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State panel urges cheaper housing

SACRAMENTO – California’s Little Hoover Commission added itself Wednesday to a chorus of voices vilifying California’s shortage of housing that average residents can afford.

In Nevada County, a group of business organizations formed the Workforce Housing Project to encourage construction of homes under $200,000 for the area’s work force – middle-income teachers, firefighters, nurses and others.

The project has achieved some successes in easing restrictions on lot lines and road sizes, allowing more density that makes housing economical to build. The hope is that builders will follow up the handful of projects expected to start this year with more projects to ease the shortage of homes under $200,000.



“Below 200 (thousand dollars) is still very very tight out there, not only in Nevada City and Grass Valley, but in Auburn and Colfax,” said Monty East, a real estate agent with Gateway Real Estate who is working on the project.

Ed Sylvester, an engineer involved with the project, said the effort has been met with “very good cooperation” out of the city of Grass Valley.




“If everybody’s working in a vacuum, pointing fingers at everybody else, it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Sylvester.

The Little Hoover Commission, concluding a yearlong study, criticized state government for failing “to seize every opportunity to spur the development of homes, particularly for low-income Californians.”

In doing so, the commission joins groups such Housing California, the League of California Cities and the Building Industry Association of California in growing alarm over conditions afflicting millions of residents.

While acknowledging the effects of economic prosperity in driving up housing costs, the commission – an independent state oversight agency – put most blame for the housing shortage on “mounting consequences of failed policies.”

Commission Chairman Michael E. Alpert, a retired San Diego securities lawyer, noted, “It is not too late, and the problem is not insurmountable.” The Little Hoover Commission calls for a state crackdown on cities that don’t accept their share of housing, recommends more housing on former industrial sites known as “brownfields,” and urges smarter use of federal and state subsidies.

“The state can no longer simply encourage and hope that more than 500 local jurisdictions collectively do what is in the best interest of California and some of its most vulnerable citizens,” the report states. State government, it adds, “must assume a far more assertive stance than it has in the past.”

State housing officials say California, second only to Hawaii in housing costs, is falling nearly 100,000 units short of annual demand. The shortage is greatest in apartments and condominiums for lower-income renters, forcing more than two-thirds to pay more than half their income for rent. Nearly all spend more than 30 percent of their monthly paychecks for housing.

Among options, the commission points to a bill pushed by Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, to withhold state funds from cities that block affordable housing. The bill, SB910, passed the Senate last year, but has been stalled in the Assembly.

Dan Hancock, retired president of the Bay Area building firm, Shapell Industries of Northern California, acknowledged opposition to the bill by cities and counties intent on controlling how they grow. But he said the economic downside of unaffordable housing for millions of California workers is equally critical.

“We have to encourage local governments to act responsibly on the issue, to reward those who meet their regional goals and penalize those that don’t,” he said.

The commission cited the city of Emeryville as a role model for putting new housing on old industrial sites.


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