Voters Are Skeptical About Developers and the Free Market as Housing Saviors

Few in Los Angeles have the opinion that the lack of housing supply is driving the homeless crisis in the city and around the state.
March 5, 2019, 12pm PST | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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The Los Angeles Times surveyed Californians about what they thought was driving the state’s homeless crisis, and many who work on the issue were surprised by the results. "Only 13 percent of respondents blamed the crisis on 'too little homebuilding.' Twice as many people included 'lack of funding for affordable housing' or 'lack of rent control' as top explanations for the problem," Rick Jacobus writes for Shelterforce. This seems counter to the basic principles of economics. 'Both in the comments section on the LA Times website and on Twitter, commenters wondered what it was about supply and demand that voters can’t quite understand,' Jacobus writes.

Jacobus argues that, while increased supply should be part of the strategy, the story is more complicated than that. Jacobus contends that housing is composed of many distinct commodities and changing the supply of luxury apartments is unlikely to impact costs for some people on the lower end of the market. He goes even further, writing: "My view is that there are sensitive neighborhoods where fancy new buildings can accelerate gentrification, but there are also many more neighborhoods where that is not much of a risk."

To make a dent in housing costs Jacobus argues: "The most compelling policy implication of this switch to a segmented view of housing markets is that we need to do more to encourage development of new buildings that are targeted for lower- and middle-income households." In Jacobus’ view, voters don’t believe that developers and the free market will solve the housing crisis, so to make a more compelling case for development, politicians must be willing to hold private partners to their promises when it comes to building affordable housing and must be honest about the challenges presented by working with these partners.

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Published on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 in Shelterforce
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