A divided house can’t stand, and at today’s prices, it can’t be paid for either. This is especially true in California, where the dream of home ownership has failed to materialize for people from all walks of life. Home prices are undeniably prohibitive for many Golden State residents; California has the second highest median price and one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country. But instead of focusing on policies to make homeownership affordable for all Californians, the state is looking to widen the gap with race-based solutions that fail to address root causes of prices. raised houses today.
On June 1, the California Reparations Task Force, established in 2020 to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans, released an interim report with recommendations on various issues affecting Black Californians, including the home ownership. The report acknowledges that government at all levels has historically enacted or authorized discriminatory practices such as racial covenants and red lines that have prevented black residents from owning homes. Even though many of these discriminatory practices have ended, the report posits that these “slavery badges” have resulted in a wealth gap that has prompted black Californians to leave unaffordable cities or leave the state altogether.
While historic discriminatory housing policies may be part of the reason why many Californians cannot afford to own homes, the lingering causes of home unaffordability are much closer than the task force acknowledges.
California doesn’t have enough homes, which is sending prices skyrocketing out of reach. The culprit is current government policies that impede new construction, including strict land use regulations, exorbitant building fees, and prolonged environmental reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA ). New homes cannot be built fast enough due to these constraints, making the few existing homes too expensive. If its goal is to increase homeownership among African Americans, the task force should be keen to address these barriers since all Californians are feeling their impact.
Instead, one of the task force’s solutions is to subsidize these costs, rather than reduce them. They recommend establishing a system of state-subsidized mortgages that guarantees low interest rates to black mortgage applicants. This models other remedial efforts across the country that only pay housing costs instead of changing the policies that make those costs so high in the first place.
In Evanston, Illinois, where the median home price is five times the median household income, eligible black residents will receive vouchers for down payments, mortgage payments or home repairs, but rising tax rates costs and restrictive zoning rules remain unchanged. In Washington, DC, a $10 million fund was unveiled to support investment in black homeownership, while zoning and other regulations limiting housing supply persist. Like Evanston and DC, California will spend more money on the symptoms of supply-killing policies. Charging black buyers the same high prices as everyone else is not a solution.
The California task force does not have to continue this trend of accepting high housing costs. Their report recommends eliminating anti-Black housing policies and practices, but expanding this effort to all anti-housing policies would help all residents, including Black Californians. The California Building Industry Association has some suggestions on where they can start. The group identified several pending “housing killer” bills that would further restrict housing supply. They include AB 1001 and SB 1404, which expand the CEQA, and AB 1771, which imposes an additional tax on home sales. Such policies cannot be good for anyone in California trying to own a home, regardless of skin color or ancestry.
Housing policies that expand opportunity for all Californians do not exclude black residents. The state can still raise awareness of past discrimination while providing solutions that benefit every Californian, but that won’t happen if it continues to indulge in the divisive and retraining policies of the Reparations Task Force.
California’s diverse residents, many of whom could arguably claim the impact of past discrimination, will not accept being obligated to right those past wrongs while being excluded from policies designed only for some. Solutions for all Californians is the best way forward, because we cannot afford a divided housing crisis.
Andre Quinio is a lawyer at Pacific Legal Foundationa nonprofit legal organization that defends the freedoms of Americans when threatened by government excesses and abuses.