Since the Great Recession in 2008, new housing construction across the country has steadily increased, according to a new report out from Apartment List.
But the number of housing permits authorized in 2018 is still “significantly below its pre-recession peak,” the report noted, with nearly 40 percent fewer units permitted in 2018 than there were in 2005.
One issue in the slow housing recovery is that multi-family homes are being built at a faster rate than single-family homes, in areas that already had a lot of multi-unit buildings, according to the author of the report, Chris Salviati.
In California cities like San Francisco and San Diego, high construction costs lead developers to build large apartment complexes at high prices to ensure that their project is profitable. Strict zoning laws also constrain where multi-housing projects can be built.
But what is missing are other types of buildings, such as townhouses and low-rise apartments, which are alternatives for dense neighborhoods and maintain inclusive housing affordability, according to Salviati.
“Many of the zoning reforms described above strive to remove barriers to building a type of housing that has been referred to as the ‘missing middle,’” Salviati wrote. “This type of housing — two to four unit buildings, accessory dwelling units, townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings — can play an important role in increasing density and creating walkable neighborhoods, without impacting neighborhood character is the same way as mid- and high-rise apartment buildings.”
Why it matters — Senate Bill 50 would have done just that, by overwriting zoning regulations to allow for more housing in jobs- and transit-rich areas and the development of fourplex buildings. But the legislation was shelved until January 2020 after local officials pushed back on state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, for writing a proposal that challenged their zoning restrictions.
Housing advocates for the bill said it would increase production in a state that desperately needs additional housing. But opponents of the bill also said it would spur gentrification in areas that are already struggling with rising rent prices.
Salviati pointed to SB 50 and several national laws that would have changes policies that are often “inextricably linked to redlining practices that served to explicitly enforce patterns of residential racial segregation.”
“Single-family zoning also impedes the development of dense multi-family housing units, which can be an important source of market-rate affordable housing. Furthermore, denser cities are significantly more sustainable, and growing our cities with more dense development can play an important role in combating climate change.”