By FIELDING BUCK | The Press-Enterprise
The shortage of affordable housing is a looming threat to San Bernardino County, real estate experts heard Friday.
The fourth annual Housing Policy Conference was a call to action from a builders trade group to developers and city leaders.
Lack of housing supply costs the state economy more than $133 billion annually, and factoring in housing costs makes California’s poverty rate the highest in the nation, said Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the event’s lunchtime keynote speaker.
“I don’t want you all crying into your salad, but I’ve got to just hit this home. … There are direct and immediate consequences of this supply shortage. And they translate very painfully all the way up and down the economic spectrum and all the way across west, east, north and south of the state. But where we see this hurting the most is in our lower-income working families.”
The conference was put on in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Ontario Airport by the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Baldy View Chapter. It commissioned a study released in March that showed that San Bernardino County had the ninth-highest rate of residential crowding in the state, 8.9 percent, meaning that nearly one out of every 10 residential units has too many people living in it, up to three or four families.
Los Angeles and Orange counties had higher rates, 12.1 percent and 9.3 percent respectively, and Riverside County’s rate was 7.4 percent.
“That’s a top 10 list we don’t want to be on,” said Carlos Rodriguez, chief executive officer of the organization.
Speakers presented statistics that show California annually produces less than half the houses it needs and that is a huge gap between income and median home prices.
Developers said they face daunting challenges in bringing new homes to market. Among them:
— Abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, by people who use the law in ways it was never intended to derail projects they don’t like.
— Regulations that can add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to projects after they have been green-lighted.
— Growth opponents who object to higher density and problems such as pollution and traffic that come with it. They are often called NIMBYs, an acronym for Not In My Backyard.
— A shortage of construction workers compounded by prevailing wage laws and rising costs of materials.
Speakers, however, said there are paths to affordability for California and the Inland Empire.
“We need to get more supply and we need to create options for people who aren’t going to be able to compete in the market,” said Metcalf in an interview before his speech.
On a federal level, several speakers said that adjustingFederal Housing Administration limits would enable more people to take out loans.
“Every metropolitan area in the county has FHA limits. I think predominantly in California on the low end they’re about $425,000-$427,000. In more expensive areas they go up to $488,000,” said Jeff Pemstein, chairman of the California Building Industry Association.
“What happens is, if I can build a house for $488,000 and sell it within the loan limits, FHA is great. It’s the primary lending tool. But if it costs more to build it, then I can’t build FHA.
“As housing prices go up, as labor goes up, as materials go up, as exactions and fees and costs go up, you’re starting to squeeze more and more people out of that market.”
The BIA handed out a “policy tool kit” to attendees. Among its suggestions:
— Elevate housing as a top priority for the San Bernardino County Council of Governments.
— Make the permitting process more efficient.
— Oppose public policies that negatively impact workforce housing.
— Evaluate potential adverse economic and job implications of adding costs to the housing market.