Looking for a miracle to solve the housing crisis

Jeff vonKaenel

I attended a California Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies symposium last week, where state officials learned about proposed new housing legislation and innovative building solutions that could be used to address the housing crisis, such as tiny homes, and possible financing approaches to the housing crisis. I kept thinking about how first responders run into a building on fire while everyone else is running away.

Clearly housing data, legislative changes in proposed budgets, conflicts between regulations and the upcoming timetables for implementation of housing policies are not as dangerous as burning buildings or as life-threatening as a gunfight. But I do believe that only a very dedicated public servant is willing to dive into this mind-numbing, complicated and often contradictory material.

The need for housing, and especially affordable housing, is overwhelming. California needs well over a million housing units. According to the state, we need to build about 180,000 new housing units a year, but we have only been building about 80,000 over the last 10 years. We need to build another 1.8 million homes by 2025 to deal with our expected population growth. This shortage of housing has driven up the cost of housing, way above what the average Californian can afford.

In the room at the Holiday Inn, state officials calmly and matter-of-factly talked about how we need to create billions of dollars of needed housing. These housing units will make such a difference to many people’s lives. California Department of Housing and Community Development Deputy Director Lisa Bates presented the proposed timetables for the quarterly allocation of housing funds if Propositions 1 and 2 pass on the November 6 ballot (Note: This column went to print before voting results were tallied.) If these propositions pass, there will be between $250 million and $1 billion dollars per quarter made available for affordable housing for veterans, low-income residents, farmworkers, the mentally ill and more. Propositions 1 and 2 will not come close to solving our housing problems, but they will help.

At the conference, I gained so much appreciation for the work done by the Housing Authority staff and all the people who are working so hard to make affordable housing available in California. But just as a city fire department that can successfully put out several fires a night cannot deal with a firestorm where hundreds of houses are burning, the Housing Authorities cannot deal with this problem on their own. They are the first responders, meant to take care of emergencies. They cannot take on the responsibility of being the main housing provider. Political solutions are needed.

There is a well-known biblical story of the miracle the five loaves and two fish. Five barley loaves and two small fish were blessed by Jesus, and then were able to feed a multitude.

Right now, the Housing Authorities have five loaves and two fish. And we have a multitude of people waiting desperately for housing. What we need is a political miracle, or miracles, for example: The passage of Props 1 and 2, a reform of Prop. 13, less income inequality, innovative ways to build less expensive housing, city codes allowing smaller homes and more.

Without political solutions, we will continue to have dedicated public servants doing their best to divide up five loaves and two fish to house the multitudes.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.