What Can Other Places Teach California About Addressing Its Housing Crisis?

47 thoughts on “What Can Other Places Teach California About Addressing Its Housing Crisis?”

  1. I think this essay is a very accurate survey of what is going on in California. Too add a few more things; I was in the bigger cities of California through most of the first half of life. Only later moving to the suburbs when they were not suburban any longer, but part of a bigger city. One thing I discovered, somewhat surprisingly, was that in many single family tract homes bedrooms and garages are rented out to non-family members. Much of the suburban landscape is already more densely inhabited than “planners” have specified.
    Over fifteen years ago I read The Geography of Nowhere where many of the problems that are made in this essay are also discussed. A book that everyone should read.
    One thing I hear in news reports about the “housing problem” in California is that it is a matter of “supply”. That if enough houses were built that prices would be lower. I do not think this is true. Even if every available spot between the Pacific and the Great Salt Lake had more houses put there I expect they would be about the same price they are now. Of course that does not answer the problem of where the water would come from.
    The point that the amount of money spent on “homeless programs” could have paid for plenty of housing is correct, but obviously that has not, and probably will not happen.
    Perhaps the USA will create De Facto internal colonies, camps, for the poor. We have them now in many ways.

  2. Hi Johnny (and commenters/readers).

    Are you familiar with groups, advisors or other resources that can assist with determining ideal US relocation options? I grew up in the Bay Area and had lived in Seattle for 4 years prior to taking this year off for travel — most of it international. My family of 4 will be in need of a new home when (if) we return to the states after our travels are done, and we’re not quite sure where to go.

    When asking ourselves where we want to live (with the entirety of the US being an option), we came to realize that we don’t know much about most of the US outside of a handful of the large and expensive cities that we have visited.

    It would be great to be able to talk to someone or a group of people to cross-reference our values against potential relocation destinations to help create, then narrow down the list for on-site evaluation.

    I’ve already taken up too much of your time, but if you would be able to provide us an assist, it would be greatly appreciated (and potentially life-changing for my wife, two daughters, and I).


    1. I’ve spent entirely too much time on many such “where do I relocate” sites. At the end of the day people reverse engineer such lists to support their pre-existing biases. If you’re a business person doing a statistical cost benefit analysis you might decide to live in a bland suburb of Omaha, Houston, Atlanta, or Orlando. Natural disaster risks are worthy of consideration given the destruction from recent weather events. If you believe the Ozark Mountains or Idaho is the safest most beautiful place on Earth populated by God’s chosen people blah, blah, blah then you’ll find evidence for that in your research. If you’re black or a lesbian you’re going to come up with a very different list than if you’re a Mormon with six kids.

      Personally I like the Midwest from Kentucky to Wisconsin. It’s the most undervalued and under appreciated section of the US. The Rust Belt bottomed out about a decade ago and is on the rise compared to places on the coasts that are currently wildly overvalued and cresting. They have no where to go but down.

      For example, if you love Portland, Oregon but want the same kind of life at a seriously lower price point try Cincinnati, Ohio. Over-the-Rhine gives the Pearl District a run for its money. If you want a McMansion on a couple of acres the suburbs of Dayton like Beavercreek are ideal. Progressive “Main Street” small towns like Yellow Springs have a Norman Rockwell charm.

      All that said… I live in San Francisco because I like the quality of life here.

      Here are some links to start with:






      1. Thank you Johnny. This is helpful.

        The San Francisco Bay Area would be an ideal choice for my family as well. Not only is it the home of 80% of our friends and family (and 100% of our favorite sports teams), we share many of San Francisco’s ideals and values, and have gotten used to many of its liberal and green conveniences. Our intent in relocating to Seattle 4.5 years ago was to take advantage of an increase in salary + the state income tax savings in order to be able to afford a reasonably priced home back in the Bay Area. Unfortunately for us, the price of housing has increased well beyond what I would call reasonable. Even though I may be able to secure a job that allows me to “afford” a decent 3 bedroom home in the Bay Area, I don’t believe the trade-offs that my family and I would make in our limited time and resources are worth such and investment. If we could return for a reasonable price, we would jump at the opportunity. I don’t see that as an option outside of a correction in housing prices, an increase or expansion of quality homes available in attractive neighborhoods (i.e. new public transit options that make now distant Bay Area location more accessible and/or development of land that has been made available through recent wildfires) or some unforeseen windfall that makes a bad economic decision suddenly acceptable to my family and I.

