Guest commentary by Ryan McEachron, SANBAG President & Victorville City Councilman.
Last year renowned economist Joel Kotkin published a study titled “Housing the Future,” which identified the Inland Empire as having one of the largest youth populations in the nation with approximately 180,000 millennials, ages 18-35. As the father of two children under 10 years old, these statistics leave me with a lingering question — are we building enough homes to keep up with this future demand?
According to Kotkin, San Bernardino County and the state of California suffer from a chronic housing shortage which creates a lack of affordability for aspiring homeowners, including millennials. With an estimated statewide shortage of 2 million homes and a coinciding affordability gap, more and more young working families will likely be forced to leave California. So how do we reverse this trend? Clearly, we need to support public policies that encourage vibrant new community development and harness the economic growth that results when we address our chronic housing shortage.
For example, a study by Mark Boud of Real Estate Economics reported that if San Bernardino County were able to address two-thirds of its current housing shortage it would benefit from over $3.5 billion in new economic activity. Other housing experts estimate that 1,000 new homes create approximately 3,000 full-time jobs, $160 million in wages and $110 million in tax revenues, which can be invested in quality-of-life necessities such as new roads, schools, parks, public safety and water infrastructure.
Likewise, UC Riverside’s Center for Economic Forecasting and Development published a report stating that more housing is needed to sustain economic growth in the Inland Empire. Kotkin, Boud and UCR all agree that housing is a cornerstone of our economy; however, during the recession our county lost more than 70,000 construction jobs and has only replaced 11,000 of them over the past few years.
Like many parents, I want my children to get a great education, a good paying job and own a home to enjoy with their family. In a most recent survey (March 2016) the National Association of Realtors found that a majority of millennials said they want to buy a single-family dwelling. However, 78 percent of millennials in California are “uncertain or doubtful” about obtaining a mortgage. This is no surprise since California is currently ranked 49th in the U.S. in home ownership while the average homeowner spends more than 25 percent of their income on housings costs — more than any other state. I fear if we don’t support policies that encourage more workforce housing in California, my children will join millennials and the reported 625,000 U.S. residents who left California and moved to neighboring states between 2007 and 2014.
Fortunately, there’s reason for optimism in the High Desert. We remain an important destination for logistics and our elected leaders remain focused on attracting businesses, jobs and commerce to spark a thriving economy. We’ve also seen several excellent new residential developments come through the pipeline in recent months, so we’re on the right track. I’m convinced that if we continue to embrace quality housing our children, millennials, dual-income families and seniors will all find a place to call home in the High Desert, Inland Empire and Golden State.
Ryan McEachron is a Victorville City Council member and president of San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), the council of governments and the transportation planning agency for San Bernardino County.