Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Marin Housing Heroine Retires

A remarkable Marinite retires:
[Betty] Pagett, who has spent the past 16 years as director of education and advocacy at the Ecumenical Association for Housing, will retire June 21...

Marin is an extraordinarily beautiful place, she says, full of wonderfully creative and mostly wealthy people. But these people, building ever-larger homes, are blocking the way for the less wealthy.

These residents don't think in terms of "community," she says, but about property values and entitlement [whose got the entitlement problem?]. "They don't talk about what will make life better for everybody. It's more about 'this is what I want.'"

When Marin residents complain about traffic [one of the arguments Marinites most love to use to oppose affordable housing, but not new market-rate or above housing], she says, they should think about the 40,000 people who have to drive to Marin every day for their jobs. [In other words, Marinites don't really care about an increase in traffic or the commensurate increase in air pollution as long as it happens "over there".]

Giambastiani [former executive director of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce and an ally in the Consortium for Workforce Housing], who calls Pagett "brilliant, compassionate and dedicated," says the main opposition to workforce housing comes from environmentalists and homeowner groups who say "I support affordable housing but this is not an appropriate location."

The two believe that opposition stems from fear - fear that property values will decline, fear of more traffic, fear of the people who might live there...the Marin community has "really tried to run away" from finding solutions, she says.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Housing Prices Must Correct to Save Our Schools

Reader Lisa found this letter-to-the-editor in today's SF Chronicle:
Fallout from bad loans will reset market

I've spent the last several years watching people take preposterous loans to purchase homes well beyond their means...These people knew what they were doing...They were gambling that the market would continue to rise...If the government wanted to act, it should have acted years ago to provide better lending regulation...To come in now, after the damage has been done, and prop up the market can only forestall and worsen the necessary correction...In the meantime, responsible buyers will continue to be shut out of the market.
Spot on. People thought it would be a good idea to pay stupid prices for houses.

And then, in the same issue of the Chronicle, is an article about the increasing frequency of school closures due to the fact that people are fleeing the Bay Area because it has become so crushingly unaffordable here even for people making a six figure income:
Public education is in danger of sinking along with the fortunes of its departing middle class.

By now, most San Franciscans are familiar with the dismal litany: the soaring cost of housing, the resulting loss of some 800 kids [at least] from the public school system each year, the constant battles over school closures.

Its fate is tied directly to the city's ability to muster the resources and political will to come up with yet another program with widespread benefits, one that would provide affordable housing for all its families. This is a challenge of enormous proportions, in a city where not just the poor, but families pulling in $100,000 or more are struggling to find adequate housing.

San Francisco's primary family support group, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, estimates that some two-thirds of this city population is experiencing some form of housing crisis.

[With regards to building affordable housing in both poor and wealthy neighborhoods] You can't achieve the goal of quality schools throughout the city, and good schools in every neighborhood, without economic integration in every neighborhood. Bringing the middle class into the affordable housing mix, in neighborhoods like the Bayview -- "deconcentrating pockets of poverty" -- as one mayoral aide put it, is one way to help achieve this.

But there's no point cleaning up your act if your audience is leaving. Can this city come up with a housing program that will keep not only its school kids but also its teachers here? To do so, the city will need to go far beyond the mayor's plan to provide a little more than 3,000 housing units in the next four years. No one really knows what the true cost of a comprehensive, float-all-boats housing program would be, but it is sure to run in the billions.

And time is of the essence. The client base for any affordable housing program is shrinking daily, with every U-Haul that heads out of town.
I hope you are all proud of yourselves.

The solution is not to figure out some über-creative way to intermix so-called "affordable" housing amongst unaffordable housing while at the same time desperately trying to keep property values up. That will only cause a big mess. The only viable solution is to admit that housing prices are way out of whack, get out of denial, stop making excuses for ourselves, bite the bullet, and do everything possible to encourage property values across-the-board to reset back to sustainable and healthy levels. By sustainable and healthy levels I of course mean levels that are justifiable given people's incomes and what is in line with the notion that a house is a place to live, to raise a family, to make memories, not an investment like a stock, not a means of funding one's retirement. We need to eliminate the housing speculation mentality and remove the protections (both direct and indirect), both legislated or otherwise encouraged by vested interests, that are intended to keep property values moving in only one direction -- up. Of course I speak of endless regulations on building, Prop 13, tax-based incentives, "toxic" (too easy) lending, our fraudulent appraisal system, privatized control of real estate related data and information, a real estate industry that does not provide an incentive to the buyer's agent to see prices go down, etc., etc., etc.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Shockingly Sad State of Affairs

I just saw this quote in the Press Democrat. It is in reference to the Sonoma housing market, the fact that prices have dropped a little, and lending has tightened:
A family earning the median income can qualify only for a home priced 50 percent below the median price of a home.
This state of affairs is criminal. This is what happens when we allow self-interest and greed free reign, to get out of control. This pathetically shameful situation exists across much of California and certainly across the whole of the Bay Area.

It didn't have to be so. No one said you had to pay stupid prices just because someone else did.

This is not a healthy situation to be in. It must not be encouraged to continue. The only way out of this horrible situation is if house prices drop a good 30-40% from where they are now or if incomes double. I seriously doubt it will be the latter.

Fortunately, the main stream media (MSM) is finally beginning to talk about the fact that cheaper prices are a good thing for our economy and our communities. As is always the case with the MSM, it's too little too late. But I still hope the message catches on in a big way:
Whenever the housing market takes a turn, how you feel depends on where you stand. There are buyer’s markets and seller’s markets; what’s good news for buyers is bad news for sellers, and vice-versa.

So a slow housing market is framed in hand-wringing headlines, like this one from Friday’s Boston Globe: ‘Housing slump may rival late ’80s.’

“If you are struggling to buy a home, that sounds like good news, not bad. It’s also good news if you consider the long-term needs of the state economy.

Lower home prices ‘are healthy for the economy,’ said Alan Clayton-Matthews, the UMass professor who authored the study.

Cheaper House Prices are a Good Thing

Whenever the housing market takes a turn, how you feel depends on where you stand. There are buyer’s markets and seller’s markets; what’s good news for buyers is bad news for sellers, and vice-versa.

So a slow housing market is framed in hand-wringing headlines, like this one from Friday’s Boston Globe: ‘Housing slump may rival late ’80s.’

“If you are struggling to buy a home, that sounds like good news, not bad. It’s also good news if you consider the long-term needs of the state economy.

Lower home prices ‘are healthy for the economy,’ said Alan Clayton-Matthews, the UMass professor who authored the study.
I'm glad to see this message finally starting to seep into the main stream media. I've said many times before on this blog, and I've been severely criticized for it, that lower housing prices are a good thing for the economy, our communities, and the environment. Cheaper house prices may not be good for your specuvestor pocketbook, but it is better for the overall community...so stop thinking about yourself.

Fortunately there are a significant number of people in Marin who understand that affordable housing is a good thing and worth striving for even if it means reduced property values. But unfortunately our local inward looking and protectionist forces have been able to dictate policy.

It seems to me that Marin can either do the right thing and do it well or it can have someone force it down our throats, do it for us and probably not do it at all well.
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