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California's constitution makes affordable housing hard to build (latimes.com)
89 points by jseliger 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

This is a nice change to consider, and would help. But it won't be a massive improvement. Public housing isn't much of the housing stock and this won't change that. If we even built another 20K units in SF or Oakland in the next 10 years I'd be shocked.

The real ones to watch (and support) are things which require local governments to approve housing. Like SB 50, which defaults to approval for buildings up to 35-45 feet near transit. That's Paris / North Beach / Haight style density approved quickly enough to keep costs low. Then you can look at every existing 1 story retail building along bart and imagine 3 stories of apartments on top of them.




Another messed up thing with CA -- it takes a 2/3 vote, very difficult, raise any kind of tax. Yet, only 50 percent to change the constitution. Wtf.

Initiative constitutional amendments require a much higher threshold of signatures to get on the ballot.

The biggest problem with public housing and low income housing is that they become unsafe (at least in Los Angeles). Many of these places are not safe enough to walk around at night. Is it really any surprise that people don't want areas of high crime in their neighborhoods?

So, two honest questions:

- Is there evidence that they would be less safe than makeshift homeless communities? My instinct would be to assume that homeless people in California are already congregating somewhere, and that those areas have increased crime risks. Does public/low-income housing make it worse than the current situation already is?

- Should we weigh the overall loss in safety for middle-income residents against the overall safety of poorer or homeless residents? My instinct is to say that the homeless population in California is part of its constituency, and that their needs should be considered equally with middle/upper income residents. Suppose overall crime in an area is increased, but the area simultaneously becomes safer for the homeless population itself. Is there a ratio between those changes where we would say, "it's worth the increased crime."?

I don't know California specifically, but the homeless in Chicago congregate in the business areas and tourist places, not the residential areas as much.

I would assume California is similar since most people who live there are less likely to give things to them every day.

They may congregate there, but that is not necessarily where they "live". Not all homeless are panhandlers. In Philadelphia, a sizable portion of homeless live in tent cities on top of decommissioned raised rail lines and under bridges.

"The projects" as a phenomenon are the inevitable result of concentrated poverty and the usually awful design choices that go with public housing.

Public housing should be mixed into other neighborhoods, or (as my city does) developers should be incentivized to operate a certain percentage of subsidized low-cost housing in otherwise normal apartments.

Ha! Read Hanna Rosin on this:


Hannah Rosin studied this for The Atlantic (which is a progressive, left-leaning publication) and concluded that this simply spreads crime around making overall crime rates even higher.

I'd like to see any data actually backing that article's claim that crime in midsize cities has been rising (actually rising over a substantial period of time, not just a temporary uptick), given that every other source shows consistent multi-decade downward trends in crime at the national level and for the overwhelming majority of cities. https://www.factcheck.org/2016/07/dueling-claims-on-crime-tr...

The article does describe the phenomenon you're taking away, but Rosin's take is much more nuanced than "this simply spreads crime around." For example:

"Physically redistributing the poor was probably necessary; generations of them were floundering in the high-rises. But instead of coaching them and then carefully spreading them out among many more-affluent neighborhoods, most cities gave them vouchers and told them to move in a rush, with no support."

The Atlantic is hardly a “left leaning” publication (perhaps they seem left if they challenge Trump?).

If you believe that The Atlantic is not left leaning, you must be very far left.

The Atlantic might be fairly described as technocratic or liberal... but because liberal and left are distinct things, "left-leaning" isn't a good description for it.

"Left" and "right" tend to be about specific political positions and values, but an entity that's "liberal" tends to orient less around specific positions and more around meta-values that are about approach (and have a lot in common with western academic and especially post-enlightenment thinking), but will accommodate a variety of other values into discourse, just refereed by the meta-values. So, depending on what you define as "left leaning", you might find examinations and even cases for it (alongside conservative leaning points) in the pages a liberal publication, but they'll be grounded in liberal approach and will likely not be alone.

And that's why you'll see things like "Why can't people hear what Jordan Peterson is saying" in the pages of the Atlantic, even though Peterson seems frequently hostile to the left and vice versa, or discussions like "The Two Clashing Meanings of 'Free Speech'" that aren't value judgments about people like Milo Yiannopoulos.

If I buy an expensive house/flat in a nice neighbourhood the last thing I want is a new building full of problematic people. Sounds like political suicide, really.

The equating of "poor" and "problematic" is part of the issue here, and itself has a lot to do with the effects of concentrated poverty. A building with 15 or 30 units of people under the poverty line in an otherwise middle- or middle-upper-class neighborhood that's similarly dense is hardly going to cause noticeable problems.