        Until then, we will continue to review options in the US (and beyond) that could provide 80% of our Bay Area quality of life for 30-60% of the price.

  3. It’s pretty shocking to walk around the neighborhoods of Anaheim near Disney Land and see 8 cars parked in each drive way for 1000 square foot, 1 story ranches. Also, I had to wait 10 minutes while 2 school buses will filled completely from the kids from just a couple modest low rise apartments.

    It’s modern tenaments. The squalor would make an interesting sequel to “how the other half lives.”

    1. Regarding criticism for California and what they can learn: the area needs to be massively humbled. It’s the most shockingly economically-segregated place in the country, where the middle class and poor live on the other side of MOUNTAIN RANGES from the family sustaining jobs and the wealthy. Many Californians see themselves at the vanguard on social issues, but they have built the most economically stratified society America has ever seen and it’s getting worse by the day. Walking around places like Newport Beach, it’s like watching modern serfdom where the dukes & duchesses drive around in Porches and are waited on by service worker/economic slaves that are shuttled in daily in 2 hour commutes from some far flung “valley.” What many Californian’s view as their success is simply the concentration of wealth and a corresponding displacement of poverty into places some don’t see (under bridges, 10 adults living in 1000 square foot ranches, many being pushed 60+ miles from urban core). But it shows up in statistics – the state has a 20% lower GDP per capita than Massachusetts, yet property prices 40-60 miles outside of it’s major cities are 150-200% per square foot what transit connected 1st ring burbs of Boston are (which is not a cheap city). LA and the Twin Cities metros have comparable wages but real estate can cost 10x or more in LA than a Minneapolis comparable. The place is spectacularly messed up.

      My advise would be to just completely adopt the playbook of some place that kind of works –
      maybe Minneapolis (despite being the coldest major city in the US, taking the brunt of US industrial decline, having decades of population outflows, and having made all the 1960s era mistakes, it still can provide good wages, good housing, good quality of life & quality of place, has strong social equity and safety net services). The alternative is to continue the sunny delusion that California works and eventually create such a big powder keg that it just blows itself up.

  4. Ok I get your point that housing regulations should be relaxed to allow much more flexibility with existing housing supply and agree. If you look to Europe for an answer, you’ll find at least one solution that works well for some of the Scandinavian countries with much the same problem. If you want to build any new housing you must conform to a new set of high density rules, eg apartment buildings must accommodate a broad spectrum of renters, so some wealthy, presumably penthouses or nice views, some elderly, some low income, some handicapped etc. What this has done is not only pick up people who could never afford to live in that local, but equally important it blends the neighborhood and society. The USA is desperate for much more living with the other side, it would go a long way to integrating America and maybe help save her from herself!

  5. I live near 2 old New England factory towns, where people have tried converting some old buildings to new uses (actually reverting in some cases) with very limited success. The downtown of one is full of potentially lovely old buildings, some renovated and ready for business tenants, but untaken. At the same time, sprawl is creeping rapidly along the highways into the towns, with new commercial buildings mushrooming, and then being torn down a couple years later for new buildings which are in their turn empty… it’s not just that towns lack cash, but that politicians hoping for reelection financing court developers and the banks that feed on them/are fed by them. People who require services, whether schools, streets, policing or transportation, are not welcome, they are a complication. Changing zoning from residential to commercial has many attractions, the reverse direction has none.
    I don’t think anyone living in the suburbs here would be unhappy about some of the empty mall buildings being occupied by ‘them’ because the malls are out around the edges any way, not in suburban neighborhoods; it doesn’t seem to me that hitting at people who are worried about property values is quite the way to go.
    Affordable housing’ usually means subsidized housing; the government pays subsidies between what a tenant can pay and a “market rent”, a regional average. The problem for an apartment owner comes in paying higher property taxes than a single family home on the same lot, and why that should be so I think goes back to the building needing more services in the eyes of government.

