By Diana Diamond
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Uploaded: May 3, 2022
Suppose all those pious but earnest demands from local and state authorities over the past few years proclaiming that we need a lot more housing in this state, especially affordable housing, are based on false data?
What if all those mandates from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and other government agencies that set a specific number of new housing units that cities must provide were based on dated and erroneous information? And what if those agencies haven’t considered current data – such as the number of people now leaving this state or the drop in new births or the increase in population growth not would sue anymore, or companies leaving this state – were discounted and certainly not included in their forecast of the number of housing units needed?
I never thought to wonder if state officials were right in their assessments, but a recent report did, and its findings made me anxious about those projections — a lot.
To begin, I want to say that I don’t know if the conclusions of the state auditor are good or bad, but I think we should pay attention to them because if they are true, then we could unnecessarily require a construction excessive in this state. And even worse, if we create too many houses and apartments, they can sit empty for months or years, and we will have created ghost towns or slums in parts of our cities, which is certainly something to to think.
The scathing report was prepared by Acting State Auditor Michael S. Tilden and released on March 17. He revealed that the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) forecasts of housing needs are not only inaccurate, but overestimate the number of new housing units needed. in this state at least 900,000 units, in its stated need of 2.1 million new units. That’s like a 43% overcoverage!
Clearly, HCD hasn’t adjusted its workforce in previous years, even though the demographics of this state were changing – more people leaving the state, declining birth rates, etc.
“The (state’s) Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) made mistakes in assessing its needs because it does not sufficiently review and verify the data it sees,” says bluntly the report. In other words, there is bullshit.
To put this in local terms, each year ABAG tells local towns how much new housing they need to provide. For Palo Alto, the city was tasked with 6,086 new units between 2023 and 2031. ABAG originally demanded an increase of 10,000 units, but did not explain the reason for the decrease.
But I look around and see San Antonio Road near El Camino jammed with massive housing and commercial buildings; Menlo Park along El Camino has two blocks of skyscrapers under construction – a huge amount, visually. Is there enough demand now to fill them, since construction started years ago and based on old growth estimates?
General columnist Tom Elias also wrote a column about this auditor’s report and noted that even Governor Gavin Newsom had reduced his numbers on housing needs, possibly based on similar conclusions about inflated numbers. In 2018, he said California would need 3.5 million new units, but now says we need 1.8 million by 2030. Newsom never explained the drop in his projections. Additionally, HCD obviously didn’t adjust its numbers, nor did it, according to the report.
Now, I’m not dismissing the growing housing needs in many parts of our country at all; They are there. But in California, where the needs still exist, it seems to me that we may be overbuilding based on false predictions and unreliable information. At least let’s all think about it, especially our city officials and some lawmakers in this state who are always coming up with ways to make our communities much denser (eg, SB 9 and SB 10).
It’s a shame that all of our communities are adjusting their accommodations because of false numbers.
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