Discarding R1 Zoning does not address problem

Measures that take action to eliminate R1/single family zoning when implemented as suggested do nothing to create much-needed affordable and low-income housing.  It does nothing to increase access for first-time homebuyers, people of color, seniors, disabled and those seeking to enter the housing market.  

What it does do is commodify housing further such that institutional investors (venture capital funds, pension funds, REITs, etc.) place a bullseye on our housing stock to maximize the returns for their investors (ROI).  Homes and our neighborhoods should not be viewed as commodities and investment vehicles.  They are the fabric and foundations of our communities and cities.  These are places where individuals and families choose to plant their roots, to raise their children, to become part of a larger whole.

But if institutional investors continue to increase their foothold on the land of our homes, no longer will individuals and families be able to compete with these goliaths with their deep pockets and all-cash offers. This is not fantasy. This is what has happened and is happening in communities across the country where these entities bought up large bundles of homes that were made available in the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown.  

Prior to that time, these investors shunned R1 properties for their difficulties to manage.  However, with the advent of internet communication and the ability to amass larger concentrations of homes, they now are investing billions of dollars to take over ownership of R1 homes.  

The strategy has focused on using those homes to generate growing rent revenues (at what cost to tenants?), but now in California with pending statewide legislation and local cities such as Culver City considering handing over the R1 properties over to them on a silver platter, their activities here will increase resulting in home demolitions and construction wherever they deem it to be profitable. 

Do we really want these investors to become the City’s planners?  Is it not the role of local government to determine where density can best be placed and provided with needed infrastructure and services?  It will become more expensive for Culver City to have to respond to density placed in a random scattered pattern around the City — rather than to plan to centralize added housing units alongside planning for the delivery of water, sewage capacity (utilities) and public services.   

Tell us how tenants will keep up with the expectations of Wall Street to return 8-10% annual investment returns?  As these institutional investors lock out potential homebuyers from the marketplace and then become a growing presence as our communities’ landlords, is this not a recipe for the manufacturing of a whole new generation of homeless — unable to keep up with rent increases and new fees levied by these absentee landlords?  (Case studies of those same cities where institutional ownership is already prevalent have documented increased rents, increased /new fees and higher eviction rates for the same geographic areas.)

It is overly simplistic to attempt to address the housing challenges faced in California by simply doing away with R1 zoning. The negative impacts on people and on the environment are simply too great. When we tell Sacramento that one-size-fits-all housing/zoning legislation is bad policy for a state as diverse as California, we must re-state that concept for a city such as Culver City.

Worth noting:  It has been said that the recent run up in property values experienced over the past eight months in California may be directly linked to expectations of the passage of statewide measures SB 9 and SB 10 with institutional buyers and speculators gobbling up properties in advance — in anticipation of the measures’ passage which would adopt statewide one-size-fits-all development rights on R1 lots.  

Cities have both the opportunity and the responsibility to address housing needs with more targeted solutions — solutions that address the most pressing needs and problems while not creating a host of negative impacts which include:  gentrification, destabilization of communities, locking individuals and families out of the ability to have a home and to generate generational wealth (mortgages are one of the best ways to incentivize savings (if not the best way). 

Proposing a ban on R1 housing is a cheap trick.  It is supported by those promoting a so-called “progressive” agenda.  However, it is a regressive strategy in too many ways and relies upon trickledown theory of economics that has never shown to be true in any housing marketplace.  It is deceptive to present the elimination of R1 zoning as one that addresses the affordable housing crisis — especially because it may actually worsen that crisis situation.

It is critical that the Culver City Council reject this effort and instead get down to business to address the real barriers to affordability with solutions that do not turn the dream of homeownership into a permanent nightmare.  

There are groups across the state with local Culver City residents included that are working on alternatives to this approach and who would be happy to work with the Council and planners to further develop other more viable alternatives.  There are policymakers in cities across the state equally committed to increasing density and opportunities for homeownership without eliminating R1 zoning.

— Barbara Broide

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