California is in a housing crisis. The cost of housing — both for purchase and rental housing — is too expensive. Ineffective public housing policies and anti-growth policies that impede even reasonable development projects have choked supply in a high-demand market. California needs to start building homes and apartments as soon as possible. Recent estimates show that California must build 180,000 units of housing a year over the next 10 years simply to keep pace with demand. Currently, only about half of that amount is being constructed.
But in the meantime, a quick and effective way to provide financial relief to everyone in California with a roof over their head is to increase the homeowners exemption which has been stuck at $7,000 since 1972. A lot has changed since then. Mark Spitz won a then-record seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Atari released the PONG computer game and a gallon of gas sold for 36 cents. California’s population has nearly doubled from 21 million residents to 39 million residents today. And according to the California Association of Realtors, the median price of homes in California is well over $500,000 compared to $28,000 in 1972.
Because the average Californian earns $61,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, most are knocked out of the market before they even start. Only one-third of California residents can afford a median priced home.
In February, Assembly members Phil Chen and Matthew Harper introduced Assembly Bill 1100, the “American Dream Act,” which would increase the existing homeowners’ exemption on their property tax from $7,000 to $25,000, as well as raising the renter’s credit by using the mandated California Franchise Tax Board inflation adjustment. This will not only help current homeowners but this will help those aspiring to own a home. One-third of renters in the state spend at least half their take-home pay in rent, a statistic driving California’s record high 20 percent poverty rate.
Californians are paying some of the highest taxes in the nation, exacerbating the ability of ordinary citizens to afford a home. Even with Proposition 13, which has proven effective in limiting the growth of homeowners’ property tax bills, California still ranks in the top third of all states in per capita property tax revenue.
Moreover, high taxes and unaffordable housing are taking their toll on the California economy. In the last decade, California has lost more than 1 million people in net domestic out migration to other states. We all know at least a few people who have moved to Nevada, Texas, Oregon, Florida or Arizona to find a less expensive place to live.
In some welcome good news, in May, AB1100 passed a major hurdle by passing the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee with notable bipartisan support. This was the first time legislation of this nature got out of a legislative policy committee. Many had been attempted in years past but had failed.
When the Legislature returns from its summer recess later this month, affordable housing will be the leading topic of discussion. While there are many ideas being considered, including more bonds and taxes, ideas that provide direct relief for middle-class property owners have yet to rise to the forefront. They need to. Beyond the homeowners exemption, liberalizing the rules about taking one’s Proposition 13 base-year value to a new residence, the so-called “portability” issue, should also be part of a legislative proposal.
Any reform package must articulate that government can’t tax and bond its way out of a problem where it costs over $300,000 to build one unit of affordable housing. Addressing these regulatory burdens as well as providing tax relief for homeowners and renters will not only lead to future economic prosperity for California. It is also the right thing to do.
Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Phillip Chen, member of the California Assembly from the 55th Assembly District.