California is Building Less Than Half Of New Homes Needed

To accommodate its growing population, by 2025 California will have to build as many as 3.5 million new homes.  But based on the number of permits issued in recent years, fewer than half of the needed homes will be built.

Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group (SCNG) reported that nearly half of all California cities and counties are falling short in all of four income-level categories of new housing permits, while nearly all (97 percent!) are not meeting their goals for permits as laid out in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA, pronounced reena).  And although 45 percent of jurisdictions are issuing enough upper-income housing permits, only 22 percent are issuing enough new permits for low-income housing.

Problems with low-income permits, in particular, arise from a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude.  Current residents often oppose the inevitable taller buildings and crowded parking that come with growing population density, so they elect officials who support keeping things the way they are.

Critics of RHNA note that state laws don’t leave much room for local residents to make decisions about housing needs in their own communities, and question whether goals are set based on actual needs or just politics.  RHNA, however, is mostly voluntary, with very little in the way of penalties for municipalities that don’t meet their goals.

Local officials of areas that fall short of their new permit goals argue that they are not the ones doing the actual building.  On the other hand, many may have difficult approval processes or restrictive zoning laws that discourage potential builders from applying for permits. 

To ward off a housing crisis of historic proportions, it’s clear that California state, county and city governments are going to have to work together to fund infrastructure, increase population density minimums, change zoning requirements, reduce fees, and otherwise encourage attainable housing for their residents.

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