Study adds social-justice dimension to housing crisis

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By The Editorial Board, San Bernardino County Sun

It’s well known that California has a housing crisis. It’s a problem for would-be buyers and renters and a drag on the economy.

A new statistical study from two economics professors at Cal State San Bernardino gives the crisis a social justice dimension by focusing on sociological aspects of home ownership and overcrowding. Commissioned by the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Baldy View Chapter, the study — “California Homeownership and Sociological Factors” — looked at counties up and down the state, but focused on San Bernardino County in particular.

Economists Daniel MacDonald and Yasemin Dildar examined correlations between sociological factors — children’s health, median income, educational attainment, inequality, crime and poverty — and homeownership and overcrowding, defined as more than one person per room in a dwelling. They used regression analysis to account for other determinants of those social factors, and found some key stats and correlations:

• In San Bernardino County, 8.9 percent of homes are overcrowded. That’s the ninth-highest rate among California’s 58 counties, though L.A. County (12.1 percent) and Orange County (9.3 percent) are higher. Riverside County’s rate is 7.4 percent.

• For each 1 percentage-point drop in San Bernardino’s overcrowded homes, high school grad rates would be expected to rise by 1.23 percent, and an even better 1.39 percent among minority students. That makes intuitive sense when you think of a student having a defined space at home to do homework — or not. A 1-point drop in overcrowding was correlated with a 0.66 percent drop in poverty and a 1.18 percent drop in inequality.

• San Bernardino County is near the median for California counties in homeownership, at 61.9 percent. Riverside County is a bit better at 66.5 percent, pricey Orange County a bit worse at 58.7 percent.

• A 1 percentage-point rise in homeownership is associated with reduced property crime (0.35 percent), violent crime (0.1 percent) and poverty rates (0.16 percent), and with higher high school graduation rates (0.32 percent overall, 0.44 percent among Latinos and 0.61 percent for African Americans).

• But at the current, painfully slow rate of building new homes in San Bernardino County (2,312 residential permits per year on average since 2010), it would take seven years to raise the homeownership rate by 1 to 2 percentage points and make it competitive with neighboring counties.

What does all this mean? That it’s important for government at all levels to do whatever it can to encourage home building by removing any obstacles it can.

At the state level, that means reforming the parts of the California Environmental Quality Act that are used primarily by unions and NIMBYs to slow, extort or cancel good projects, rather than to protect the environment.

At the local level, county boards and city councils need to keep housing fees and restrictions in check and stand up to NIMBYs who oppose just about any new housing project, often under the reasoning that “I’ve got my house, the heck with anybody else who wants to live here.”

We need more housing. It’s good for California, it’s good for Californians and, as the professors found, it’s good for social justice.