Editorials

Here’s who will suffer most if California doesn’t end housing crisis

Rosalind Jackson moved to Sacramento from Oakland in hopes of affording a home. It hasn’t happened yet.
Rosalind Jackson moved to Sacramento from Oakland in hopes of affording a home. It hasn’t happened yet. hamezcua@sacbee.com

As California legislators weigh, yet again, whether to do something about the housing crisis, they shouldn’t think about the young techies of San Francisco, who often are pitied for paying a small fortune to live in an apartment the size of a crawl space.

They should think about the single moms with full-time jobs who are living out of their cars because they can’t afford rent. The homeless men sleeping in increasingly crowded encampments. The young people who died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, many of whom lived in the death trap because they couldn’t afford anything else.

But most of all, they should think about Rosalinda Jackson.

A former correctional officer, she moved from Oakland to Sacramento in hopes of enrolling in a down payment assistance program to help her afford a house. Instead, like a disproportionate number of African Americans, she’s waiting to be accepted and renting a place.

“I know the importance of home ownership,” Jackson told The Bee’s Phillip Reese. “I want to leave my children with something. I want to have somewhere where I can bring my grandchildren.”

That’s what many Californians want. After all, particularly in this state, owning real estate is a major source of wealth and, therefore, stability.

But until the Legislature gets working on viable way to provide more affordable housing, either by expediting construction or by expanding the capacity of programs that help would-be buyers, home ownership will continue to be elusive for millions of working-class and even middle-class people.

And California will continue lead the country in poverty when the cost of housing is factored in, with median rent approaching $4,000 in San Francisco. In Sacramento County, one of the hottest housing markets in the state, median home prices have nearly doubled in five years, and median rent for a two-bedroom unit has jumped to $1,400 a month.

Several bills have been introduced this year to counteract these trends. They address the housing shortage with bond money for new construction, incentives to prioritize infill development and programs to help those at risk of losing their homes.

The urgency is questionable, though. Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to overhaul the regulatory process for housing construction, putting the development of affordable housing on the fast track, failed miserably last year.

Meanwhile, there’s a slow-moving disaster in Sacramento County. Where in past decades the rate of homeownership for black residents was among the highest in the state, today blacks are being shut out of the market.

Just 27 percent of black households owned their homes in 2015, down from 43 percent in 2006. Only 13 of the largest 100 counties in the country had a lower rate among blacks than Sacramento did in 2015.

That’s an absolute shame for a city that prizes diversity.

Much of the decline can be traced to the housing bust, as well as subprime lenders who targeted black households more than white and Latino households.

When homeownership is little more than a pipe dream and renting becomes a way of life, social decay follows. Lemon Hill, Valley Hi and Oak Park were at the epicenter of local foreclosures, converting scores of owners to tenants. It’s no surprise then that those same three neighborhoods have become known for crime.

Changing the trajectory of Sacramento and the rest of California is possible, but the Legislature can’t afford to wait on affordable housing.

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