Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg Weighs In On Possible Solutions To Housing Crisis

12 hours ago
Originally published on November 8, 2019 5:30 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Apple this week became the latest Silicon Valley company to pledge part of its fortune to solving California's affordable housing crisis. But a few billion dollars is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall problem. California's governor wants to build 3.5 million homes by 2025. A solution like that will require the state and cities to work together. Darrell Steinberg sees the problem from both perspectives. He sits on the governor's homelessness task force, and he's also the Democratic mayor of Sacramento, a city undergoing change.

DARRELL STEINBERG: We're transforming quickly from a capitol city government town to a center of tech and food. And it's becoming a real destination city. The great challenge that we face, of course, is affordable housing.

CHANG: Well, give me a sense of what would be the average price of a single-family home these days in Sacramento?

STEINBERG: Well, in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Sacramento, I would say about half a million dollars or more.

CHANG: And 10 years ago, where was that price?

STEINBERG: Probably 200 to 250.

CHANG: Wow. If the governor were serious about building 3.5 million homes by 2025, that is six years from now. Give me a sense of how much money would that take total.

STEINBERG: Well, with the current prototype that requires half a million dollars or more per unit, it would take billions and billions of dollars.

CHANG: Billions and billions.

STEINBERG: And it's not only money, Ailsa. It's the time involved...

CHANG: Right.

STEINBERG: ...Because it couldn't take two to three to five years to get through the entitlement and planning process to get to construction of a major unit. So we don't have time, you know.

CHANG: So does the governor's plan seem overambitious - 3.5 million homes in just six years?

STEINBERG: I think you have to have a stretch goal. I mean, you have to have a vision. So I think that's the right thing.

CHANG: Well, I mean, the challenge isn't just about money. There are other hurdles out there. Can you explain what you see as the biggest political hurdles?

STEINBERG: Yes. Money is not the only problem. There are major problems around where to cite affordable housing. And that's the complicated relationships between state and local government, where local government says don't tell us how to run our cities or how much housing to build or where to build it. And the state's saying - I think appropriately - we have a statewide crisis here, and we need some local jurisdictions that are not doing their fair share to do more. There's also the difficulty that it's the easiest thing in the world, seemingly, to stop a good project if you're anybody who doesn't want that kind of housing in their backyard.

CHANG: And there's also the issue of zoning. I mean, there are cities that can't or won't build high-density housing in places that they're currently not allowed to.

STEINBERG: When I refer to the push-and-pull between state and local government, I'm really talking about the zoning issue because cities can determine where they want to build housing, and in some instances, essentially, whether they want to build housing or affordable housing at all.

CHANG: Right. So how do you incentivize cities like yours to build more high-density housing near, say, mass transit?

STEINBERG: Well, you both incentivize it by putting your affordable housing resources towards the kind of housing you want to see and where you want to see it. But I also believe that the state has a proper regulatory role to tell local governments that you have to zone for more affordable housing. That's been the law for a long time. But Governor Newsom has said it's time to more aggressively enforce those laws because unless every city and every county is doing their fair share and more - and we collectively are overcoming the not-in-my-backyard phenomena - the stretch goal is going to remain a large stretch goal.

CHANG: Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento.

Thank you very much for joining us.

STEINBERG: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.