  6. I think that Uber and airbnb don’t equate well to the renting out rooms during various historical crunch times because now it’s about individuals-as-corporations finding a way to suck money from those in the precariat. Uber and airbnb are well loved by middle class looking to stay living the life to which they have become accustomed and that’s done by making the working poor pay the fees to Uber and airbnb for the privilege of offering up their unregulated services to the middle class looking for a deal.

  7. In the short-term some housing disruption might throw a wrech into nimbyism and allow more housing to seep in to the system through a backdoor, but the real long-term fix needs to come from reframing property ownership in a way that property owners, who will always be the best organized stakeholders politically, profit directly from neighboring housing growth.

    I don’t really have a concrete idea for that, but I feel nobody is putting much thought into the problem either. Some kind of reverse property tax/land value tax perhaps? Grant tax breaks in proportion to how much growth the neighborhood has?

    1. Honestly, this isn’t an economic problem or a regulatory problem. It’s a matter of culture. We have a few generations of people who believe that once a subdivision is carved up into single family homes it isn’t ever supposed to change – ever. All change is terrible. Period. This hasn’t always been the case. As early as the 1960s the idea that more homes would be built and more people would move in to an area was greeted as a positive sign. Ultimately many places are going to fail in all sorts of ways we can’t predict. The pain of that failure will change the culture. The actuarial tables will do the heavy lifting over time.

  8. I don’t have any suggestions, just maybe an observation. I’m getting close to retirement (such as it may be) and I’ve started thinking my option just may be to rent a small office space near here for ~$500 a month that has a pool, gym and showers available – given the SoCal location, almost a luxurious necessity. It would have 24/7 availability but what if I spend 18 hours a day there minus treks out and about, and sleep in a stealth van in the parking lot the other hours? I can’t understand how an office building with sprinklers and fire alarms automatically becomes unsafe to sleep in, (as opposed to the after lunch nap) but that’s what the codes say. They also say I can’t put a tiny home on wheels on a small plot of ‘unbuildable’ land I can actually afford, even though it would have been able to be moved when wildfires approached, unlike all the ‘foundation required’ Million Dollar ash heaps now all over California.

    Right now, I’m gaming the system by providing caretaking for a 102 (!) year old man in return for pay plus housing. If he makes 105, I’ll have enough saved to buy the cheapest place around here, but otherwise I’ll have to get creative. I’m an aging hippie who has lived in everything from a true tepee (the most glorious elegant housing ever designed!) to a 500 SF English cottage, probably my most favorite standard housing. I miss them both terribly, and neither would be legal anywhere. Funny what a difference a few hundred years makes…

  9. Fixing a housing crisis as bad as California’s will take a lot of approaches simultaneously. We do need new construction, and at the local prices we could do a lot. We need to reduce housing speculation, as that drives up prices even beyond market levels. But I agree there is a huge opportunity in using our existing buildings more efficiently, and it’s a tactic that gets relatively little discussion even though it’s easy physically.

    There are some technical issues with subdivision of modern ranch homes. Standard modern construction makes relatively flimsy single-family houses and they don’t stand up to rework as well as Betsy Ross’ house did. The housing ponzi scheme also creates a problem in that houses are often bought for the hope of appreciation, and subdividing houses interferes with the revered “curb appeal” that really does add tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to a house, irrational as it is.

