Californians sharply divided over how to tackle housing shortage – California

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Californians might agree there’s a housing crisis, but they’re split widely on how to tackle it, according to a poll released Tuesday by UC Berkeley.

Slightly more than half of residents say the state needs to exert more control over local development decisions to address the deepening housing shortage, a survey by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found. However, 47 percent of Californians disagree.

“It’s an almost even split,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of Berkeley IGS. “This is something that strikes a political nerve. It stirs passions.”

The report found that majorities of voters in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area, those under age 40, renters, and ethnic voters support the state assuming a larger role in local housing decisions. On the other hand, majorities in Southern California outside Los Angeles County, voters age 50 or older, homeowners, and white non-Hispanics favor keeping these decisions in the hands of local officials

The divided public opinion mirrors a similar divide in the state legislature in Sacramento. Efforts to increase state control over local development have stalled for two years, including an ambitious overhaul of housing policy proposed by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The measure, SB 50, would have forced cities to build more housing and allowed denser development along busy transit routes.

California has a housing deficit of 3.5 million units, state planners estimate, as cities have largely ignored and fallen short of meeting state guidelines for producing new housing. Median home prices in the Bay Area have increased almost uninterrupted, year-over-year, since April 2012 and made the region one of the nation’s most expensive places to live.

The poll also found diverse opinions about how to solve the shortage — through more subsidies, developing denser housing around transit, expanding rent control, or another solution.

About one-third of residents think the state should offer additional housing subsidies to low- and moderate-income homebuyers, while one-quarter favor more multi-family development and 17 percent say more rent control should be approved. Another 24 percent said none of those options would solve the problem.

Younger residents and renters were most likely to embrace state control, while older residents, homeowners and conservative voters preferred local officials deciding growth in their cities.

California voters largely agree on one question: three in four said the state should impose limits on new housing in areas with the highest risk of wildfires. “The concept is broadly supported,” DiCamillo said, adding that the question did not mention specific regions.

Roughly one in four California residents live in areas potentially at a high risk of wildfires, according to a state report.

Hancock said after years of slow-growth decisions by local planning commissions and city councils, Bay Area residents are looking for other solutions. “Regular folks out here realize the market’s not fixing the problem.”

Tech companies are stepping up, too, he noted, with Google’s announcement Tuesday to invest $1 billion in Bay Area housing.

“It’s breathtaking. It’s staggering and amazing,” Hancock said. “This can be a game-changer.”

The IGS poll surveyed 4,435 registered voters online, in Spanish and English, between June 4 and 10. It has an expected sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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