A San Francisco Chronicle article highlighted research findings by Urban Planning Associate Professor Adam Millard-Ball on the width of streets in San Francisco. In places with housing shortages, wide streets take up valuable land that could have been used to build more homes or other buildings, Millard-Ball said. While the average street in San Francisco is 50 feet wide, Millard-Ball proposed 16 feet as the functional minimum width for residential streets. In some areas of the city, streets are an average of 93 feet wide. Millard-Ball argued that in high-cost California counties like Santa Clara and San Francisco, the consequences of unnecessarily wide streets are enough to make the costs to narrow them worth it. For cities that are still growing, Millard-Ball suggested that planners build narrower streets to save land for housing. In established cities where narrowing the streets is not feasible, he proposed adapting unused street spaces into outdoor dining spaces, slow streets and other recreational spaces.
A New Yorker article on homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in California cited data from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK). The article focused on Weekend Warriors, a company that hires individuals facing housing insecurity to house-sit vacant homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. Weekend Warrior employees live in properties that are being flipped, guarding them through the renovation, staging, open-house and inspection periods. CNK research shows that Los Angeles has the highest median home prices, relative to income, and among the lowest homeownership rates of any major city. As for rental units, Los Angeles has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country and the average rent is $2,200 a month. The housing shortage, caused in part by restrictive zoning laws and NIMBYism, has exacerbated homelessness in Los Angeles, with about 66,000 individuals sleeping in cars, in shelters or on the street on any given night.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Voice of San Diego about some of the issues associated with single-family zoning. In San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is pushing housing reforms that would make it easier for developers to build rent-controlled apartments near transit but would not change the single-family zoning that applies to most of the city. Excluding single-family areas near transit from the program might be politically wise, Monkonnen said, but the collective benefit of allowing more people to live near transit should outweigh the concerns of people who don’t want their neighborhoods to change. “A big problem for California is we have never allowed single-family neighborhoods to change, and so people are overly concerned about what would happen if we did,” he said. Allowing California residents to build four homes on any single-family lot would be a big step toward addressing the state’s housing crisis, he said.
The Cato Institute released a video featuring Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville discussing California land-use regulations as a key factor in the state’s housing crisis. In the video, part of the institute’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California, Manville argued that, while some limits on development are sensible, there is a certain point at which zoning “becomes an instrument for people who are currently in a neighborhood … to keep other people out.” According to Manville, inefficient land use and rising prices have pushed middle-class people out of neighborhoods, setting off a chain reaction that affects low-income people most. “We need to reform our land use so we can build a lot more housing,” he argued. “It’s true that there isn’t a lot of undeveloped land in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but land can and should be redeveloped.”
Urban Planning Professor Chris Tilly was featured in a Bloomberg article discussing how economic issues in California are swaying voters in favor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign. In the run-up to the California Democratic primary, surveys indicated that Sanders’ promises of housing and health care affordability resonate with many Californians who are frustrated by rising rent and a lack of affordable housing across the state. According to Tilly, “There are two sides to the story of the health of the L.A. economy.” Even as incomes rise and the unemployment rate is at an all-time low, the costs of daily life for Californians are rising faster than wages. Tilly explained that low unemployment and steady job growth “reflect the wider U.S. economy, but there are people being left out and who are being caught in the gap between what a lot of jobs pay and what housing and other expenses are.”
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to LAist about the root causes of homelessness in Los Angeles. Monkkonen pointed to rising housing costs exceeding income as the main contributor to homelessness. “People talk about [housing] like it’s a game of musical chairs, but I don’t think that’s really the right metaphor. Income differentials don’t matter in a game of musical chairs, but they do in this one,” Monkkonen said. Restrictive land-use policies have limited the amount of new housing available to accommodate a growing population, he said. Housing costs have increased because of a lack of supply of places to live and more high-income jobs that lead to gentrification and displacement in less affluent neighborhoods. “We’re building much less housing than we have at every other point in our history, in at least the last century or so,” he said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville weighed in on the controversial Senate Bill 50 in a recent Los Angeles Times column. SB50 aims to relieve the housing shortage, reduce commuting time and combat climate change by requiring cities to allow multi-family complexes to be built in areas near mass transit, among other provisions. Many California residents have expressed concern that SB50 would increase housing density and destroy the integrity and character of their neighborhoods. Manville understands the concerns of residents but believes that everyone must contribute to solving the housing crisis, including those living “smack dab in the middle” of the nation’s second-largest city. “We have people in our city living in tents. They live in their cars. They live under our highway overpasses and they die on our sidewalks,” Manville said. “At a certain point, the pedigree of your house has to matter a little bit less.”
The Sacramento Bee spoke with Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens about a California bill on “upzoning” in light of a recently released report. The bill, SB 50, would let developers bypass certain zoning restrictions when building multifamily housing in “transit-rich” and “job-rich” areas, a process known as upzoning. After an Urban Affairs Review study concluded that upzoning policies in Chicago resulted in higher housing prices and no increase in housing supply after five years, some began to question SB 50, although many noted that Chicago is not necessarily a good comparison for California. Lens stressed the need for more information. “We need to hear from tenants. We need to hear from and listen to developers. … We need to read carefully the text of these bills that outline various protections that are pretty robust in terms of communities vulnerable to gentrification and displacement,” he said. Lens continued the conversation on CALmatters’ Gimme Shelter podcast.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was featured in the Los Angeles Times and KTLA 5 News explaining the results of a recent UCLA study that highlighted a discrepancy between the amount of land necessary to fulfill Gov. Gavin Newsom’s housing goals and the amount of land the state of California has set aside for development. Cities and counties have set aside enough land for the construction of 2.8 million homes out of the 3.5 million housing units Newsom aspires to build in the next seven years, the report found. Monkkonen explained that “because not all that land can be developed quickly for home construction, the state would probably have to double or triple the amount of land zoned for housing for the governor to reach his goal.” He said the report “shows pretty clearly that it’s going to be a hard slog to actually get 3.5 million housing units built.”
California governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s plan to solve California’s housing crisis were critiqued by Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen in a recent article on Curbed. Newsom and Monkkonen agree that California’s current housing crisis is the result of “an underwhelming amount of housing production … contributing to escalating rents and home prices,” but they disagree on the approach to a solution. Monkokken argues that while Newsom’s proposed construction of 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 sounds appealing, “it’s harder to figure out how to actually make that work.” Newsom’s plan would require an unprecedented construction boom and matching investment in infrastructure; Monkkonen points out the “restrictive zoning requirements” as a significant obstacle “that make dense housing extremely difficult to construct.” He concludes that the priority should be “[finding] a way to ensure housing construction keeps pace with demand” instead of Newsom’s focus on “[reaching] a specific number of units.”