Sacramento housing policy for dummies

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

Sacramento is having a housing crisis. The number of homeless is skyrocketing. Rents are skyrocketing. Housing prices are skyrocketing. The problem is getting worse and worse.

And housing policy is complicated. Very complicated. But this is a “Housing policy for dummies” column. What do we need to solve the housing problem in Sacramento? Either more houses or fewer people. And what will make the housing problem worse? Continuing to have more people moving here while building no more houses for them.

Let me provide a few numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Sacramento region, containing Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties, has roughly 2.2 million people. According to HUD, between 2010 to 2015, this area has been growing at a rate of 20,000 people a year. With the economy booming, we are probably growing even faster now.

But, again according to HUD, we have not been building enough housing. To maintain a housing balance, HUD estimates that our region needed to build 13,800 houses and 6,925 rental units between April 1, 2015 and April 1, 2018. However, during that period, according to HUD, we had only 1,540 houses and 1,180 rental units under construction. This equals a shortfall of 18,005 dwelling units.

If, in a three year period, we add 60,000 people but only build 2,600 more housing units, guess what? We are going to have a housing crisis. A big crisis. So either we need to move people to the Rust Belt, where they have an abundance of housing and a shortage of people, or we need to build more houses and apartments. We need to build lots more houses and apartments, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 more dwelling units a year.

Do not forget, we also need houses for the people building the houses.

Do we need more low-income housing? Yes. Do we need more expensive housing so rich people move out of their current, possibly less expensive housing? Yes. Do we need to build tiny houses, many houses to a lot? More high-rise apartments? More suburban tract housing? More student housing? Yes.

Do we need to increase housing density? Yes. Do we need to support people building granny houses in their backyards? Yes. Do we need to allow people with big McMansion houses to split them so several families can live there? Yes. Do we need to allow HMO health plans to invest in housing because it is cheaper to pay for housing than to pay for extra health care costs? Yes. Should SMUD provide no cost or low cost energy saving equipment for affordable housing units? Yes. Should we create more construction training programs like the building trades apprenticeship program? Yes.

Do we need to reform Proposition 13 to move away from a system that rewards longtime property owners at the expense of new owners and renters? Yes. Do we need to raise taxes to support more housing for our citizens? Yes.

Should judges require rich people to go homeless for several weeks before they are allowed to file NIMBY lawsuits to prevent needed housing development? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The housing crisis can be solved with a three letter word. “Yes.”