    The big tripping point for efficient use, as you point out, is the lust to keep out “undesirable elements”. You can rent out a room, but if you subdivide the neighbors will squeal. If you try living in an unoccupied commercial/retail space, somebody will call code enforcement (happened to a friend of mine). Insofar as people manage to sneak these things through, the result tends to be low-quality because it has to be surreptitious, thus really attracting the “undesirable elements” and stigmatizing the process.

    I don’t really have any solutions, except maybe state action on the lines of the accessory housing rule. Perhaps the state could pass a law mandating that commercial/industrial zones other than heavy manufacturing allow residential use. We haven’t yet seen a boom in accessory housing, though, so it’s not clear how much state law could do.

    1. Irvine, of all places, has begun to let apartments into its commercial and light industrial zones. Not the most urbanist (you might have to cross a six lane boulevard to get to the store) but they’re trying.

  10. Johnny –

    I love the fee before anything is built part. Bring it home with this stat at the end of that paragraph:

    At $58,432 in fees before a stick gets built, $162 a month is added to the monthly payment of the owner of this new SFH. Of course, a 30 year mortgagee will actually pay even more than that, since they will pay finance interest on that amount too, a burden that almost disappears when magically rolled into their home loan.

    Everyone pays something each month for housing. We found that calculating the costs and presenting it in a per month basis really hits home to people’s psychology.

    Look forward to stealing some quotes from this for some slides in our presentations to government entities.

    Fun stuff – hope you are doing well. I’m looking forward to getting you to ATL this year on one of our visits to town. We’re about to be extended on a project where we are training folks in the historically downtrodden black neighborhood near the football stadium. Your photos and stories for Columbus are about to be fully displayed finally as we’ve closed out the grant and are recapping our time there. I feel the same treatment will be warranted in ATL, but with better results, the people from the neighborhood are amazing.

    In other news, we are rev’ing up our storytelling operation this summer and I’m looking forward to assembling a collection of your blog posts to play a role in a bunch of different content we are hoping to create or refine from many of our collaborators. We are going to be creating some training content specifically for governments and non-profits and so your clear minded commentary about the habits of civilization are going to come in handy as we try to rock the boats of some overly comfortable bureaucrats (at the request of their bosses, our client).

    Best, Jim

    On Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 5:15 PM, Granola Shotgun wrote:

    > Johnny posted: ” I’m going to ask you, Dear Reader, to pick apart a paper > I’ve been asked to write for another organization. I was given the topic. > Here’s my assessment of the situation. I’m curious what comments might > ensue… What Can Other Places Teach Califor” >

  11. 1.) “… This approach is entirely illegal and socially unacceptable in most places today.”

    Excellent contrast between then and now – with “illegal” being a great attention grabber. A similar line in a post way back got me started following this blog in the first place.

    2.) “They’re desperate for revenue, and one of the few politically palatable sources of cash comes from people who apply for building permission.”

    Same people are also fee’d to death trying to live there post-construction as well.

    3.) “What we have instead is an everything problem. Tackling one dilemma won’t work unless all the others are also managed in a meaningful way.”

    The economically successful regions are drowning in their success so much that they have run out of room for more people to participate in it, while many otherwise great places to live in our huge country go empty for want of jobs – your blogs have shown how sheer economic pressure is starting to change this. A useful change that I feel we missed w/the recent federal tax reform is to regionally set our corporate tax rates according to the economic vitality of a given region. That is, set lower federal corporate tax rates in struggling areas to support their existing businesses and to try and lure new ones in. The lower rate doesn’t have to be forever, it could be established to expire after 15 years or so. This is not the entire problem, as you say, but a piece of it that – if changed – may help grow some of the other changes you talk about. Disclaimer: some form of this business tax gradient may already exist, and I’m just not aware of it.

    1. An economist whose name I can’t recall asserts this economic concentration is costing GDP several trillion dollars by limiting job opportunities and decreasing mobility. 40 years ago the gap between various regions was much smaller, and mobility correspondingly higher. Labor mobility is the lowest in 35 years. Of course, overall job insecurity factors in too.

