Rising rents are driving working class Californians out of the neighborhoods they grew up in. Relatively inexpensive units require the incomes of two or more jobs. Even worse, rent hikes are driving too many of us out into the streets, even in unprecedented winter conditions that California has been facing recently . Temperatures have been reaching freezing levels not seen since the 1960s in Southern California, and clouds have unleashed wave after wave of serious storms. The number (and capacity) of local shelters is totally inadequate. The 2018 Los Angeles homeless count observed that around 52,765 Los Angeles County residents are unhoused daily now. It seems, though, that there is considerable new construction going on in many cities. Can we expect this to alleviate our housing crisis?
In one word, no. According to a report recently released by the housing non-profit Next 10, based on reports to the Department of Housing and Community development, recent housing construction has been totally inadequate to keep up with population growth. In 2017, of a projected annual need of 200,000 new units, only 113,000 obtained planning permits. Even this may paint too optimistic a picture, since in 2007, only 40 percent of needed units were ever constructed.
These projections are based on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, but one in six jurisdictions in the state, many of them primarily working class, have not given annual reports this entire RHNA cycle, beginning in 2013. The jurisdictions that have reported show the situation to be even more severe than the raw construction numbers would suggest. Less than one third of reporting jurisdictions have completed even 10 percent of planned low income housing construction, and barely over a quarter of jurisdictions in the case of very low income housing. Overall, 45.6 percent of planned “above moderate-income units” have received permits. This compares starkly to moderate income units, which scored 19 percent, low income units 9.8 percent, and very low income units a shocking 7.3 percent. Over half of reporting jurisdictions have not permitted any new units in the very low income category at all. This is how badly California has failed to meet its own official goals, goals that are almost certainly inadequate themselves, set by politicians strongly influenced by the lobbying of developers, landlords, and real estate interests.
Can we expect them to solve, or even substantially alleviate this crisis for us? No. In the short term, we must apply as much pressure as possible, must organize and fight for housing reforms, for tenants rights, for the construction of affordable housing, and crucially, the supply of public housing. We must organize into tenants unions, resist our landlords together with our neighbors, and we must support rent strikes in our communities, such as the recent Cedar Resistance in Long Beach, or the Burlington Avenue rent strike in central Los Angeles.
In the longer term, we must remember, and must remind each other, that whatever reforms or concessions we win, whatever rights we claim, are not secure as long as housing is a commodity, as long as society is organized not for the benefit of ordinary people, but for the sake of profit; not according to a participatory plan, but according to the speculative chaos of the market. We have the material means to house people, whether that be by new construction, or by making available units that now sit empty. (The rate of vacant housing units in Downtown Los Angeles alone sits at over 12 percent.) A system that drives developers to convert senior housing into luxury condos, while more and more seniors find themselves in tents on the sidewalk, is not a system that can be reformed into something decent, it is a system that must be overcome.