As the drama up in Arcata surrounding a potential rent-fixing ordinance for mobile home parks, it’s easy to see the issue as a black and white fight between two interest groups.
On one hand, you’ve got the beleaguered, impoverished and “captive” mobile home owners, championed by Hilary Mosher and the Humboldt Mobilehome Owners Coalition. On the other side, you’ve got those asshole park owners and their greedy protector corporation, the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association. But this isn’t really about these two factions being pitted against each other for the gain of either small group. This should be about finding solutions that benefit the entirety of Humboldt.
The City of Arcata has decided to spend $35,000 on a study looking into the possibility of developing a strategy to balance the needs of mobile park residents and owners. And more power to ’em, we guess.
But THC really wishes that Arcata – and every single government body in Humboldt – had paid attention to this report released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (the “California Legislature’s Non-Partisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor”) regarding the best ways to make affordable housing available to the masses. We highly encourage you, THC fans and housing enthusiasts, to read the report in full for yourselves.
Essentially, LAO – and the State of California – encourage local municipalities to abandon their focus on renters-assistance programs (i.e. rent-controls) in order to focus more on increasing the over-all housing stock in California across the board. The idea is that building high-end housing causes a shift in which families move into nicer homes, thus freeing up lower-level housing for the folks who can’t afford as much as they.
We hate to use the words “trickle-down housing,” because we know how the notion of trickle-down can really set some people off, but the phrase does nicely sum up the idea behind increasing higher-level housing.
So why do LAO and the State of CA feel this way? According to the report: “The current response to the state’s housing crisis often has centered on how to improve affordable housing programs. The enormity of California’s housing challenges, however, suggests that policy makers look for solutions beyond these programs. While affordable housing programs are vitally important to the households they assist, these programs help only a small fraction of the Californians that are struggling to cope with the state’s high housing costs. The majority oflow–income households receive little or no assistance and spend more than half of their income on housing. Practically speaking, expanding affordable housing programs to serve these households would be extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive.”
And why do they think that building higher-end homes might provide the answer? “While the role of affordable housing programs in helping California’s most disadvantaged residents remains important, we suggest policy makers primarily focus on expanding efforts to encourage private housing development. Doing so will require policy makers to revisit long–standing state policies on local governance and environmental protection, as well as local planning and land use regimes. The changes needed to bring about significant increases in housing construction undoubtedly will be difficult and will take many years to come to fruition. Policy makers should nonetheless consider these efforts worthwhile. In time, such an approach offers the greatest potential benefits to the most Californians.”
Here’s a summary of the difficulties presented by pursuing more renters-assistance programs, in absolutely no order whatsoever (you’ll have to read the report for deeper explanations):
- Expanding Assistance Programs Would Be Very Expensive
- Affordable Housing Construction Requires Large Public Subsidies
- Expanding Housing Vouchers Also Would Be
- Expensive Housing Shortage Has Downsides Not Addressed by Existing Housing Programs
- Scarcity of Housing Undermines Housing Vouchers
- Housing Costs for Households Not Receiving Assistance Could Rise
- Housing Shortage Also Creates Problems for Rent Control Policies
- Local Resistance and Environmental Protection Policies Constrain Housing Development
And here’s how more private development can help, according to the report:
- Lack of Supply Drives High Housing Costs
- Building New Housing Indirectly Adds to the Supply of Housing at the Lower End of the Market.
- New Housing Construction Eases Competition Between Middle– and Low–Income Households
- More Supply Places Downward Pressure on Prices and Rents
- More Private Development Associated With Less Displacement
Meanwhile, back in Humboldt: with such an obvious lack of affordable housing, does it make sense to pursue half-baked solutions that benefit a small number of people, rather than going after solutions that benefit everyone? THC hopes the City of Arcata will ask that question as it looks into ways to improve the housing stock.
According to Mosher, she and her fellow rent-control advocates have only about a third of the signatures they need to put a county-wide rent-control measure on the November ballot, which would suggest that there’s not a ton of support locally. Admittedly, the ordinance proposed by Mosher’s group is highly self-interested, and applies to a very small subset of housing-challenged folks in Humboldt.
But a strategy that encourages building starts, increases the housing stock, and helps create affordable housing opportunities? That sounds like something that everyone can get behind.
So why is it that no one has spoken up about pursuing the possibility of encouraging growth in the housing market, rather than pursuing a rent-control ordinance? It’s plain to see from a quick viewing of real-estate listings that there’s simply not enough inventory to go around. Bidding wars on sub-par homes drive prices way beyond what they should be – and that falls most heavily onto the shoulders of the low-income households.
THC proposes this: instead of putting limitations on the existing housing market, why doesn’t all of Humboldt focus on making it easier to build new housing of all types to help achieve the results described in the LAO report?
The scary part of such a proposition is, of course, the specter of relaxed regulations that get environmental advocates all worked up in a dither. (THC would note that since the prevailing environmental groups in Humboldt have seen fit to allow rampant environmental degradation due to marijuana cultivation and are nowhere to be seen when it comes to environmental damage caused to the bay by the homeless population, than they can shut the f*** up on this issue, too.)
At the end of the day our local governments need to quit chasing after half-measures when it comes to addressing the housing shortage. Rent-control for disadvantaged folks sounds nice, and might make the decision-makers feel like they’re doing something. But rent-control is not the answer. Finding ways to encourage private housing construction directly benefits the economy and the people who are having a hard time finding a place to live. And who could argue against that?