underlying problems affecting all.

Our housing supply has failed to keep pace as our population has increased. Decades of over-regulation has all but stopped housing growth, especially urban and coastal housing development. Both the nonpartisan legislative analyst and President Obama’s economic adviser have cited over-regulation as the primary reason for California’s high housing costs.

Those opposed to any type of development have used the state’s myriad regulations, especially the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent important housing development projects that would have helped bring housing options to more Californians.

To date, politicians have only granted CEQA exemptions for high-profile development projects such as sports stadiums, ignoring that the same exemptions could achieve major inroads into addressing systemic poverty.

Under Brown’s housing reform proposal, new urban developments would be exempt from most local regulatory hurdles and CEQA as long as the projects meet certain criteria, including having significant affordable housing units. This is tangible reform that will address the underlying cause of persistent poverty in California. Now it is time for the Legislature to step up.

For years, politicians have bemoaned income inequality. Yet many are stalling on the first real measure put before them to tackle the root causes to poverty in our state. Instead of addressing the needs of all Californians, they are carrying the banner for special interests at the expense of those living in poverty every day.

We have a real chance to bring the California Dream to another generation of residents; a chance to pass more than a token measure to combat poverty. All we need is for the Legislature to act.

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