North Bay Leadership Council Lands State Housing Expert as Summit Speaker

An author of a new government report on the high cost of California housing is slated to speak at a regional housing summit this spring in Petaluma.

This month’s report by the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that California housing prices have risen so much over the past four decades largely because demand has far exceeded supply, especially in the state’s coastal communities.

As a result, home prices and rents in the Golden State are “higher than just about anywhere else,” the authors write.

In the 1970s, California’s average home price was about a third higher than the nation’s. Today the average home in the state costs about $440,000, or 2½ times the national average. Rents, meanwhile, are about 50 percent higher here than in the rest of the country.

Addressing the shortage might require building roughly double the number of homes now constructed each year, with the extra units located “almost exclusively in coastal communities,” the report stated.

Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, said she read the new report and wanted to include its findings in the discussion at the May 8 event that her group is hosting.

“This is exactly what I want to talk about at the housing summit,” Murray recalled thinking. As a result, one of the report’s authors, senior fiscal and policy analyst Brian Uhler, has agreed to appear on a panel addressing possible ways to increase the housing supply.

Five years after the last recession, Sonoma County’s homebuilding sector is still pumping out less than a third of the number of new units that were built here over the past quarter-century. Last year, the county and its cities issued building permits for 465 units.

The lack of supply is one reason the county last year ranked among communities with the biggest rent hikes in the nation. Apartment rents have climbed nearly 30 percent in three years.

The leadership council, a regional group of private and nonprofit employers, has called the housing shortage a crisis and in response is hosting the May 8 summit.

One of the summit’s two keynote speakers, UC Berkeley housing and urban policy professor Carol Galante, praised the legislative analyst’s report for explaining how the state’s fiscal and environmental policies make it difficult to build more housing.

For example, local governments have more of a financial incentive to approve construction of sales-tax-generating retail projects rather than housing subdivisions, Galante said. And the state-required environmental review process “totally stymies” even ecologically sensitive housing proposals, she said. In so doing, such reviews fail to consider how the rejection of housing in a community can increase greenhouse gas emissions by forcing workers to live farther away and make longer commutes, she said.

“I think we as a society have to look at what the true cost of these policies are,” Galante said.

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