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California needs more housing types for more people, not just more of the same big, single-family houses

Houses: California needs more new housing units, not single family big houses. | Photo by kqde.org

California needs to dramatically increase the number of homes we are building in order to shelter the nearly 40 million people who live here – 3.5 million new homes to be exact, including apartments, multi-unit buildings, mixed use, etc.

It’s hard to imagine building too many new housing units, given the disparity between median California household income of $75,000 and the median California home price of $760,000.

Consider what’s happened in Monterey County where, over the past 20 years, local governments have approved more than 21,000 homes, mostly single-family houses. But most of these homes haven’t been built because, while there is a huge demand for housing, that demand is not for expensive single-family homes.

With a median household income of $71,000, Monterey County’s existing workforce cannot afford a $750,000 home, the median home price locally. It is simply not possible for most local working families to buy single-family homes.

What Monterey County families can afford are good-quality apartments and other multi-unit buildings. But that’s not what local governments are approving.

Between 2013 and 2019, 84 percent of the building permits that Monterey County jurisdictions issued were for detached single-family homes. Fewer than 20 percent of issued building permits were for units affordable to low – and very-low-income families, while 75 percent were for units affordable only to those with above-moderate incomes. Contrast this with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which has determined that Monterey County needs 40 percent of all its units built to be affordable by low – and very-low-income households.

For many households, multi-unit housing is a sensible option. The cost per square foot is significantly less than that of detached homes.

There are a lot of other good reasons for building housing other than single-family homes. Apartments generally use less energy and water because they use economies of scale to be more efficient. And lower housing costs make it possible for people to save, which may eventually make it possible for them to buy property and build equity.

Homes come – or should come – in lots of different flavors, but single-family, large-lot subdivisions are not what most California families can afford, and certainly the wrong solution for the planet.

So, let’s start where more people can enter the housing market. Let’s build apartments and other multi-unit buildings. Lots of well designed, well-constructed apartments, in all of our cities, large and small.

Imagine if we could build 3.5 million housing units of all types and sizes. Now that would put a dent in California’s housing deficit, improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and move the state to both affordability and sustainability.

Melissa Breach and Michael DeLapa | Contributed

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