Wednesday, March 18, 2015

LAO on Housing

Dan Walters, who has been writing right-wing political analysis since I was a small child, sent me to the LAO report on housing in California and, while Walters puts his own spin on it, it does point up the real problem with housing here--it's way, way too expensive.  I haven't read the whole thing (I will, promise), but a couple of things stand out.  The first is that the LAO doesn't trash rent control, which is a good thing, since it's not a good idea to rattle on about the lack of supply and then suggest that we get rid of 170,000 rent-controlled units in San Francisco.  If you can't produce 10,000 affordable units a year, instantly coming up with nearly 200,000 units is going to be difficult.  The second is that, while recognizing the wimpy-ness of the Legislature's response to the problem, it doesn't point out ways to improve the situation.

I think that, first of all, we should eliminate the mortgage interest deduction.  It costs the state nearly $5 billion a year, most of which goes to already rich people.  Second tenants who are overpaying for rent should get a refundable tax credit of their excess rent payments.  It could be indexed, so that extremely low-income people received all of their rent back, very low-income people almost all of their rent payments, and so on up the economic scale.  The State Legislature does nothing to address the problem because it doesn't cost them anything not to do so. Third communities that are not providing affordable housing should face serious fines.  After all, they are forcing workers in their communities to drive long distance to work, which costs a bunch in time and pollution.  If a local government faces the loss of much of its state funding, it will very quickly address the problem.  

One of the fun things happening lately is that discussion of rent control is popping up all over the place, and in some of the oddest places, like Burlingame and Mountain View and Redwood City.  One silly local councilperson, faced with the need to allocate space and spend money to create affordable housing, as well as enact rent controls, suggested that people should come up with more "creative" solutions.  I thought immediately of 12 Grimmauld Place, where the house and its residents only exist in the magical interstices, and do not impinge on the lives of the rest.  Unfortunately that only works in children's fiction.

One other note: the report notes that the housing is needed in the coastal regions and doesn't advocate having people transport themselves to jobs from far-flung housing. That's a good thing, as it makes no sense in a time of climate change to increase transportation pollution.

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