Housing Backers Start Facing Post-Pandemic Reality

By Tom Elias, Columnist

The mysterious blindness that apparently affected California’s top legislative housing advocates all through 2020 seems to have abated a little. They and leading housing advocacy groups appear at last to accept that the coronavirus plague changed things – a lot.

It’s true those lawmakers still insist on pushing bills to make California cities of all sizes and shapes far denser than ever. But some at last appear willing to admit that things have changed in the last year.

No legislator will say a housing solution is at hand, but one new bill’s very presence in the Legislature shows an awareness that was missing last year.

That bill is for the moment called Senate Bill 6, part of a housing package introduced in the state Senate within moments of the current session’s opening. Specific terms of SB6 are not yet spelled out; the measure for the moment is basically a blank, but with a stated purpose.

That is to make it mandatory for cities and counties to allow rezoning when office buildings are converted to residential or mixed-use.

This bill exists because of the mass exodus of businesses from offices across California, a flood tide that started in mid-March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic grew so menacing that even the largest companies sent almost all employees home to work.

Since then, surveys indicate the changes will largely become permanent. Companies have cut expenses greatly by reducing office space, some even paying for the privilege (Pinterest paid a reported $89 million to get out of a lease in San Francisco, Twitter forked over even more to escape some of its obligations).

Firms from Dropbox to Merrill Lynch have sent workers home by the hundreds of thousands.

Multiple studies show about two-thirds of those employees prefer working remotely – and that they are more productive that way. How does this affect housing? Simple: Building owners sizing up their situation are realizing “normal” market conditions won’t return. Many are responding with quiet plans to convert existing office space into housing.

It’s part of a trend that also sees rents dropping precipitately (down more than 20 percent in San Francisco over the last year) while home prices in exurban areas like Sonoma County and north San Diego County are on the rise. With distance working now the vogue, white collar workers can live almost anywhere they can afford. Proximity to their offices has become irrelevant.

This is fine with advocates of low-cost housing and helping the homeless, so long as new laws include a requirement for plenty of affordable units.

The new reality, says David Zisser, associate director of the advocacy group Housing California, “intrigues us. We don’t think single-family housing or market rate prices are evil,” he added, “But those alone don’t serve people who are neediest.”

So he favors a by-right zoning bill that might encourage creating long-term housing for the homeless on some floors, high-end condominiums on others, with floors for offices also included. Buildings might rejigger elevators so that some run only to residential floors, others to office areas.

Cities would be crazy to resist a rezoning measure like this. After all, if office towers and other commercial spaces go vacant, building values and property taxes plummet. But if building owners reconfigure structures for mixed use, those same structures can remain cash cows for owners and local governments.

At the same time, Housing California and other advocates favor accelerating government purchases of motels and hotels to house the currently homeless, even if some will never want to move in. The history of homeless folks responding to getting housed is that the majority prefer indoor living.

What better time than now to buy up hotel properties, while many are shut down and being eyed for possible redevelopment into market-rate housing?

Still, housing advocates in the Legislature and elsewhere have not given up pushing for more new construction. But they’re starting at last to recognize they can get more units faster by using the billions of square feet that have already become vacant or are about to.

That’s major progress toward political recognition of the obvious California housing solution.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Related Posts

Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger Cut Price on Palisades Home by $6.5M

June 12, 2024

June 12, 2024

The couple purchased the property in June 2018 for $15.6 million and extensively remodeled it While actor Chris Pratt’s box-office...

Lawsuit Filed Over Pacific Palisades Property Foreclosure: Report

June 11, 2024

June 11, 2024

The Dispute Over the Site Dates Back to 2014 The owners of a Pacific Palisades residential site are fighting to...

Ivy-Covered Mansion on Amalfi Dr. With Eight Bedrooms Hits Market at $38M

June 4, 2024

June 4, 2024

Situated on One of the Largest Lots in Riviera, the Property Includes a Two-Story Guest House A luxurious estate designed...

TripAdvisor Ranked This Santa Monica Hotel #1 in America

May 23, 2024

May 23, 2024

The Ranking Honored the Highest Level of Excellence in Travel, Recognizing Those Who Receive a High Volume of Exceptional Review...

Los Angeles County Rent Relief Program Opens Second Round of Applications

May 21, 2024

May 21, 2024

Applications Accepted Until June 4, Funding and Support Have Been Increased  The Los Angeles County Rent Relief Program (LARRP) has...

Three-Story Complex Opens in Santa Monica, Offers Tenants “Creative” Office Space

May 15, 2024

May 15, 2024

The Building Is Divided Into Two Wings, Connected by a Glass-Enclosed Walk-Through Bridge Structure C.W. Driver Companies, has officially completed...

Glass “Butterfly” Mansion in Malibu Goes for $200K Monthly

May 15, 2024

May 15, 2024

Designed by Renowned Architect Ed Niles Faia and Completed in 2022 After Nearly Two Decades of Construction, the Centerpiece of...

Mini Compound on Brooks Ave Lists for $2.5M

May 13, 2024

May 13, 2024

The primary bedroom, complete with an ensuite, beckons through French doors to a rear garden This tranquil $2.49 million mini...

Classic Tudor Estate Near Palisades Village Listed for Nearly $7M

May 12, 2024

May 12, 2024

A detached studio sits adjacent to a sparkling pool, while a detached two-car garage is adorned with lush ivy A...

Five-Unit Multi-Family Property Along Venice Canals Hits Market at $7M

May 6, 2024

May 6, 2024

Joint Effort to Share Revenue Marks Milestone in Malibu School District Autonomy An opportunity for both owner/users and investors, this...

Report: Real Estate CEO Loses Palisades Home to Foreclosure

May 1, 2024

May 1, 2024

The News Comes a Little Over Two Months After TRD Reported That Kenig Is Suing Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto By...

New Via De La Paz Property Hits Market at $8.9M

April 28, 2024

April 28, 2024

Descend to the Basement to Uncover a State-of-the-Art Theater, Expansive Entertainment Area, Private Guest Suite Located at 600 Vía De...

Report: Video Game Mogul Lists Palisades Home for $9.2M

April 18, 2024

April 18, 2024

Built in 2018, the Wood-Shingled Home Spans 7,000 Square Feet across Multiple Levels Dan Houser, the English video game magnate,...

Los Angeles County District Attorney Announces Charges In Brutal Venice Sexual Assaults

April 16, 2024

April 16, 2024

Charges Filed Against Suspect in Venice Canals Case by LADA George Gascon Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has...

Ye Slashes Price of Malibu Pad by $14M

April 16, 2024

April 16, 2024

Ye’s real estate investment hasn’t yielded positive returns Controversial rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West, now known as Ye, continues efforts...