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.
It’s no secret that California residents pay more for housing than residents in most other states, especially in the metropolitan coastal areas and Silicon Valley cities. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto and other highly attractive, jobs- and amenities-rich cities are widely documented as being the least-affordable housing markets in California.
Obtaining decent affordable rental housing and earning enough income to sustain a family are increasingly more difficult goals to achieve. The American Dream of homeownership, and of building and maintaining stable communities, is fading in the face of this new socio-economic reality.
Red flags abound: The state’s poorest families pay up to two-thirds of their income on housing, firmly placing them in the severely “rent burdened” category of households. (Families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent are considered rent-burdened by the U.S.
One block north of fabled Hollywood Boulevard, and a stone’s throw from the iconic Capitol Records Building, sit three rent-stabilized, two-story apartment buildings, known to residents as the Yucca-Argyle complex. One building is peach-colored, one green and the third yellow. Each is organized around a small courtyard and in back is a parking lot for tenants’ cars. Together they are home to roughly 50 families, the residents ranging in age from young children to old-timers who have lived in the complex for more than half a century.
By most measures the complex’s residents have it good. Living in one of L.A.’s more walkable and vibrant neighborhoods — where cafes, bookstores, night clubs, restaurants and clothing boutiques vie for consumers’ attention — they pay varying amounts above $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, beneficiaries of Los Angeles’s 1978 Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO).
Photojournalist Ted Soqui shot these images for today’s story by Sasha Abramsky, Renting in Los Angeles — Dislocation, Dislocation, Dislocation.