Regions Build Together – A Housing Agenda for All of California

Housing is foundational to the California Dream, yet it has become one of the primary obstacles to livability in nearly every region of the state. From rising costs that push millions into poverty and result in longer commute times to new home production challenges, the inability of California to solve its housing crisis is negatively impacting opportunities to prosper, especially during a pandemic fueled recession that has crippled the financial security of millions of Californians and their communities.

Released by CA FWD with support from Wells Fargo, “Regions Build Together – A Housing Agenda for All California” provides a regions-up housing agenda consisting of 14 practical actions that can relieve the state’s persistent housing crisis. The report looks at the state through nine regional housing markets to identify the current state of affordability, distinct challenges, and opportunities that can be replicated or scaled up at a state level.

California has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, outstripping not only the national average monthly rent and home price figures but also the rate at which housing costs have increased over the last few decades. For years, the state has chronically failed to produce enough housing to keep up with demand, resulting in an estimated deficit of up to 3.5 million units the state would need to build to backfill the current shortage in addition to the 180,000 new units annually state officials say are needed to match estimated population growth through 2025.

The reasons for this failure to build are many and complex. High employment growth rates in urban job centers like the Bay Area and Los Angeles have increased demand, but a preponderance of single-family zoning and local resistance to increased density have made increasing supply challenging. When housing can be built in the state, the economics of building push developers towards market-rate units made even more expensive by building code requirements and local development fees that have driven up overall costs, far outpacing household incomes and putting housing out of reach for lower-income and even moderate income Californians. Despite years of underproduction leading to a surge in the homeless population, strained transportation systems buckling under the weight of more and more commuters, and an affordability crisis that has seen teachers, healthcare workers, and others who form the backbone of the world’s fifth largest economy driven out of their communities, we have failed to move the needle.

The barriers to solving California’s housing affordability crisis are primarily political rather than technical or market driven. Organizing communities around building homes for people at all income levels is extraordinarily difficult work, and this effort meets different forms of resistance in different communities. Therefore, this report provides a plan for a “regions up” housing agenda for the state that is built from existing initiatives that have political traction and stakeholder support. It differs, therefore, from an academic analysis that advances a comprehensive set of solutions developed in the abstract that, although potentially impactful, are divorced from action on the ground.