The way Esther Delahey sees it, her neighborhood in south Fresno, the Lowell district, has gotten a bad rap. Named in 1884 for the New England poet James Russell Lowell, the district is part of a larger area, hemmed in by three highways.
California leads the nation in having the most severely rent-burdened households, as well as having the largest shortage of affordable rental homes. (The U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development and other agencies consider families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent as rent-burdened.)
Isabelle Lopez, her husband and their dog live in a tiny room, perhaps 130 square feet, in the impoverished Lacy neighborhood in the Orange County city of Santa Ana.
Housing developers – whether they specialize in market-rate properties or affordable housing – face tremendous hurdles in getting projects off the ground in California.
“There’s probably a hundred challenges,” says Cynthia Parker, the president and chief executive officer of BRIDGE Housing, a nonprofit housing developer based in San Francisco.
Material prices keep going up, with the costs of steel and glass not expected to come down any time soon. Labor expenses also keep rising. Even with the lowest interest rates in our lifetime, it still can be very difficult to make economic sense for starting a new construction project without some sort of guarantee that it will not be a bust. Developers say that perhaps the toughest impediment to new housing construction is local opposition, especially if the proposed construction site is in a safe neighborhood with good schools.
Grade-school art teacher Melissa Jones is attending the opening of an exhibit called Roofless: Art Against Displacement at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa. It is a cold, rainy night in early January. Jones is a single mother; she and her 12-year-old son live in a one-bedroom basement flat in the nearby rural community of Forestville, for which she pays $825 per month plus utilities. She is desperate to move into a bigger place, but for many the rents in Sonoma County have become unaffordable.
Among other problems, too few apartment buildings have been built in recent years. Developers say they have been hampered by huge impact fees that can run as high as $100,000 a unit, that cash-strapped localities in California, operating in a tax-raising environment straitjacketed by Proposition 13, have imposed on builders. The collapse of redevelopment funding has further reduced local governments’ ability to build enough subsidized housing.