California has a serious housing shortage. California’s housing costs, consequently, have been rising rapidly for decades. These high housing costs make it difficult for many Californians to find housing that is affordable and that meets their needs, forcing them to make serious trade–offs in order to live in California.
In our March 2015 report, California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences, we outlined the evidence for California’s housing shortage and discussed its major ramifications. We also suggested that the key remedy to California’s housing challenges is a substantial increase in private home building in the state’s coastal urban communities. An expansion of California’s housing supply would offer widespread benefits to Californians, as well as those who wish to live in California but cannot afford to do so.
Some fear, however, that these benefits would not extend to low–income Californians. Because most new construction is targeted at higher–income households, it is often assumed that new construction does not increase the supply of lower–end housing. In addition, some worry that construction of market–rate housing in low–income neighborhoods leads to displacement of low–income households. In response, some have questioned whether efforts to increase private housing development are prudent. These observers suggest that policy makers instead focus on expanding government programs that aim to help low–income Californians afford housing.
In this follow up to California’s High Housing Costs, we offer additional evidence that facilitating more private housing development in the state’s coastal urban communities would help make housing more affordable for low–income Californians. Existing affordable housing programs assist only a small proportion of low–income Californians. Most low–income Californians receive little or no assistance. Expanding affordable housing programs to help these households likely would be extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive. It may be best to focus these programs on Californians with more specialized housing needs—such as homeless individuals and families or persons with significant physical and mental health challenges.
Encouraging additional private housing construction can help the many low–income Californians who do not receive assistance. Considerable evidence suggests that construction of market–rate housing reduces housing costs for low–income households and, consequently, helps to mitigate displacement in many cases. Bringing about more private home building, however, would be no easy task, requiring state and local policy makers to confront very challenging issues and taking many years to come to fruition. Despite these difficulties, these efforts could provide significant widespread benefits: lower housing costs for millions of Californians.