  12. Really good, Johnny. Just a wee correction:

    “The usual conversation regarding housing is divided between the folks who believe that every American heart yearns for a tract home on a cul-de-sac and the people who insist that compact walkable transit rich neighborhoods are the wave of the future. I’ve spent a lot years exploring the entire country…”

    I would make it “transit-rich” (hyphenated) for clarity. Also, it should be “I’ve spent a lot OF years…”.

  13. Hello,
    I enjoy reading your blog and (since you asked for it) have a few suggestions…
    1) In the first paragraph, you state that change will only happen when “pain hits the broad middle of society. We’re not there yet.” I think this subtracts from the point of the article, and frankly, isn’t true. The pain is there. Its just not being felt by those with the power to do something about it. The rest of us have to move to find housing and endure long commutes.
    2) Actually, the first few paragraphs sound a bit professorial. I liked all the examples in the middle of the article, but the beginning has too many caveats and no “hook”. Yes, things are complicated, but I think that’s a given. Maybe start with the “Try to imagine a young family” paragraph, then move on to the examples, then end with your analysis.
    3) As for your analysis, here are a couple of articles to think about. Again, yes, although the issue is complicated, that doesn’t mean there aren’t simple(ish) solutions. For example, abolishing or relaxing the minimum sq ft requirements would go a long way. This blog argues that land limitations are the predominant cause of high prices: http://idiosyncraticwhisk.blogspot.com/2018/02/housing-part-283-lot-size-and.html
    This blog post makes a similar argument with a simple and compelling case example: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/02/building-regulations-subsidize-mansions.html
    Hope this helps.

      1. I argue that the hurt felt by the broad middle has yet to reach a point where people feel compelled to demand changes in the larger regulatory system. Yes, many middle class people are migrating to other states. But that’s different from significant numbers of voters saying they want lots of new construction in their neighborhood. Spot the difference? At the moment the middle is demanding that the authorities prevent new construction while also asking the police to remove the people who are living in second hand RVs. What the middle wants is to preserve their situation, not expanding housing options for others. Even renters demand special protection from rent increases and evictions while also objecting to new infill development. This is the “I’ve got mine, you go away” dynamic.

        1. Must agree completely with you, Johnny, that the pain has definitely not hit the middle class in any way that will lead to the kind of changes you are proposing. If anything, it may be driving things in the opposite direction.

          We run a mom & pop retail store in the ‘rural-urban interface’ of a city in northern Colorado. We talk A LOT with the locals, folks that are on the middle class spectrum. Their concerns are dominated by how things affect their property values; pressing county officials to enforce building and zoning regs against their neighbors is common, and even pushing to enhance and strengthen (make worse, in my opinion) those regs in the effort to further drive out the undesirables. A good example of this is the rising backlash against ‘tiny homes’; the many small acreages in the area are magnets to these.

          Conor says ” The pain is there. Its just not being felt by those with the power to do something about it. The rest of us have to move to find housing and endure long commutes. ”

          I would posit that what pain is indeed there is not properly understood by those experiencing it. As he says, they move for various reasons, but not toward the change of mindset that you point out will be necessary for structural change to occur.

          Thanks for another great post.

          p.s. “I’ve got mine, you go away” is part of the BANANA ethic.

          1. A problem with a “change of mindset” is time. People need housing now and always. Need plus time doesn’t allow for renters and middle class home owners to make the smartest, most resourceful decisions. They have to choose from what exists or that will soon exist, with what their bottom line is.

            Less regulation that lowers building costs and living costs, and allows for more variety of housing (the Betsy Ross and FLW examples)… might help.

        2. I am firmly planted in the middle. Everyone I know is in the middle.

          I think most of us do not believe that anyone in power in California is listening to us so why try. They listen to the poor and make crippling regulations that hurt the middle. They listen to the rich because they have money.

