Santa Barbara City Council is considering an ordinance that would limit annual rent increases to 2% plus an annual consumer price index adjustment. The proposed order, first introduced as the Community Stabilization Initiative, would exceed California’s cap by 5% plus the CPI.
Proponents of this type of market interference argue that there is a need to keep rents low enough for people who might otherwise have to move to a more affordable community or be forced to live on the streets.
Since price controls usually reduce supply by discouraging investment, rent caps are likely to discourage increases in rental housing. Who wants to make the expensive investment in building rental housing if the returns are arbitrarily limited?
Meanwhile, owners of existing rental apartments might prefer to convert them into condos for sale.
Ironically, then, the only good reason to support rent caps may be that by discouraging the construction of more rental housing, they inhibit population growth.
Advocates of rent control condemn landlords as eager to rent at market rates – but aren’t the people who want to force landlords to rent to them at below market rates? Greed can be found anywhere along the wealth continuum.
The crux of the local housing problem is not with greedy landlords or greedy tenants, it is demand exceeding supply.
Proponents of increased supply argue that the local economy will collapse if what is called âworkforce housingâ is not sufficient and affordable.
These Cassandras have consistently claimed that the âessential workforceâ of the community – police, firefighters, medical personnel, etc.
Before succumbing to this duck, let’s consider several observations.
First, providing more housing – “labor” or whatever – has never lowered house prices here, but it has increased the population, which in turn requires an increased labor force, which then requires more housing.
Meeting the demand for housing becomes as futile as a dog chasing its tail.
But, a city that caps its population at a certain level will only need to attract and retain a critical workforce sufficient for that level. This, to put it mildly, would be “community stabilization”.
Second, no matter what profession – cardiologist or waiter – those whose priority is a bigger and better house rather than where it is will always be loose leaves on any tree in the workforce. .
What attracts and retains most residents here is the singular beauty, the cultural vibe, and the pleasant climate – not the housing stock. That’s why people will pay $ 2 million for a modest Mesa bungalow and feel lucky to have a home here.
Third, those of us who have lived here for quite a while have heard Cassandra screaming the same warnings about the housing shortage for decades now.
Some of you may have read the transcript of a 1940s city council meeting in which there was a lot of twist on the housing shortage and prophecies of dire economic consequences that would befall the city. city.
Economies calibrate according to their markets. Santa Barbara’s economy was vibrant when the population was half of what it is today. He was not on the verge of collapse.
Indeed, most economic activities are recurrent and are not threatened by a static population. A small town will have fewer plumbers, lawyers, doctors and retailers, etc. than a large city, but the economy of one will not be on the verge of collapse if its population does not increase.
The reality is that for a place like Santa Barbara there will never be enough housing for everyone who wants to live here. In this regard, Santa Barbara is no different from most other highly desirable places on the planet that the vast majority of people can only visit.
Trying to meet the endless demand for housing can only lead to the degradation of what makes this place so desirable – unfortunately, a process well underway.
Let us, for a moment, please the Cassandra and contemplate what might happen if no more homes are built here, and rents and house prices continue to rise.
Housing is affordable here, but not for everyone. Don’t confuse desire with merit. Housing only becomes unaffordable when no one is able or willing to pay the asking price. How many homes for sale or for rent are lingering in the market here?
Should those who can afford a home in Santa Barbara do without essential labor services, or should they pay enough to have them?
It would be the last – as it always has been.
The local economy evolves to a level which provides the necessary manpower. A dentist, plumber, or mechanic in Santa Barbara charges more than those in Saginaw, Michigan. Additionally, Santa Barbara police and firefighters are paid better than their Saginaw counterparts.
Therefore, the cost of living here is considerably higher.
And, yes, there is an obvious homeless population here. Decades ago. People stubbornly cling to this attractive location even though the accommodation here is far beyond their means. But subsidized housing won’t end homelessness here any more than ants.
There are critical environmental issues with the addition of housing and therefore more population here. Chief among them are limited water resources and increased susceptibility to forest fires, both of which are worsening with climate change.
Advocacy to protect this extraordinary place from the ravages of overpopulation invariably sparks accusations of elitist NIMBYism.
But such indictments are not a convincing rebuttal to the current case. They are a weak attempt to dismiss the realities of the argument by discrediting those who do.
The reality is that the superlative uniqueness of Santa Barbara is gradually diminished by the persistent accumulation of more inhabitants.
There are already plenty of places in California overrun with people, crowded with cheeky housing, choked with traffic, and plagued by all the other sucking tribulations of the urban mass. Santa Barbara doesn’t have to be one of them.
As a nation, we have created national and state parks to preserve and protect special places for present and future generations. Places like Santa Barbara are worth preserving for the same reasons.
This will not happen if these places are allowed to be crowded with people.
In the recent past, wiser city councils have imposed a cap on the population of Santa Barbara. Given California’s misguided mandates overriding local zoning ordinances, it’s harder to do, but the answer to these shortsighted and destructive government mandates is to resist, resist, resist.