Housing crisis

Actions Heads of State can take to address the affordable housing crisis

In summary

Progress in solving California’s affordable housing crisis has been abysmal, and that is unacceptable. Here are some actions to take now:

By Pedro Nava

Pedro Nava is chairman of the Little Hoover Commission.

Cathy Schwamberger

Cathy Schwamberger, a former member of the Little Hoover Commission, served on its housing affordability subcommittee.

Dion Aroner, Special for CalMatters

Dion Aroner sits on the Little Hoover Commission’s Subcommittee on Housing Affordability.

California’s housing crisis may seem insurmountable. Median home prices are over $800,000, the state needs millions more homes to give everyone a place to live, and homelessness is on the rise.

The progress is catastrophic. The state has called for the construction of 180,000 new units per year between 2015 and 2025 to close the gap. We built less than half, only about 80,000 new units a year.

This is unacceptable, but there are solutions. As members of the Little Hoover Commission, the state government’s independent watchdog, we’ve spent months looking into this issue, and we know there are ways to move forward: getting more data, use better metrics, organize government more efficiently, and most importantly, build more houses.

It’s not a new problem. The problems are all too familiar. Opportunities for long-term impact are often seen as too controversial and wasted by a lack of political will. Sometimes they are blocked by existing owners who already have what others are looking for.

In our new report, California Housing: Building a More Affordable Futurewe propose targeted actions that heads of state can take immediately to address this crisis:

First, California needs to expand its Affordable Housing Strategy – both in terms of policy and funding – to place greater emphasis on affordable homeownership. This policy expansion must also focus on increasing supply.

The state can kickstart the production of affordable housing by treating California’s housing shortage with the same urgency as the state’s wildfire crisis. This includes creating focused working groups to address logistical and political challenges within a set time frame and building CEQA’s flexibility to expedite projects.

One can also use “shared capital” models. In effect, the government helps homeowners buy at a lower price on the condition that they sell at a limited price later, which helps to ensure that the home remains affordable for future generations.

Second, the state must consolidate housing functions. The state housing departments are spread over four agencies and split between the jurisdictions of the Governor and the State Treasurer. This organization is inefficient. By consolidating housing functions, through reorganization or formalizing a strategic working relationship, the state can develop a better affordable housing strategy and improve operations.

Third, the state should reconsider how it measures local government progress toward housing goals. Local governments are responsible for developing and executing a strategy to meet the housing needs of their communities. Although this process considers how many dwellings should be built and where, it does not consider the number of dwellings actually built. This must change.

The state should also strengthen enforcement of local government housing plans. When a locality fails to adequately plan for its housing needs, the state can revoke the certification of its housing plan. Following decertification, some affordable housing projects may “automatically” receive permits.

What’s the catch? Developers usually must obtain a court order requiring the locality to issue the permit. However, in the face of overwhelmed courts and proponents pressured to keep the peace, this method of enforcement falls short.

To improve its enforcement capabilities, the state should appoint an ombudsman in each county with the power to approve affordable housing projects when a local jurisdiction fails to meet its housing element.

Finally, the state needs to fill data and analysis gaps. California lacks key information that would help policymakers better understand the state’s housing crisis. Using the best available technologies and methodologies, the state should fill these gaps. The information found should be used to guide policy development, and the tools should be shared with local governments at a cost or, preferably, free of charge.

The cost of housing may be the biggest problem facing the state. But action by action, heads of state can reduce the problem.


Pedro Nava also wrote about how to fix recall elections in californiawhat California can do for improve children’s mental healthsignificant police reform starts with trainingthe necessary solutions to continue government meetings onlineadditional actions needed to preserve small businessesand review The California Mental Health System.

Dion Aroner and Pedro Nava have also written about steps to take to fight against labor trafficking.