There are really two options here.

You can mix low-income housing into larger complexes, creating mixed income communities. This does a lot to help create role models and show what life options are available and possible. It helps, in some ways, to break the cycle of poverty. This comes with the cost of utterly destroying the concentrated, focused support networks often found in less well off areas - they do not survive the dispersion.

The alternative is to prioritize existing communities. To focus on preserving the social ties and mutual support networks they know and trust. The downside is that while this improves the immediate circumstances, it preserves the concentration of poverty.

There's no ideal solution here. It's just a question of where your policy priorities lie.

After Cabrini Green I read that Chicago mandated a section of all new big residential projects have section 8 units inside them alongside the luxury rentals.

It makes sense to put those less well off around more affluent folks to help keep criminal activity from pooling.

Cabrini Green showed that these large scale public housing projects are unpoliceable.

You can prove anything by assuming the truth of the conclusion you aim to reach.

Talk about burying the lede.

Today, as the state grapples with an unprecedented affordable housing shortage, Article 34 has limited effects on the construction of low-income developments. But it remains an obstacle: Los Angeles officials believe that without a public vote in the coming years, the city will no longer be able to finance such projects — even though it has the money to do so.

I realize that screaming at “NIMBYs” is practically a hobby for some, but I can see their perspective too. For one, the resources exist today to do better, but it’s not done. Rather increased housing leads to billionaires, Russian oligarchs and others buying up expensive real estate and not actually living there. For all that new plans claim to be aimed at housing the poor, it rarely works out that way.

If you want to reduce concerns, use the existing funds responsibly, and prove that future loosening of restrictions wouldn’t just be a bonanza for the wealthy, and lead to even more tech influx. Listen to people who express concerns that leveling smaller structure and building vertically:

A.) Would lead to a predictable boom-bust leaving California at some future date, with a load of ugly, crumbling infrastructure.

B.) That attempts to house the poor will go hand in hand with other efforts to increase economic opportunities for them, expand mental healthcare, and improve policing. Without that it’s just warehousing, and communities do suffer.

C.) Would change what drew people there in the first place, leading to the afformentioned boom-bust.

D.) That this isn’t all about extremely well-paid techies who will move where’ve the money goes.

I see more of a dynamic, in practice, of rich existing interests clashing with rich incoming interests, while the poor are used as little more than a rallying cry or scapegoat. I suspect that I’m one of many unconvincedby arguments of “the character of a community” under threat, as well as facetious arguments from “digital nomads” who are mostly just tired of the commute. I’ll say it again, as the article states the money is there, Article 34 isn’t a significant impediment, yet the poor are still systemically screwed.

> Rather increased housing leads to billionaires, Russian oligarchs and others buying up expensive real estate and not actually living there.

I've become a firm supporter of the idea of gradually increasing non-occupancy taxes, with some scaling factor based off local overall vacancy rates.

The vacancy rates in CA cities are typically low. Vacant apartments aren't the problem - non-existent ones are.

If you want to fix this with taxes it's easy: repeal prop 13. We don't need golf courses in city centers or untaxed empty lots in prime locations.

There's some movement towards modification of Prop 13 [1]. As I understand it, the proposal would lift Prop 13 on commercial properties only. Residential properties would continue as now. It's claimed this would bring in an additional $11B+ in tax revenue.

On a brief search, I didn't find an estimate for revenue increase if Prop 13 were abolished. I'd guess it would be at least as much as the proposed commercial-specific mod.

My Prop 13 anecdote: a neighbor who bought a 3BR house on 0.8 acre in the 1950s pays less in annual property taxes than I do on one month's utility bills. I'm fine with that, she's pushing 100 and probably wouldn't be able to stay home without Prop 13.

Meantime, a 1940s 3BR house on a 0.35 acre lot right across the street from her sold for $2.9 million last December. Anecdotal, but suggests the potential magnitude of tax revenue change if Prop 13 were entirely removed.

[1] http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/08/california-to-vote-on...

Reform for only commercial property is what we're voting on in 2020. It'd be great for public services if that passed but housing will remain as fucked as ever. Empty lots will stay empty, entrenched wealthy homeowners will continue to organize against new housing, long time landlords will keep thier fat profit margins.

I understand that your neighbor is old and that we should provide a social safety net for her. But that can be done in many different ways that don't involve massive handouts to real estate investors.

http://projects.scpr.org/prop-13/ is a good read if you like prop 13 anecdotes

Prop 13 reform could fix all those long empty office buildings on 237 among other places - I think some of those have been empty for a decade though I no longer drive along that corridor for work so am not sure of the current situation.

