During the 2000s, California’s population increased by 2 per new housing unit constructed. With an average varying between 2 and 3 people per household, this was a fairly sustainable rate of construction. Unfortunately, construction has slowed at the same time that population is still increasing. The ratio is now an increase of 4 per new housing unit constructed. The state has passed laws to combat the housing shortage, but it’s not enough.
UC Berkeley’s Terner Center may have cracked the code. They’ve done a case study of one San Francisco project that was completed 30% faster and 25% cheaper than similar projects, and identified the key factors that led to its success. According to the Terner Center, they are 1. an upfront commitment to low costs and a quick construction, 2. flexible funding, 3. streamlining the approval process, and 4. taking advantage of modular construction, so that some parts of the construction can be done in parallel with others. This is going to require the aid of local governments to make flexible funding more available and modify the approval process.
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Many would-be homeowners in the Millennial and Gen Z generations are going to need to wait. Despite the fact that some who wished to buy are instead renting, apartment vacancies are on the rise as 27.7 million have moved back in with parents or other relatives, if they ever left home at all. The good news is that this number is dropping, but only the luckiest of them will be able to snatch an opportunity in the coming months amid heavy competition.
11% of renters were excited to make the transition to homeownership in the beginning of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession squashed those dreams for many of them. Those who experienced income loss as a result of the pandemic are twice as likely to have trouble with paying bills, rent, or mortgage, or need to withdraw savings or retirement or borrow from friends or family. That isn’t the whole of the problem, though: California has been lacking affordable housing for decades as a result of mere population growth, an issue that was only accelerated by the recession and lockdowns, which have slowed or halted construction.
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Los Angeles County and the City of Long Beach have been working with Project Homekey, a California state project designed to create more affordable housing by converting hotels into homeless housing. The project was started during the pandemic. The purchase of a Holiday Inn location in Long Beach had already been approved on October 13th, and on October 20th another location was approved in Los Angeles, the Motel 6 on 5665 E. Seventh St.
Long Beach is aiming to purchase another yet undisclosed location as well. The city has asked for up to $36 million from the Project Homekey fund, majority funding for which is from Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds. The city council isn’t expecting to be approved for the full amount, but is hoping to get at least $15 million to go toward acquisition and operating costs.
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California, in partnership with Long Beach and LA County, has begun the process for Project Homekey, a project to convert two hotel properties into homeless properties. One will be a 100 unit project and the other approximately 50 units. While it’s not yet announced which properties have been chosen, the decision has already been made, and these criteria narrow it down significantly. Only one property fits for the 100 unit structure — the Best Western of Long Beach. There are a few different options for the 50 unit project.
The converted units aren’t going to be ready immediately. The properties have not yet been purchased, and the deadline to do so is December 30, so it could be up to two months before the conversion even begins. The contract for funding the conversion process is expected to last several years, though the conversion could already be complete before the contract expires.
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Sales volume and home prices tend to correlate, albeit on a delay of about a year. It’s usually helpful to look at changes in one to predict changes in the other. But sometimes that’s not the case — most notably, at the start of an economic recovery. Looking only to sales volume to forecast a recovery can result in some false starts.
This happened in 2008, and may be about to happen now. Home sales volume shot up between 2008 and 2009, but crashed back down the next year. This is because economic stimulus resulted in temporary buyer demand, which fell off as soon as the stimulus was used up. Now, in 2020, despite actual buyer demand, sales volume is low as a result of low inventory. Low inventory doesn’t decrease home prices, though, so they’re still going up. Pent-up demand means that as soon as the economy recovers, inventory may be snatched up quickly, resulting in another sudden burst of activity that will rapidly fall off.
So what does need to happen for an economic recovery? The answer is jobs. While sales volume may predict short-term direction of change, the job market is an excellent reflection of the housing market stability, since both homeowners and renters require income in order to make payments. Job numbers aren’t going to be stable for a while either. A full recovery of the job market isn’t expected until 2022 at the earliest, at which point we can start to see the regular patterns emerge again in home sales volume and home prices.
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We’re all well aware that California has been facing a shortage of affordable housing. Affordable housing is also an important step in recovering from the current recession. So, why hasn’t it happened yet? There are a couple of reasons.
It’s true that not enough homes are being built, but it’s more complicated than that. Not enough affordable housing is being built — because it’s actually more expensive to build than high-tier homes. Whenever housing is developed, it’s subject to a development fee, the rules for which are set at the city level, so they’re hard to standardize. The development fee can range from 6-18%, reaching upwards of $150,000 in some cities. The big issue is that this fee is charged per unit, which means that affordable housing developments, which invariably consist of multiple, smaller units, are subject to multiple development fees. This makes it difficult for developers to turn a profit from affordable housing projects.
The other reason is also the same reason it’s so important to our recovery — the job loss from COVID-19 and the recession itself. These factors have reduced purchasing power, increased homelessness, and increased the demand for lower-tier housing. Construction companies can’t keep with the ever-increasing demand for their most expensive, lowest return-on-investment projects.
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It’s no secret that California has exorbitantly high home and rental prices as well as increasing homelessness. What may be less obvious is that the issue lies in housing construction. There simply aren’t enough affordable units being built.
That’s why California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has established ambitious housing goals for the next decade. In order to be eligible for DHCD funding, a county such as Alameda County would need to plan to build 441,000 more housing units between 2022 and 2030. If that sounds unachievable already, take note that Alameda County is still behind by 188,000 units on its 2022 goal. As far as affordability, Alameda County has similar goals as other large metros for income distribution: about 45% to above-moderate income households, about 15% to moderate- and low-income respectively, and about 25% to very-low-income households. Local jurisdictions are also going to need to adjust their zoning laws to accommodate the new goals.
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