With the legislative session in its final days in Sacramento, it would take something bordering on a miracle to resuscitate Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious proposal to clear obstacles to adding housing stock. A coalition of local governments, environmental groups and unions that oppose changing our miserable housing status quo — and reducing the influence they have over building decisions — has persuaded enough lawmakers to take the easy way out and do nothing.
In the wake of this failure, we hope every resident rejects the narrative of success and progress that lawmakers will inevitably bring home after the legislative session wraps up this week. This session was an utter debacle for efforts to address the biggest problem in California, a huge driver of poverty and personal misery and a big reason why our children will increasingly leave our state for one where a $65,000 annual salary means a solidly middle-class life, not paycheck-to-paycheck survival.
The housing debate is not just a dry policy battle pitting wonks with different views. It plays out daily in wrenching human crises up and down the Golden State.
The San Jose Mercury News recently shared the story of Mya Shiloh, a senior at San Jose’s Lincoln High. Housing costs made it impossible for her family to live anywhere near San Jose, prompting her mom to move 60 miles inland to Tracy. To avoid disrupting her education by leaving a high school she loves, the 17-year-old wakes up at 4 a.m. every school day to take a commuter train to San Jose. Her total commute is about as long as her school day.
The New York Times recently wrote about how Bay Area start-up companies had no choice but to set up auxiliary offices in places where less well-paid employees could afford to live. The story detailed the stress that San Francisco tech worker Kate Rogers was under because of her awful commute and extreme rent, and the immense relief the young parent felt after being transferred to Phoenix, where she is no longer forced to “decide between picking my son up at school and being successful at my job.”
Closer to home, KPBS recently detailed the heartache of Escondido resident Guy Chandler over the fact that his adult daughter Janelle was forced to leave San Diego County and move to another state because she couldn’t afford to raise a family here. The day he found that out in June 2015 was “[p]robably the worst day of my life,” Chandler told county supervisors. Now his regular contact with his grandchildren is limited to FaceTime video calls.
Against this backdrop, it is inconceivable that a majority of the California Legislature supports the housing status quo. It is jaw-dropping that many prefer to focus on affordable housing programs that help just a small fraction of state residents deal with extreme costs through subsidies and de facto housing lotteries. It is stunning that so many elected Democrats — whose party speaks so often of “social justice” — don’t grasp the mass injustice of housing policies that hurt the poor and older renters with fixed incomes and that steadily hollow out the middle class.
If anyone wants a sense of what the death of the American Dream feels like, come to urban and suburban California. It’s playing out in real time.