As I head into my second month as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, one of my top priorities has been to meet with a wide variety of stakeholders, not just our business members, but educational institutions, nonprofits and strategic partners who all want a robust Los Angeles region.
In seeking to understand their goals and challenges, a common theme has emerged – the heavy burden that our state’s lack of affordable housing is placing upon their future.
I’ve spoken to companies that struggle to find local qualified workers and to employees who face brutal commutes. I’ve talked to educators who are unable to live in the communities where they teach and to leaders at universities that train our brightest minds only to see them leave the region for somewhere they can afford to live. As a mother, I wonder whether my sons will be able to raise their families in the city where I grew up, with the opportunities that made me who I am.
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California has the nation’s second lowest rate of homeownership. After decades of inaction, lack of housing supply drives high costs. More than 50 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. With such a high percentage of income going to rents or mortgages, that leaves less money to invest in local businesses. When companies analyze housing as part of the cost of doing business here, they may choose not to grow or consider leaving the state entirely.
There is no magic wand we can wave, no one solution that will solve our supply and affordability crisis. The Legislature has passed a number of bills that are small pieces to the puzzle – adding money for supportive and affordable housing, easing approvals for accessory dwelling units and increasing local accountability for a fair share of new housing.
But we have yet to see a wholesale, all-in commitment by leaders to treat this situation as the emergency it is. The government and the private sector must collaborate to address the barriers to more housing, whether regulations, cost inefficiencies or neighborhood opposition.
Communities up and down the state are investing in public transit, making walkable neighborhoods the ideal places to increase housing density. Creative solutions abound, and I hope the next governor makes it his priority to work with state and local officials, business leaders and others to implement them.
Yet the need to build more housing does not mean we ignore all other concerns. Policy leaders should continue asking the hard questions: How do projects pencil out while ensuring access for a variety of income levels? What can we do to bring more homes to a community while not displacing existing residents? How can we build in a way to help meet our environmental goals and address transportation challenges?
California is not a place where we can say, “If we don’t build it, they won’t come.” This state will always attract the adventurers, the innovators, the entrepreneurs seeking their fortune or to change the world.
And for many of us, we simply want to continue to call California home. Without more housing opportunities within the financial reach of most Californians, we risk that dream slipping away.
Maria S. Salinas is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. She can be contacted at MSalinas@lachamber.com. Find the series (with more Monday on housing) at sacbee.com/influencers.