Housing Shortages and Wildfires Making California Nearly Unlivable

More people live in California than in any other state in the Union. Looking at that fact alone, it's not surprising to learn there's a housing problem.

There are not enough houses and housing units to go around, right? Sure, that's a big part of the dilemma.

But compounding the problem is that there are not enough affordable houses and housing units to go around.

The median rate for a house in California is now $600,000. That's more than twice the national level.

Residents Drain Too Much on Housing

Of the country's five most expensive residential markets, four are in the Golden State.

They are Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego. Los Angeles is not far behind, in seventh place.

California has the country's highest share of households exhausting more than 30 percent of what they make on housing.

The state needs to build 3.5 million housing units by 2025 to address the shortage of housing. That's according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Exodus Is Worsening

If that doesn't happen, the already serious homeless problem will worsen. Especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. The state already accounts for about 25 percent of the nation's homeless population.

Housing development expenses are so high that the pace of development in California is slowing. That's despite the need for reasonable housing.

If a developer can't make a gain when a tenant is asked for $4,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, that's a problem.

No wonder more people are now leaving California than are moving in. Despite the fact that unemployment is at an all-time low there, at 4 percent.

Most of the people who have decided to leave California have lower than average incomes. But the housing situation has now become a middle class problem too.

Big Tech Pitching In

Big Tech is interested in trying to solve this quandary. Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all committed between $500 million and $2.5 billion to the cause.

Why? Well, it's certainly a good PR move on their part. They've been criticized for creating this problem by bringing so many employees to the state.

But the bottom line is that housing shortages make expansion difficult for them. Not just for their employees, but for the public at large. They see their pledged contributions as something to gain from.

Each of these groups have declared they'll allow housing development on the land they already own.

Asset Turns Into Liability

How would these groups gain from their contributions? There are several answers to that question.

Bank loans and equity from private groups are two ways. But there are a number of other ways connected with local, state and federal housing programs.

The goal is to give more housing for the homeless and middle-income housing for professionals such as teachers. As well as market-rate units where many of their employees could live.

But here's a big problem. A move to California used to be an asset in recruiting for these groups. Now, it's considered a liability. Thanks to the housing crunch.

'An Unsustainable Environment'

Amie Fishman is with the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California. Here's what she says.

"It is unconscionable that so many people are sleeping in the streets every night. It is unconscionable that people are driving hours and hours to and from their jobs. We are living in an unsustainable environment."

And the problem will not be solved by tech giants throwing large sums at it. David Garcia is policy director for the Terner Center of Housing Innovation at the University of California-Berkeley.

He says, "There is no answer to the California housing crisis without the construction of millions of new houses."

Wildfires Linked to Housing Problem

As anyone who has watched or read the news in recent years knows, housing is not California's only problem.

Wildfires are now regular occurrences. They force people to leave their homes with just the clothes on their backs. Destroy residences and landscapes. And pollute the air like never before.

The Center for Insurance Policy and Research estimates that 2 million homes in California are at high or extreme risk for wildfire.

These fires are confining the areas where new homes can be built. Officials may decide to make some of these areas off-limits to new construction.

A Problem Waiting to Happen Elsewhere?

Now, other states may not have California's wildfire problem. But reasonable housing could become a bigger problem in the future than it already is.

According to the Bloomberg news service, the rest of the country is become more – not less – like California.

Despite a record-breaking economic expansion for the U.S., fewer houses are being built than previously. And the fewer houses there are, the higher the rates go. The average person cannot gain the funds to own their own home.

Chris Herbert is the managing director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "California is not alone," he says. "It's just more extreme."


  • Kurt Irmiter - November 23, 2019

    I’m a 77 year old Marine vet, still vertical! My wife and I have recently moved into an area of CA that has power supplied by an electrical coop, not PG&E! The coop builds and maintains its plant to withstand heavy snow-load, with backup. So, while the majority of the state had horrific wildfires resulting in outages of days to months in duration, we had a total of 2.5 hours of outage during the same time period. All due to the coop’s diligence in maintenance and backup power source availability. But, just in case, we did acquire some 8000ma power cell light sources.
    Looking forward to acquiring long lasting foodstuffs in near future for snowbound situations! Though elderly, we sought out an area of beauty to retire in. We determined that we’ll remain active enough to withstand the intemperate weather and will deal with snow and cold temps. That’s plan for now.

  • Michael Fisher - November 23, 2019

    The article blatantly fails to reference the states unconscionable invitation to thousands of illegal aliens by declaring itself a “Sanctuary state” Lack of housing is only 1 of the problems generated by this influx of illegal aliens. Charities are broke, hospitals and medical facilities are overloaded. The welfare system is overwhelmed, the 3rd world style “camps” these people live in have no sanitation, garbage collection, or fresh water. Crime and disease are rampant in them. CDC has already warned that they expect a pandemic to explode from these camps. The only question is when it will happen.

