Construction in the Los Angeles Arts District, on the site of the former Megatoys building

Help me help you (build more housing)

I like visiting Curbed LA. I’m a fan of the Los Angeles area, as well as a fan of new developments, so Curbed LA is right in my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, I really can’t afford anything that is highlighted on the site, but that doesn’t really curb (hah!) my interest.

Something that intrigued me was a post in their Curbed Comparisons series on What $1,500 rents you right now. Quite frankly, the apartments featured are… underwhelming. As one commenter put it: “The building in K-Town looks like a no-tell motel.” The most popular apartment in their listing can be described as such: “The bedroom has a ceiling fan to keep cool during those warm Valley summers.” Wow, a ceiling fan! I’m moving in right now!

I decided to look at another metro area to compare: Dallas-Fort Worth. Using Zillow, I restricted the price range to half of what was used for the Los Angeles comparison and searched for 1+ bedrooms and 1+ bathrooms, and found that there are about 100 apartments available (at the time this post was written) in the DFW area for $750 or under. 100! Repeating that search for the Los Angeles area is not nearly as successful. The search returned 18 results at the time of this post, however closer inspection reveals that a lot of the results are actually mislabeled (intentionally, I would bet) rooms for rent. Also, very few of them are even somewhat close to Downtown LA or any other “desirable” area, whereas many, if not most, are located close to the city centers in the DFW area.

So where is this going? To this article on Curbed LA: Housing development in LA still lags behind the nation. Per the most recent US Census data available, Los Angeles County added approximately 16,600 units of housing during the period from July of 2015 to July of 2016, which was an increase of 0.47 percent. That’s well behind the national increase in housing supply of 0.68 percent for the same time period.

It’s not terribly surprising that housing in the Los Angeles area is quite expensive. Per this article, Los Angeles County averaged just under 20,000 new housing units per year from 1980 to 2010, when California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that LA County needed to build an average of 55,000 housing units per year during that time period just to keep the rate of price increase from exceeding the national average. The rest of California doesn’t fare much better:


(Source: California Legislative Analyst’s Office report titled California’s High Housing Costs)

What has to change? Well, more liberty, of course. (Are you surprised?)

For starters, liberty from busybody neighbors engaging in lawfare to prevent your new housing development, on land you own, from spoiling their view. The CA LAO’s report calls it “Community Resistance to New Housing,” though most people use the derogatory term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) to refer to these sorts of people.

Also, liberty from excessive government bureaucracy:

New housing projects are also slowed by the length of time it takes for approvals. The average coastal California metro takes seven months to approve a project; in LA, it takes about eight months. The average for major US metros was just four and a half months.

Not only local governments, but freedom from state government as well:

Environmental Reviews Can Be Used to Stop or Limit Housing Development.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires local governments to conduct a detailed review of the potential environmental effects of new housing construction (and most other types of development) prior to approving it. The information in these reports sometimes results in the city or county denying proposals to develop housing or approving fewer housing units than the developer proposed. In addition, CEQA’s complicated procedural requirements give development opponents significant opportunities to continue challenging housing projects after local governments have approved them.

To end this post, I’m going to tie this all back to Texas with this quote:

But if the [Southern California] region had built at the national pace over the past six years, there would be 22,000 more housing units here. Or, look at regional growth this way: The six-year tally is slightly fewer new units than Texas added … in just the past year.

(Photo Credit: By Patrick Pelletier (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)