          That is why most people I know have moved out of the state, or are talking about it.

  14. I work as a planner in the public sector, and so I am always looking for new ways of explaining or clarifying the complexities and absurdities of the American built environment. One of my favorite things about this blog is how you so clearly decode the average built environment in very distinct and understandable terms; it feels a lot like when you watch a director talk about a scene in a movie and then re-watch it again—after that you can never see it the same! For me, the contemporary stories you tell (along with the great images) are the most powerful. My favorite examples of this that I remember from your blog off the top of my head:

    -When you expand on a pack of winnebagos by the roadside—transforming them from some junk that the average driver would pass and not really think of into a troublesome marker of the truly realities of our current economy.

    -When you show an image of a single family home in Hawaii with 5 cars out front, but then show the apartments inside, and weave the story of how it is actually a defacto apartment building and not just some “trashy family with a lot of cars” (which is how my family would have described it growing up).

    -People building duplexes in Hawaii that are nominally SFRs.

    -How you describe the ADU you’ve built, and how you had to skirt codes by making it slightly smaller, etc.

    So, my comment would be to focus more on these real, tangible examples (especially in areas around Chapman University) rather than the iterative housing of Frank Lloyd Wright, New York Brownstones, and the like (I think those are definitely important to mention that the US traditionally had incremental housing, like everywhere else in the world). Those images just don’t feel as real in the mind, especially in SoCal. I just imagine the person who has heard your presentation driving home 2 hours later, still thinking about what you’ve said, and perhaps seeing everything in a new light. They should be questioning everything—there are two vans in the driveway of that house there: is that person running a home business because commercial space is too expensive? There’s a camper in that parking lot with young family outside in the middle of the day—are they working service jobs in Silicon valley? I read your blog and then I see the reality outside my window–that’s what you have taught ME about how to begin thinking about any housing crisis. As for addressing the central question about what other places can teach California, I think it is primarily that other places are experiencing exactly the same–which goes back to your central idea that the institutions we all share are a huge part of the problem!

    One final comment along this vein, I like the example of the family trying to build a 200 SF cabin, but maybe because of the proximity to Laura Ingalls Wilder I can’t tell if you are talking about a family dealing with a modern zoning department in pioneer times, or a pioneer family dealing with a zoning department in modern times. Either way it goes, I think this is a terrific example of how something might (or might not) happen tomorrow in suburban southern California.

    In any case this is just my outsider’s opinion, I am sure whatever you present will be a breath of fresh air and I wish you the best!

    1. I’m also a big fan of this blog for the reason this commenter mentioned: You give me a new way of decoding the built environment and your photos really help practice that new skill. I like the analogy of hearing a director talk about a scene – this blog has made me question how things work.
      I think it might be a good point about using more contemporary examples.
      Thank you for writing!

  15. In many cities the official line is to promote “affordable” housing. These are deed restricted units (often for 30 years) that have formulae that determines their rent or sale prices and to whom they may be sold or rented. As they are below market rate, they are often not profitable to build, so a few non-profit housing developers sometimes cobble together the grants and financing to build a project, or regular market rate developers become required to squeeze in a percent of Affordable units into their otherwise market rate development. Developers are often allowed to increase the number of units they would other be allowed to build if they include Affordable units, but this means that the market rate units may be smaller than they otherwise would be and so often must be priced lower. That factor is compounded by the fact that the presence of the Affordable units may also be perceived as a negative lowering the value of the market rate units further.

    The Plan Bay Area, a coordinated housing plan among all the Bay Area city and county governments, envisions that over 50% of new housing will be deed restricted Affordable units. As these units are unprofitable to build, clearly relatively few will be built.

    Additionally, while the official mantra might be to encourage Affordable units, the local communities often do not want them. Cities and counties are assigned quotas, and they must designate an inventory of parcels where sewer and water services are available and where zoning would permit such projects to be built, but go out and look at those site inventories sometime. Planners are quite skilled in identify sites that will thwart the goals.