  • Larry Adams - November 23, 2019

    I have a 4 bedroom 1 bath house for sale in rural Kansas and can’t get $50,000 for it. It has 90% renovation done and does not need much more. I also work with a company that can build houses that withstand 200 mph winds and are greatly fire resistant. Who can I contact to build them for you. We need contracts for 50 or more houses to build, and can do small to large houses. For more info just drop me an email. When I was a contractor in California, a $5,000 job was going to cost me an additional $14,000 just for the building permit. That is why I left.

  • Chuck Adkins - November 23, 2019

    After reading this article, I couldn’t help thinking that with so many homes being consumed by these wildfires, this is also adding to the shortage of houses in California. There is a greater switch to EV’s [Electric Vehicles] because there is a new method of batteries that can be charged in about one minute, making them more practical because they will have a greater range before they need to be charged [about 1,000 miles]. In addition, these batteries will last almost indefinitely compared to present ones, without losing storage power. We will still need electricity to charge them, but this is a positive, not negative for our future. Chuck

  • Deanne - November 23, 2019

    To me the biggest problem here that it seems no one is looking at is a population explosion . – that is at the root of this problem . Wether it be from immigration , or people having children they can’t afford to have and raise. . ( young women who have a child every year without any thought as to how they are going to provide for these children – they just want to have children and sorta expect the government /society to be financially responsible to raise them – I see this every day in the work I do ) America could take care of the people that have been here ,but we are overloading our world / our country . Attracting people to this country with all our “free” giveaways . to irresponsible people procreating without any sense of responsibility to providing for the children they create. In some sense we are “paying women to create babies-that becomes their life’s work – getting paid for each child , receiving housing , and they feel like they are owed a living because they can produce children -no thought that they should get a job ,be a productive ,giving back to society , but expecting society to give to them “ it isn’t how our forefathers ever expected our country to be . People used to work ,be expected to work to take care of themselves , and their children . Do people fall on hard times of course and society should have some type of help for people that genuinely need it. But our society has gone way beyond that .so far beyond that that there are a lot of people that just “expect” -feel entitled just to be given everything . What has happened here in America ? Sometimes I just don’t understand how we got to where we are now

  • Robert R Robey PhD - November 23, 2019

    I was offered a job in the greater LA. area several years ago I would have loved to accept, but the cost of housing made it necessary to turn down.

  • Sydney Schultz - November 23, 2019

    Our mortgage got so high and our income was basically to pay the mortgage and we were left with very little money afterwards. We live in central California in Ventura county. I should say we used to live. We now have sold the house and moved to Wilmington North Carolina. Our retirement now gives us an opportunity to thrive in invest. With the sale of our home there in California, we were able to buy a mansion 4500 ft.², thousand foot basement and 1 acre of land for a third of what we paid in California. We were about to come homeless with no help. Reached out to many organizations for help and they were unable to because of the lack of resources. California is nowhere near prepared to help the homeless.
  • PEGGY BROTHER - November 23, 2019

    What are people going to do when the overdue big earthquake hits California? With the fires they already have and the housing shortages, it’s going to be a real mess

  • Bill Tessore - November 23, 2019

    My family & I have lived in California most of our lives And loved it … until politicians and bureaucracies began turning it into a social, political and economic prison. Once our son’s youngest daughter graduates from high school we all will be moving to Oklahoma. The Choctaw nation provides full medical coverage for Nation members, of which they are all part. and my 100% service-connected VA benefits follow me wherever I go in the USA. Plus, housing is nearly 50% cheaper there. so, staying just makes no sense. besides, since both our families came from Oklahoma, it will be like going home again. Shalom.

  • Jason Burbee - November 23, 2019

    Regarding the California wild fires, something that know one is talking about is the constant bombardment of aerosol sprayed into the atmosphere, particularly nano aluminum particles which are extremely flammable.
    This program of polluting the environment with toxic compounds has been going on for several decades. Meanwhile the meteorologists and weather reporters are under gag orders to never speak of it with the threat of being fired.
    This program is destroying our environment, slowly killing our forests, and oceans and must be stopped.
    Weather modification weapons has turned much of California into a drought ridden highly flammable environment.
    Please pass this information on and visit geoengineeringwatch.org for more info.

    Thank you and god bless,
    Jason Burbee

  • James Foster - November 23, 2019

    My Dad taught me ,make your bed hard son and you will sleep in it. California has made their bed hard with liberal policies such as sanctuary cities. My concern is now they are
    Leaving their beds and moving east. I don’t want them in East Texas or anywhere in Texas changing our political status. I don’t see any
    Actions to guard against it.

  • Anthony L. Marra - November 23, 2019

    Simple solution: Just Close the Gates !…….Isolate California for about 3 years, get rid of the democrat’s that have caused the problem !……….Done, Case Closed !

  • Dick Kowalski - November 23, 2019

    Availability of water is being sorely underrated. California’s lack of water storage, lack of prior proper planning in this area, is a problem for farmers and municipalities, especially those that ration water but continue to allow and encourage development. Forward positive thinking? Nah!

  • Linda - November 23, 2019

    Why did several of our 4th generation California born family leave California? Politics, pure and simple. Politics have destroyed the state and made it the Hell hole that it is. All I can say is that those leaving California need to leave their politics behind and their nanny state attitudes as well.

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