California Is Divided Over Development Amid Severe Housing Shortage
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
California faces a housing shortage. By one estimate, the state must build more than 3 million new homes by 2025 to satisfy demand. And for Darius Rafieyan of NPR's daily podcast The Indicator From Planet Money, the shortage hit home.
DARIUS RAFIEYAN, BYLINE: In my hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif., housing development has become a very contentious issue. And recently, I broached the subject with one longtime resident.
FREDDIE RAFIEYAN: My name is Freddie (ph), last name is Rafieyan. And I am your father.
D RAFIEYAN: My dad moved to California from Iran 40 years ago. And he's really learned to embrace the SoCal lifestyle. He can almost always be found wearing board shorts and a T-shirt. He's also had an uninterrupted tan since at least 1986. And recently, we met up at our old apartment building.
Here we are, good old 610. Good old unit 610.
F RAFIEYAN: Yup, 610. Yup, I lived there - we lived there for 18 years.
D RAFIEYAN: Our old apartment building - it's on a street called Edinger Avenue. And I went back there because that street is at the center of a lawsuit that could determine the future of housing policy for the entire state of California.
When me and my dad moved there, it was known for, like, the crumbling, old shopping mall on the corner. Now its high-end lifestyle plazas and luxury apartment buildings and all that development - it's chipping away at the small-town feel that people love so much, including my dad.
F RAFIEYAN: They should stop. They should leave Huntington Beach the way it is. It's not Huntington Beach anymore.
D RAFIEYAN: And my dad - he's far from the only person in town who feels this way. Take a listen to this city council meeting from 2015.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We don't need a congested city. We don't need giant buildings.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is insanity.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: We are outraged by that monstrosity that's under construction at Beach and Ellis.
D RAFIEYAN: So at that meeting, the council voted to halt new development on Edinger. But California has this law. It says every city has to identify how much housing it needs and make a plan to build those houses. By limiting the number of new units allowed on Edinger, Huntington Beach fell out of compliance with their plan.
For decades, though, that would not have mattered. The law has gone basically unenforced for 50 years. But when California Governor Gavin Newsom came into office, he made it his mission to change all that, and he chose to start with my hometown of Huntington Beach.
GAVIN NEWSOM: I mean, the city council just say, no, not interested. They just thumbed their nose at the state.
D RAFIEYAN: And Newsom decided to do something drastic. He took Huntington Beach to court. That's right. The state of California is suing one of its own cities.
NEWSOM: People are dying on the streets because of the affordability crisis. We're not asking for high-rises. We're not asking for the impossible. Just increase the supply modestly. Show us you give a damn about the people that are commuting two, three hours to come in and work in your restaurants. Show us you give a damn about the kids there that can't afford to buy a home there or even rent a house there.
D RAFIEYAN: Huntington Beach and the state of California - they've long had a troubled relationship. It's a Republican stronghold in a deeply Democratic state. The two entities have been suing each other back-and-forth for years. But this latest legal spat - it's going to have real consequences. I mean, remember my dad, the one who didn't want to see any more ugly apartment buildings going up on his street? Well, he doesn't live on that street anymore. In fact, he doesn't live in Huntington Beach anymore.
F RAFIEYAN: In about a year and a half, the rent was raised 40% nearly. It's a good city. I love Huntington Beach. I would love to come back and live here. But with the rents going up as much as they are, I don't think I'll ever be able to come back.
D RAFIEYAN: So my dad - he's a low-income renter who was pushed out of his home by rising prices. He's exactly the kind of person that Governor Newsom says he is trying to help with this lawsuit. But he's also a fierce opponent of more building.
You would rather have to leave Huntington Beach but keep the city the same way it is rather than be able to live here but see it change.
F RAFIEYAN: Yes. Even now, I come down here and visit friends, and I always - in a way, I get excited when thinking I'm going to Huntington Beach to see places that I have been around there for many, many years.
D RAFIEYAN: And this is what is so challenging about all this. I mean, housing is an area where economic policy collides with people's sense of identity. And identity is messy. It's not always rational. It doesn't really fit into a city zoning plan, sort of like Edinger Avenue.
Darius Rafieyan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.