    So, officially we emphasize building unprofitable housing on unbuildable sites and we deny profitable housing on the grounds that we don’t need it as we have Affordable quotas to meet.

    The fact is, long term residents have made a fortune in housing appreciation. You begin to see the merits of a housing crises when you benefit greatly from it. That would include a lot of planners (a criminal element if you ask me) and politicians.

    My own guess is that it is going to ultimately take maturing minority millennials (who are the ones really being squeezed hard) to rebel greatly and vote in people who really will allow building. Many of their white buddies will inherit very well one day but the Hispanics – not so much.

  16. Good essay. Just one minor comment, Singapore is sort of a special case as far as its housing and you might not want to group it in with those other international cities. Private housing is very expensive in Singapore, but the city-state has one of the few true socialized-housing systems in the world, and over 75% of the population lives in public housing, so it is complicated to compare its problems to Vancouver and Hong Kong.

    Related to the essay subject, I’m guessing you don’t think SB 827 has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. I’m curious though, do you think that it would make a meaningful difference if it did pass?

  17. I agree with your analysis. However, I’ve grown to have a little sympathy for the NIMBYs. I mean, should cities be forced to create housing? Should they be allowed to create as much office/retail space as they want? Should anyone be able to move here? Is it such a bad thing that California becomes unaffordable and Texas, Sacramento, etc. gets a “beneficial” spillover? I’m not answering in the affirmative for any of these but I think there’s a middle ground between the giant towers and sprawl.

    Another problem is, given the current zoning regime, the only thing that gets built is unappealing mega blocks of condos next to the highway and/or luxury SFH on virgin land. What would be more palatable to all involved is subdividing the strip mall sites and/or building in the 2-3 story range, gradually. This one went up close to me and it’s not bad: https://www.cityventures.com/south-san-francisco/

    1. Reasonable points for argument. This is an overcrowded state (in urban areas) subject to increasing numbers of droughts, wildfires, and the seismic clock is TICKING. Maybe it is crazy to assume that we should accommodate endless population growth? I don’t know.

  18. Johnny,

    I found your paper too heavy with an “Eeyore” outlook of the situation. While there is good material here I suggest taking the topic at face value and answering the question, “If California was willing to listen, how would they take what they have today and improve the housing situation?”

    You already have those answers scattered throughout your posts. All you have to do is go at the subject with the assumption that your audience really wants to fix it and is desperate enough to consider anything. They can’t change physical infrastructure much but they can change they can change licensing, zoning laws, etc. They can encourage the right things and still find ways to make money.

    Try it: Don’t give them a verbal dressing down about how they don’t really hear what you have to say. Instead look at this as an opportunity to highlight what you’ve been saying all along. You have a great message; why not deliver it when a podium is offered?

    1. I agree with this. Either take this as an opportunity to offer legit solutions (of which you have plenty) or if you are only doing this for the hotel stay & notoriety then deliver that speech instead, but figure out what your goal is.

      1. The whole point of my paper is to describe the kinds of things that “could” begin to address the housing crisis quickly and at very little cost. Allow single family homes to be legally subdivided into duplexes and triplexes as-of-right. Allow home based businesses to exist as-of-right so the inhabitants could pay for their own housing through productive activity. Allow existing homes to be added on to with additional units minus the endless poison pills as-of-right. Allow small truly affordable homes to be built and gradually added on to without ridiculous fees and stipulations as-of-right. But we aren’t going to do any of those things. That’s my point. We “could” solve the affordable housing crisis with any number of quick, easy, administrative changes. But we won’t.

        1. I largely agree with Drewster above. This essay might be too dogmatic, hot-headed, know-it-ally, etc. I find that a lot of people (including me) when making political arguments get overly passionate and professorial. They sound as if they are saying “I’m really smart and I’ve figured something out. This stuff is so obvious that anyone who doesn’t believe me must be a moron.” Which inevitably leads to no one listening, no one caring, and no one learning anything. Many dig in deeper into their current convictions.

