Housing Hits Home
As costs rise and supply lags all across California, Chapman scholars lead the search for solutions.
Originally posted: July 10, 2018Chances are, you've done one or more of the following recently.
Looked at the price of renting or buying near work, shaken your head and opted for more affordable housing farther away, becoming what transportation planners call a super commuter. Driven past homeless encampments sprouting alongside freeways or in vacant properties and wished for a solution, while wondering how it got so bad. Clicked on a real estate database to see how your home's value stacks up and been pleasantly surprised, but also fretful. How long can that last?
Welcome to the complicated world of finding and keeping a place to call home. We're all affected in these challenging times when housing's availability, affordability and ability to shape regional economies touch every pocketbook.
"It's hard to overstate the challenges posed by today's California housing crisis. The average price of buying a house is now 2.5 times the national average, rents are at historic highs, and the state's homeownership rate is the lowest it's been since the Second World War. But this crisis is even worse, as it impacts virtually every institution in the state," says Fred Smoller, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science in the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Californians are no strangers to the nonstop soundtrack of real estate chatter that comes with living here. But it's never been quite like this. In some cities, once-prohibited backyard granny flats are getting the green light, in an effort to address the housing shortage by boosting affordable rentals. Chapman researchers find that traditionally tax-averse Orange County residents are willing to pay a tax to help the homeless. Sticker-shock anecdotes pop up in the news. Did you see the one about the burned-out Silicon Valley house selling for $900,000?
Wading into this fray are Chapman University faculty researchers and students from multiple disciplines. These scholars are leading robust community conversations and projects aimed at finding ways to meet the demand for housing now and in the future.
They range from the Chapman University Orange County Annual Survey that measures residents' attitudes about development, to outreach by attorneys at the Fowler School of Law's Bette and Wylie Aitken Family Protection Clinic who are helping people clear legal hurdles so they can end cycles of homelessness.
In addition, the Center for Demographics and Policy housed in the School of Communication brings leaders, developers and policymakers together to discuss trends and solutions, while a proposed Real Estate Division in the Hoag Center for Real Estate and Finance will build on the nationally recognized economic and housing forecasts of President Emeritus Jim Doti. Research interests include the impact of tax reform, demographic changes and technology on the real estate industry.
Chapman's cross-disciplinary approach looks at housing issues through multiple lenses, with a special focus on the University's home county. Despite rising rents and mortgage costs, Orange County remains a highly desirable place to live, says Smoller, who along with Mike Moodian, Ed.D., conducted the Chapman University Orange County Annual Survey.
"The American dream is alive for many. Seventy percent still want to stay," Smoller said in a presentation delivered at Chapman's 2018 Local Government Conference, titled "Will California Ever Figure Out How to House Itself?"
But Smoller and other researchers also sound cautionary notes. Those high housing costs threaten to price out families and highly skilled younger workers needed to fuel job growth. They also push low-wage workers into substandard housing or homelessness and eat up discretionary spending among the middle class. The call to correct that course is a unique opportunity, Presidential Fellow Joel Kotkin said during Chapman's Infinite Suburbia Conference in February.
"This is a great place to live. There is no better place in the United States than Orange County. How do we build on that?" said Kotkin, who writes about demographic, social and economic trends in the U.S. and internationally. "Because it's not really reaching its potential."
Population shifts could change that, said Marshall Toplanksy, co-author with Kotkin of the research brief "Orange County Focus: Forging Our Common Future."
"The 35-to-49-year-olds are moving to places like Austin, Dallas, Denver, Nashville, Phoenix. This is really an important indicator. We're losing our seed corn," Toplansky said.
To reverse this trend, the authors suggest that Orange County transition into a new era powered by small to medium-sized entrepreneurial businesses largely in professional, artistic and technical fields. This transition is already in evidence, says Doti, Ph.D., whose annual Economic Forecasts have a remarkable track record for accuracy.
"We are gaining rapidly in higher-tech jobs and industries. Those are the people who are buying here," Doti said in a recent housing talk presented to the Chapman University Endowment Council.
While legislators propose policy changes intended to add housing units, as with a recent plan to increase the density of housing near urban transit hubs, Doti counters with a less-is-more perspective.
"The only action that's really needed is for government to get out of the way and focus its attention on removing costly and burdensome land-use regulations," he wrote in a recent Orange County Register op-ed.
Yes, housing issues are complicated. But that also creates an ideal opportunity for bringing many creative and thoughtful voices to the conversation.
"These are very serious problems," Smoller said. "It's important to have people on the left of the political spectrum and on the right of the political spectrum. It's important to have people who are committed to government solutions and people who are committed to free-market solutions. We have to listen to everyone."
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