Population Growth: Overlooked Cause of Astronomical Housing Costs in California

Leon's picture

By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

August 17, 2017
Telegraph Hill District of San Francisco
Astronomical:  the cost of housing in San Francisco
(Telegraph Hill District)
California has a serious housing affordability crisis on its hands. It is not one that developed overnight, but one that has worsened considerably over the decades, alongside, and driven in part by, the state’s mushrooming population.

Population growth = greater housing demand = higher housing prices.

It’s really that simple. 

Money magazine recently listed the top ten most expensive cities in the U.S. to rent a one-bedroom flat (from the Zumper National Rent Report for April 2016). San Francisco comes out on top, at a whopping $3,590 for the median monthly rent of a single-bedroom apartment. Four of the top seven most expensive cities are in, you guessed it, California:
  1.  San Francisco, CA $3,590
  2. New York, NY $3,340
  3. Boston, MA $2,310
  4. Oakland, CA $2,280
  5. San Jose, CA $2,270
  6. Washington, DC $2,200
  7. Los Angeles, CA $1,970
  8. Miami, FL $1,900
  9. Chicago, IL $1,790
  10. Seattle, WA $1,750

Back in May, Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti admitted that L.A. County’s homeless population had skyrocketed 23 percent since 2016.  
Homeless in Los Angeles, CA
The latest trend in “affordable housing” in Los Angeles.
It is not surprising that in expensive, environmentally friendly, booming California, when push comes to shove, the environment and its defenders will get pushed out of the way to make room for more people. 
This is the gist of a recent article “California’s Push for Affordable Housing Could Weaken Environmental Law” in a San Francisco paper.
No less than 130 bills intending to solve the housing-affordability crisis are being considered by the California Legislature. While housing-affordability activists are heartened, some environmentalists worry that any new law could undermine California’s longstanding, landmark environmental statute, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
This is the same hypocritical, Democrat-dominated Legislature, by the way, that bends over backwards to welcome more and more immigrants, legal and illegal alike, into the Golden State. Come one, come all! The more, the merrier!
Population growth = greater housing demand = higher housing prices.
According to the San Francisco Public Press, three of the most favored bills take aim at the CEQA review process. They do this by curbing the current mandate that developers and municipalities evaluate and perhaps mitigate potential growth-related impacts such as air pollution or traffic congestion. Under current law, CEQA analysts must also evaluate hazards like potential future flooding from a rising sea level invading neighborhoods in the coastal zone.
downtown San Francisco
Areas in downtown San Francisco that could be
flooded by an 8-foot storm surge.
Studies show that by 2100, with climate-change-driven sea level rise proceeding as predicted, hundreds of acres in downtown San Francisco will be vulnerable to inundation if combined sea level rise and storm surge were to reach eight feet. In these waterfront areas alone, according to the Public Press, the value of active building permits surpasses $2.3 billion in construction costs. 
Some of the legislation goes even further in limiting the CEQA’s application in local environmental review, allowing developers to circumvent it if their plans meet affordable housing and transportation goals.
The director of Sierra Club California, which like the Democrat-dominated legislature, also effectively endorses endless immigration and population growth in California, claims that it is speculation, Proposition 13, and other factors, not CEQA, and certainly not population growth, which are driving up housing costs.
Quoted in the San Francisco Public Press article, director Kathryn Phillips says:
“In terms of housing, if you want to point a finger, CEQA isn’t the problem. What the development interests are doing is taking advantage of a bad situation and targeting something they have always hated. The developers that want to go in and make a fast buck hate the CEQA process. They have their vision and they don’t want anyone standing in the way, and they sure don’t want to mitigate the environmental hazards.”
Of course, developers are always everyone’s go-to scapegoat. As California’s population tops 40 million, headed toward 50 million and beyond, expect the housing affordability crisis to intensify. To say nothing of the livability crisis.
And so far, neither the political hacks in Sacramento nor their environmentalist allies have a clue.  
Population growth = greater housing demand = higher housing prices.

CAPS blog posts may be republished or reposted only in their entirety. Please credit CAPS as www.capsweb.org. CAPS assumes no responsibility for where blog posts might be republished or reposted. Views expressed in CAPS blog posts do not necessarily reflect the official position of CAPS.