Why Planning Is Essential to Solving California’s Housing Crisis 
Jaymes Dunsmore in California, Development, Housing, Transit, uUrban Planning

California needs more sustainable, transit-oriented, urban development, like that being developed at Metro’s North Hollywood station in Los Angeles. Image© Gensler

Cities across the country need more housing but aren’t building it. In California, this challenge has become a crisis. Despite the state’s booming economy, which recently surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world's fifth largest economy, California is struggling with record levels of homelessness and has lost more than one million residents to other states over the past decade as middle and low income families flee the highest-in-the-nation housing costs. In response, politicians and policymakers are considering dramatic changes, which could have profound effects on the planning, design, and development of cities across the state. For planners, architects, and designers this presents opportunity to rethink our role in shaping how our cities grow and change.

We need more housing

At the root of the California housing crisis is a fundamental principle of economics: supply has not kept pace with demand, causing more competition for few housing units units and driving prices up. While domestic migration has gone negative, California’s population and demand for housing continues to grow, thanks strong international migration and and new household formation, as more millennials enter the housing market. Despite the increase in demand, the Next 10 housing study finds that over the past decade only 25 housing permits were filed for every 100 new residents in California. Overall, the state Department of Housing & Community Development has concluded that just to match population growth, California needs to build 100,000 more homes each year than we do now. Home-building isn’t driving population growth—it’s lagging behind—and not building housing won’t stop cities from growing.

We have the space for it

The good news is that while California needs more housing, we also have the space for it. A 2016 study by McKinsey concluded that California has enough land within a half-mile of transit stations to construct three million new homes over the next two decades. With Californians across political lines voting to tax themselves to fund new transit expansions (including Measure M here in LA), the potential for development in transit-oriented communities will only increase. And it’s essential for realizing the value of our infrastructure investments. With the space to build up to 150,000 housing units per year near transit stations, solving the housing crisis doesn’t require embracing sprawl or abandoning California’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; in fact, we can’t address climate change without building more housing in urban centers.

How cities restrict housing (even near transit). Image, Jaymes Dunsmore

So what’s stopping us?

California needs more housing and we have the space for it, so what's stopping us? One answer: cities restrict housing (even near transit) through planning and zoning regulations:

Together these requirements limit the number of new housing units that can be built and increase the cost of those units that are constructed. In addition, neighborhood opposition often forces architects and developers to further reduce the size—and therefore the benefits—of housing projects near transit. For many housing developments, from transit-oriented communities to permanent supportive housing, the biggest challenge isn’t architectural—it’s political.

Potential policy changes to increase housing near transit. Image, Jaymes Dunsmore

What we can do

As architects and designers, we believe in the power of design to create a better world. Realizing that vision may sometimes involve need to be more engaged in crafting the laws, regulations, and policies that shape our cities, from the state capitol to neighborhood councils.

Until recently, changes to zoning regulations that increase density were considered to be third rail of the housing debate, which is what made a recent proposal to radically rethink these requirements so shocking. The legislation, known as SB 827, would have transformed zoning regulations across the state, lifting restrictions on housing within a half-mile of rail stations (and a quarter-mile of bus stops with frequent service). Among other changes, the proposed legislation would have:

Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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