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Another View: State policy matters on affordable housing

Construction crews broke ground last August at West Gateway Place, an affordable housing complex in West Sacramento funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program.
Construction crews broke ground last August at West Gateway Place, an affordable housing complex in West Sacramento funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program. Sacramento Bee file

Our state’s drastically short supply of affordable homes is pinching nearly every Californian’s pocketbook – that much Dan Walters is right about (“Scarcity raises cost of housing,” March 4).

But while market forces are responsible for a big chunk of California’s housing problem, state policy choices have hurt the lowest-income Californians even more.

Action from the state Capitol can provide relief to Californians who are being squeezed by the nation’s least affordable rentals and into the country’s most overcrowded apartments. To meet the range of housing needs in our state, lawmakers must ease building restrictions and invest a significant portion of the state’s multibillion-dollar surplus into proven, affordable home programs.

Since 2008, state and federal investment in affordable homes has plummeted by 68 percent. Without this investment, California stands to lose billions of dollars in federal and private financing and will miss critical opportunities to build affordable rental homes for low-wage workers, seniors, veterans, the disabled and the homeless.

Inclusionary zoning policies are another tool to ensure teachers, restaurant employees and health care workers can afford to live in the communities where they work. A lack of housing choices for workers hurts businesses, too. Recently, Toyota insiders blamed high housing costs for the company moving of hundreds of jobs from California to Texas.

Walters and other do-nothing critics have said California will never have enough money to house all people in need, so we shouldn’t try to build from the bottom up. Meanwhile, news headlines around the state show elderly people literally dying on our streets. The fairy dust of the “market forces” they see as a fix-all will never float down to those in the most need. It’s time for our policymakers to step forward and lead.

An affordable home is the foundation for success in life. With stable housing, individuals are much more likely to be healthy and less reliant on social services, and children do better in school and stay out of trouble. With renewed investment, we can open the door to affordable homes to more Californians, enhance our economic competitiveness and lift families out of poverty.

Ray Pearl is executive director of the California Housing Consortium, a nonprofit advocacy group. He can be contacted at info@calhns.org.

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