          I too was wondering your purpose of this essay, which you answered; ‘We could solve the problem, but we won’t’. Are you trying to persuade hearts and minds? Doesn’t seem like this passionate and somewhat fiery essay is really all that persuasive. On the other hand, there comes a point in time when people need to be told ‘this stuff is obvious and you’re a moron’.

          1. I completely understand your perspective. No one likes to be talked down to. But I’m not trying to persuade anyone to do anything. That’s not my goal at all. As I’ve stated, nothing will change so long as the larger culture (that’s you and me) wants the status quo to persist. So we need to be prepared to absorb the consequences of not solving the problem.

        2. Then go and pass out everybody a cookie (or something you homemade) and say this is worth my time and talking to you about any housing solutions isn’t because you don’t actually want to do anything about it.

          1. I believe the Chapman University panel is asking the wrong question. We need to stop trying to solve a problem that society doesn’t actually want to solve. Instead we need to start asking how we manage the consequences of inaction. I think that’s a valuable contribution to the conversation.

            1. I also believe that the Chapman panel is asking the wrong question. I think they should be asking “what can California teach the rest of the country about the consequences of suburban growth with property tax limits”?

  19. This is the best thing I’ve read this week, and sums up the state of housing not just in California, but across too much of North America.

    Sorry that I have no notes. You need to get yourself into government.

  20. Great essay.

    It’s rather pedantic of me, but cholera and the Black Death (“We can’t have fires and cholera breaking out in modern America, although the connection between a minimum 2,800 square foot home and the Black Death is a stretch”) are kind of two pretty different diseases, no?

    1. Yes Nick, you’re being pedantic. This isn’t a paper about disease. I’ve edited the word “cholera” and replaced it with the word “disease” so as to eliminate the distraction. This paper is an exploration of why our culture and regulatory environment make it extremely difficult to build modest homes for people who can’t carry a $700,000 mortgage. Municipalities and HOAs create minimum lot and minimum home square footage requirements in order to filter out “the wrong element.” Feel free to comment on that aspect of the discussion instead.

      1. I shouldn’t have posted that. In hindsight, it wasn’t necessary because it didn’t have to do with the focus of your piece. My apologies. I thought the rest of it was great. It contains a good summation of many of your observations elsewhere on your blog.

        1. I understand the difference between cholera and bubonic plague, but the two were mentioned in a way that suggested otherwise. It was best to clarify the writing to eliminate the confusion.

          Humans are obsessed with minutiae and always focus on tiny things when a much larger concept is presented. It’s just what we do. I’ve been to a thousand open houses where a potential buyer wrinkled up their nose at a perfectly good property because they didn’t like the color on the dining room walls. $500,000 of house vs. $50 of paint… That’s how we navigate the world. It’s best to clarify the details so as not to distract people.

          Thanks for pointing out the problem and helping me fix it. It’s what I asked you to do.

  21. “We have the built environment that we have, and almost all of it is going to stay pretty much the way it is for decades. The project of the next generation is to figure out how to inhabit what we already have in a different way. Our attitudes and behavior will change much more than our buildings.”

    That’s gold right there, buddy.

    1. Yes, although a lot of newer suburban strip mall stuff and even office parks aren’t built too durably. They tend to be “disposable” to the degree determined by their Federal tax depreciation schedule, and not terribly energy efficient.

      However, the lack of durability and insulation is mitigated by climate in the highly desirable parts of California. There’s just not a lot of climate to keep out (little rainfall, no freeze/thaw cycles or snow, limited days of extreme heat or cold, etc.). So the adaptations Johnny proposes indeed might work in coastal California even if not elsewhere.

      (Are people living in self-storage units in California yet? It seems like the extreme sub-rosa solution; they’re like well-built refugee camps.)

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