Experts Gather at UC Berkeley For Housing Policy Seminars

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Researchers, state civic leaders and politicians discussed possible solutions to California's growing housing crisis at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy last Friday.

Panelists pointed to the growing California population, lack of adequate financial incentives to cities and the decrease in low-cost multi-family units as the chief hurdles in the housing shortage.

Some panelists emphasized the need for a statewide attack on the housing problem.

"One thing we grossly lack in California is a master plan for housing," said State Senator Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch.

Spurring new housing development in California should be done in order to keep pace with the growing population, Torlakson said.

California's population is expected to grow by at least 12 million in the next 20 years, Torlakson said. To keep up with the growing population, the state needs to produce 220,000 more housing units a year, he said.

Local politicians at the city and county level turn down good plans for housing because they are more interested in commercial development that will provide increased tax revenues, Torlakson said.

Others echoed the sentiment that much of the housing problem is political.

"We have enough land to build what we need, but the problem is the lack of political will," said Richard Lyon, senior legislative advocate from the California Building Industries Association.

Without financial incentives, Torlakson said elected politicians will always go for the opportunity to obtain more money rather than more housing, especially lower-priced affordable housing.

When local governments do approve housing, they favor larger houses on large lots rather than smaller houses or multi-family units, which are more affordable to middle- and lower-class residents, said John Quigley, chair of the Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.

Between 1990 and 1999, multi-family housing accounted for 25 percent of the total housing constructed. It marked a 69 percent decrease from the 1980s, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Affordable multi-family housing accounts for a majority of the state's housing production gap. The lack of supply has driven up housing costs in California.

"We have the worst housing stock in the U.S. in terms of cost and shortage of supply," Torlakson said.

Eight out of the nation's ten most expensive metropolitan housing markets are in the Bay Area, he said.

"We have a $2.1 billion bond proposal before the legislature now and we are working to make housing financially attractive to local governments," Torlakson said.

This talk was one in a series of housing policy seminars held at the Goldman School of Public Policy. The next talk will be held Friday, March 15 at noon.


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