The land history of Orange County continues to be one of denial of fair housing and social equity. Opposition to modest upzoning in single-family areas has used inaccurate descriptions of land values, economics, and various scare tactics to ultimately conclude that no new housing should be built under any circumstances for the current and next generation of Californians. That future homeowners should live elsewhere, either in another state or commute hours away from job centers because older homeowners refuse to change their lifestyle and exacerbate already-onerous housing prices and environmental conditions. Ultimately, they want no more housing built, which is their real position; this position affects the lives of all Californians interested in a starter home, empty nesters interested in remaining in the same areas they raised their children, and the middle class interested in living near where they work here in Orange County. Senate Bills 9 and Senate Bill 10 give Orange County space for new neighbors and that is what scares them.
Adding more housing to meet demand when cities or regions experience rapid population growth has slowed housing costs in cities without significant zoning restrictions. Contrary to Dan Jamieson’s example of Vancouver’s experience, cities like Montreal, Seattle, and Houston, have experienced rapid population growth without spiking housing costs because they have added housing supply to meet the demand. By contrast, California has experienced a rapid increase in housing costs over the last generation because we have almost completely put the brakes on new housing development as demand for housing has increased. Refusing to even modestly densify will doom California to more of what we have now — homelessness, skyrocketing rents, and homes out of reach for young people.
Land values don’t increase from upzoning, they increase from demand. Does anyone think rustbelt cities like Cleveland or Detroit could magically quadruple their land values by changing the zoning laws to allow four times more housing? Land values are a function of demand, and demand in California is extremely high. Upzoning to allow more density will simply bring the zoning in line with the existing demand.
Even if Jamieson were right that allowing four times more housing would simply quadruple land values, that is hardly an argument against increasing densities. Let’s assume a landowner can currently charge $1,000 in rent on a property zoned to permit a single unit. Under Jamieson’s theory, if the zoning envelope were quadrupled, the landowner would now be able to charge $4,000 for the four units. Well, guess what? Four families can now live where previously only one was permitted, and they would all be paying the same rent that one family was paying before. How can this be anything but a win for housing affordability?
Our support for SB 9 and 10 is one of modest improvements to our communities here in Orange County where neighbors and friends can live and work in the same places with the right to live where they want to live, raise their children, and have more housing choices. The misinformation is built on decades of opposition to integration and furthering fair housing in Orange County. Please contact your local Assemblymember to support SB 9 and SB 10.
Peter Cruz is serving his second term at a local affordable housing nonprofit through AmeriCorps and working on his Master’s in Public Administration at California State University San Bernardino. He is also a member of People for Housing Orange County.
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