There are plenty of reasons that California is home to some of the most expensive housing in the nation, and some of them reflect well on the state. A winning combination of weather, natural beauty, and well-paying (if scarce) jobs make it a very appealing place to live. Unfortunately, as has certainly been noted before, the state has done a pretty poor job of constructing enough housing to meet the needs of its rising population.
A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute shows how dire the shortage of housing has become. Its authors compared a mix of regional income levels with standard rental and mortgage costs in those areas and found that a full half of the state’s residents cannot afford to rent or buy where they live. In Los Angeles, that fraction rises to two-thirds of the population.
Meanwhile, many middle class households are stretched thin by high housing costs; the study notes that LA area residents must earn at least 115 percent of the median income to afford housing.
What’s to be done? The authors of the report argue the solution lies in accelerating development and urban infill in the state’s largest metropolitan areas. Political realities can make that difficult, though. Los Angeles is currently in the midst of something of a development boom, and though it’s nowhere near enough to have a significant impact on skyrocketing housing costs, it’s inspired enough resistance from anti-density advocates that city voters will have the opportunity in March to vote on a measure that would block most major projects for the next two years.
The report suggests some pretty radical solutions for addressing such conflicts. These include accelerating the project approvals system and potentially streamlining the state’s required environmental review process for projects that would provide needed housing.
Another suggestion the report offers is incentivizing cities to meet construction targets for new housing. The authors also note that state funding could be withheld from cities that don’t meet these goals.
These steps would certainly accelerate development, but could also be politically, um, tricky.
The fact is that local resistance to new development is probably not going to go away any time soon—though the authors of the report are optimistic about the potential of so-called YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) groups to shift local conversations about development.
But while the speed of development will probably remain slower in California than in other states, the report also highlights the fact that a surprising amount of vacant land in Los Angeles is already zoned for multifamily residences—making development on these sites much simpler and less time-consuming.
According to the report, building on such parcels could add between 103,000 and 225,000 units of housing statewide, with a full third of those lots in Los Angeles County. The area has between 5,600 and 8,900 multifamily parcels that are currently vacant, according to the report.
There’s also plenty of potential to expand development on sites that don’t make use of what local zoning codes allow. The report finds that more than a quarter of multifamily parcels in LA use less than 50 percent of the maximum density allowed on the site.
Other suggestions offered in the report include building more housing around transit hubs, building affordable single family homes, and allowing additional housing units on large single family lots.
- Closing California’s housing gap [McKinsey Global Institute]
- How Much Does Los Angeles Have to Build to Get Out of Its Housing Crisis? [Curbed LA]
- LA developers on pace to build highest number of apartments in two decades [Curbed LA]
- LA's anti-development initiative added to March ballot [Curbed LA]