You don't need to repeal proposition 13. It bans ad valorem taxes only. It technically does not ban adding a tax on the raw square footage of land in specific areas that need additional development - only if it's based off the assessed value of the property.

If I understood you correctly you're saying CA could implement a land value tax provided that we also create a new assement process that only takes into account the value of one's land? Property taxes wouldn't change but landowners would suddenly be responsible for land taxes.

Surely this would still require the 2/3rds majority of voters and lawmakers required by prop 218.

Remember that those well paid techies are what lets CA balance the budget.

> Rather increased housing leads to billionaires, Russian oligarchs and others buying up expensive real estate and not actually living there.

Do you have any kind of reference for this? It is a contrarian opinion compared to Case Schiller and other well-known housing research organizations.

I actually don't think this is as nefarious as the article makes it out to be. Section 8 housing in SF is basically little pockets of shitty, poorly constructed, slum lord managed ugly buildings. Would I rather have this than tent cities? Perhaps, but I also want to call out that when you think affordable housing, you think teachers, and dish washers, jobs that simply do not pay enough to afford market rate housing. These units are not that.

Nah, it is NIMBY zoning. Forcing builders to have large buildouts without efficiency apartment or parking space free units.

I don't buy the article 34 argument. It's simply "bait and switch" on the part of the politicians so as to make the city even denser. The end result, more political power, and federal money. I suspect the next attack will be on zoning regulations so neighborhoods can be razed to make highrise apartment buildings.

The traffic in L.A. is the worst in the country. San Francisco, San Diego, and the OC too. That's where they want more "affordable housing." In areas that are already too crowded.

Do you think the cost of living in those areas are not too high. If not how do you propose lowering housing costs without building more?

A city will only grow as big as it takes a citizen to travel from one end of the city to the other in about an hour or so. If forced to make a suggestion, I would say create a superb transportation service so people could traverse the city quickly and thereby could afford houses and apartments in outlying areas.

TFA> Taxpayer subsidies for homeowners, through the mortgage interest deduction and other means, long have dwarfed the public funding available for low-income housing development.

Those same subsidies apply to rental properties as well (now, with fewer caps as a result of recent limits to owner-occupied). Mortgage interest deduction for owner-occupied property serves to put owner-occupant usage (generally considered “good” for a neighborhood) on equal footing with commercial renting of property.

now just image if all software co's in ca actually paid their full state and fed income taxes instead of dodging them like some oh well known ones...

ah ah hold on...

All US software co's use both state and fed infrastructures for such things as net access, IP rights enforcements, etc

public housing

Government-funded or subsidized housing.

Why don't they start a basic income project in California? If there is one place where you have money and lots of inequality it is California. Is there really noone there from the bigger corps willing to initiate something like this?

Poor people would move to California to get free income, and rich people would move away to avoid high taxes. This idea is a non-starter.

I'd argue that there's lower hanging fruit. The loss of jobs to automation just hasn't become a problem yet. When you look at the economic prospects of the California poor, there have jobs, but housing costs consume a large and growing portion of their paycheck. A duel push on minimum wage and housing opportunity will bring more people out of poverty than a basic income.

What? Why would anyone choose to give free money to landlords that are already well to do? A basic income project to do what exactly?

Why do we assume landlords are “well to do?” After paying the note, management, maintenance, taxes, etc., many properties net just a few hundred dollars per month, per unit, if that. Certainly there is capital appreciation, but there is also risk as well. Rental property ownership is a business like other businesses and subject to price pressures just like any other. We could argue that giving money to the poor simply makes well-to-do grocery store owners richer as well. Except grocery stores aren’t required to sell their products at discounts to poor people as a condition of doing business. Why do we expect housing owners to discount their product for a certain percentage of the population or else they aren’t allowed to operate? The difference is that there aren’t widespread restrictions on food production, so grocery stores are able to serve the market demand without having set-asides for specific groups. Want lower housing prices? Make it easier to supply houses. It really is that simple. The reason housing in Houston is affordable is because there is plenty of it and it’s relatively easy to build more. There isn’t a need for artificially “affordable” housing in Houston because the government there has a less hostile attitude towards building housing. In California, if you want to build something, you might get your plan denied if there is even a chance that some endangered worm is within a 50 mile radius or if some Palo Alto matron is afraid of “undesirables” living too close, or if there’s a chance someone’s view might be impeded. Building housing in the Bay Area is a total mess. I am not sure why Tokyo or Seoul style high-roses aren’t a thing in California — but that could be a solution if there was the political will to allow it.

Every landlord I ever had was middle class who had a second property to bring in a little income.

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