A number of Californian homeowners and neighborhood groups have filed lawsuits against the state's major cities, insisting they roll back zoning restrictions in order to facilitate new housing development. It might be the most populous state in the U.S., but California ranks 49th in the number of housing units per capita — only ahead of Utah — and has the second-highest rate of overcrowding after Hawaii. Officials say the state's housing supply is so low that it's at crisis level.
From 1980 and 2010, California's coastal cities added new housing units at about half the rate of the typical U.S. metro area. California saw an estimated 90,000 fewer units per year than necessary to keep up with home price growth, the state legislature notes. Low inventory has pushed home prices in California 2.5 times higher than the U.S. median.
"California's complex land-use and regulatory structure gives opponents of development extraordinary powers to stymie new projects," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Environmental reviews intended to preserve California's picturesque coastline and hillsides also provide a means for residents to challenge ordinary development proposals. If a review finds adverse impacts on parking, traffic, noise, or air quality, elected officials can't approve it until they have addressed opponents' concerns. Even after a project is approved, opponents can file environmental challenges, a process that can delay projects by two to four years."
Now pro-housing activists are stepping in. "No one's out there pushing for more housing of all types,” says Mark Vallianatos, a former urban planning professor and founder of Abundant Housing LA. "It shouldn't be such an onerous task to build housing when we have a housing crisis."
Paul Habibi, an apartment developer and professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, told the Journal he understands the concerns some residents have about favoritism for luxury developers who seek quick approvals. But he says the shortage of housing is so severe that there needs to be fewer roadblocks. "You just can't build enough units at any price point," Habibi says. "The reality is that growth needs to come from all directions, whether it's high-end housing, mid-tier, or the subsidized affordable units."