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Tim Coyle

Good Housing Law? Lawmakers Don’t Have a Clue

Legislators in Sacramento have for years been wringing their hands over California’s stubborn housing production drought. Now, there seems to be a growing concern that their consequent actions have made things worse.

That’s because more and more producers are vocally critical of the foolish and increasingly desperate laws the Legislature has proposed or passed in recent times. (Less visible to the public but equally troubling to homebuilders are the oppressive and lasting regulations that always accompany new laws).

State legislators – supported by California for well over a century – are elected every two years to tackle and solve the state’s most daunting problems, with clarity and fair outcomes.

But they’ve done nothing over the last three decades to help cure California’s most vexing problem: the housing shortage. Frustrated, producers believe the state Legislature has lost its way on housing policy. Most lawmakers, they argue, are stuck with outdated, bankrupt impulses.

Incentives for housing production – not disincentives that are typically associated with state housing legislation – are what California needs. No more statewide rent control; or solar mandates; or laws friendly to inclusionary zoning; or inaction on smothering impact fees; and no more rules on laundry, community gardens and pesticides in multifamily housing. Just a few recent offenses.

The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) wants more out of lawmakers.

“Making housing both adequate and affordable is what CBIA expects from the Legislature this year,” said CBIA CEO Dan Dunmoyer. “The simple thing for legislators to do is to start passing laws that spur homebuilding, not stifle it.”

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) agrees. While the Association is forecasting that 2021 will be good for the homebuilding industry, regulatory and market challenges could harm housing affordability – slowing momentum and limiting growth, admitted economists speaking at a NAHB press conference.

“Housing affordability will continue to be a top concern this year,” said the Association’s Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “A changing regulatory landscape, however, threatens to further erode housing affordability and make the tight inventory environment worse.”

That’s a feeling held by developers and producers of affordable housing, as well, according to Carol Galante, head of the newly founded Terner Center for Housing Innovation (“the Center”) at U.C. Berkeley. Carol is also a former housing developer and senior Obama appointee. She too, expressed disappointment last year over the Legislature’s performance on housing reform law-making.

The Center did a post-session assessment of how well the Legislature performed on housing in 2020. The Center’s judgment: it didn’t.

This year doesn’t look very promising either. “It is difficult to see how production policies will fare any better next year without a new approach and dedicated leadership,” says the Center report card.

“In 2021, lawmakers must be willing to engage all ideas and perhaps even cast uncomfortable votes in order to show that they are serious about addressing the state’s overwhelming housing shortage. Californians cannot afford another wasted year.”

Housing supply and affordability are priorities for producers in 2021. Now that they know it, we’ll see what lawmakers do.