California’s Housing Crisis Is About Jobs, Not Houses

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The median home price in California has reached $500,000 — more than double the cost nationally — and a new brand of housing crisis is here. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to afford a home in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any surrounding suburbs. As today’s New York Times reports, this means people like Heather Lile, a nurse making $180,000 a year, live in distant Central Valley towns like Manteca and commute two hours to get to work. “I make really good money and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t afford to live close to my job,” she tells the reporter.

The Times focuses entirely on California’s slow pace of new housing construction in these coveted cities — compare this pace of development to that of Seattle, which is in the middle of a building boom with more cranes in the sky than New York City — but it ignores the question of why San Francisco and Los Angeles are coveted in the first place.

Yes, the restaurants are amazing, but this crisis is all about jobs.

For the past two decades many of the most innovative, successful companies in the world coalesced in just a small number of cities — San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, to name a few — and housing prices exploded. These drastic increases aren’t healthy for anyone: Renters get crushed by rising costs, prospective homeowners get priced out, mom-and-pop businesses close down, and current homeowners get locked in, unable to move if they outgrow their current home.

New housing construction may partially help solve the problem for California (let’s set aside the state’s the water question or its 102 million dead trees for a moment), but eventually the state will need to encourage companies to spread the wealth and create jobs in areas where housing is more affordable. These employees will appreciate shorter commutes, and the fact that they won’t have to spend their entire paycheck on housing.

I work for a company where everyone telecommutes. It’s a real thing, it can work for many industries, and a tax break for companies who let employees work from home would lead to a rebirth of cities where the old jobs have dried up.

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