CA housing becomes political football

To borrow one metaphor, California’s housing market has become a double-edged sword, reminiscent of the bonanza days before the 2008 economic crisis. That’s why, to borrow another, it has also become a political football. With residents increasingly priced out of the state’s coastal metropolises, politicians and policymakers have scrambled for an edge, creating a controversy reverberate across the local, state and federal levels.

Southland struggles

In the Los Angeles area, where housing in some neighborhoods is among the country’s hottest, homelessness has grown apace. Those nearer the middle have also begun feeling the squeeze. “Incomes across California are generally higher than those in other parts of the nation. It’s just that the cost of living, along with taxes, can make it hard to keep your head above water,” as the LA Weekly noted.

In a recent analysis calculating the best states to make a living, the Weekly observed, California’s high average wages failed to offset its high taxes and cost of living, netting a sixth-worst ranking overall. “Even those of you who earn L.A. County’s median per capita income of $27,749 — and many don’t — have a hard time making rent and finding affordable transportation,” the Weekly concluded.

A northern boom

In Silicon Valley, meanwhile, statistics told a similar story. “The median sales figure for a home in the county hit $900,000 in May, according to CoreLogic, which tracks the real estate market. The average rent for a two-bedroom dwelling in San Jose has jumped to $2,300 a month. Overall, county property values have reached a record $409 billion, Assessor Larry Stone announced,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The numbers reflected what some characterized as an economic dilemma, wherein good opportunities for employment decrease good opportunities for housing. “Between 2010 and 2014, the local economy created 189,000 new jobs and lured in 113,000 new county residents, Joint Venture Silicon Valley data indicates. Concern, though, is mounting that extreme housing costs might begin to strangle the economy’s growth,” according to the Mercury News.

The Texas comparison

Another point of contention centers around Texas, another large, diverse state analysts often match up economically against California. As the LA Weekly observed, Texas came out on top in the same survey that put California near the bottom. Lone Star conservatives have recently suggested that their state reveals a connection between overregulation and insufficiently affordable housing.

Republican Chuck DeVore, the former California Assemblyman now at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, warned that “California’s nation-leading poverty rate is due to the high cost of housing in the Golden State, a significant portion of which is driven by hyper-controls on development, greenhouse gas fees, restrictive zoning, and taxes. It takes five years to get permission to build in California what commonly takes five months in Texas. If California is America’s future, then that future is overrun with poverty.”

According to a new measure of poverty introduced by the Census Bureau, said DeVore, “Texas’ poverty rate matches the national average while California’s is the nation’s highest with proportionately 47 percent more people living in poverty than in Texas and the United States.”

Budget battles

California’s housing challenges have intensified pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown to give up his effort to allocate money from a federal settlement with mortgage lenders into the state budget. “A Sacramento County judge found that the governor and state Legislature unlawfully diverted most of a fund that was part of a $25 billion settlement between five major banks and nearly every state in 2012,” as Associated Press noted.

“Brown’s attorneys argued the state had the discretion to use that money in the state budget. But the judge sided with the community assistance groups in ruling the money should be used to help California homeowners affected by the mortgage crisis. The ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley was issued last month, but it has not been finalized.”

Brown has the option to appeal, but has not yet determined whether or not he will do so.

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