Report cites housing shortage

By Jim Wasserman The Associated Press
Tuesday October 22, 2002

SACRAMENTO — California’s job and population growth continues to outpace its supply of homes and apartments, steadily worsening one of the nation’s most severe housing shortages, says a new report by a nonprofit group that studies economic and budget trends. 

The California Budget Project, reflecting similar and repeated concerns by business, housing, homebuilder and local government groups, says the state faces a crisis of “dramatic proportions” and is making little progress addressing it. 

Bearing the brunt are millions of low-income Californians forced to spend up to half their paychecks for a roof over their heads or double up in overcrowded rooms. 

The report, “Locked Out 2002,” estimates California is short 651,000 houses and apartments for families earning less than $18,000 a year. 

The number reflects a steep downturn the last decade in construction of apartments, condominiums and townhouses. 

Figures show apartments, condos and townhouses represented less than one-third of new construction in 2001 compared to two-thirds in 1970. 

“This is a large problem for a larger share of the population than in other states,” explains Jean Ross, director of the Sacramento-based CBP. 

The report states the housing problem is falling especially hard on Hispanic families, with nearly three in 10 renting what are considered overcrowded conditions: more than one person per room. 

Luis Arteaga, head of San Francisco-based Latino Issues Forum, contrasts the state’s lack of urgency about housing with the hearings, task forces, investigations and calls for federal assistance during the energy crisis. 

“We’ve seen little response, no major outcry. We don’t see our legislators rallying around major systemic change to address it,” he says. 

As shortages also push up home prices, the state’s 58 percent homeownership rate is the nation’s fourth worst, the CBP study shows, behind Hawaii, New York and the District of Columbia. 

The report calls special attention to dwindling state and federal spending to help people make down payments, cover gaps between their incomes and rent, and help cities build lower-rent housing. 

“State spending on housing dropped substantially in the 1990s,” it states, from 0.5 percent of the state’s general spending to 0.2 percent. 

Simultaneously, since 1995, the report notes, owners of 24,000 “affordable” housing units have also opted out of government subsidy programs and converted to higher market-rate rents.