Do we really need all that new housing?

Suppose that all those pious but earnest urgings by local and state officials over the past few years proclaiming that we need much more housing in this state, particularly affordable housing, were based on false data?

What if all those mandates from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and other government agencies that set a specific number of new housing units cities must provide were based on dated and unsound information? And what if these agencies have not taken into consideration current data — such as the number of people now moving out of this state or the decline in new births or that the escalating population growth would no longer continue, or corporations leaving this state — were discounted, and certainly not included in their predictions of how many housing units are needed?

I never thought to question if the state officials were correct in their assessments, but one recent report has, and its conclusions made me anxious about these projections– a lot.

At the outset, I want to state that I don’t know whether the state auditor’s findings are right or wrong, but I do think we should pay attention to them because if they are true, then we may be needlessly requiring overbuilding in this state. And even worse, if we are creating too many housing and apartment units, they may sit empty for months or years, and we will have created ghost towns or slums in portions of our cities, which is certainly something to think about.

The scathing report was prepared by acting state auditor Michael S. Tilden, and released March 17. It found the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) predictions on housing needs are not only inaccurate, but overestimated the number of new housing units needed in this state by at least 900,000 units, in its stated need of 2.1 million new units. That’s like a 43 percent overcount!

Evidently HCD did not adjust their numbers the previous years, even though the demography of this state was changing – an increase in the number leaving the state, the drop in birth levels, etc.

“The (state) Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has made errors when completing its needs assessments because it does not sufficiently review and verify data it sees,” the report bluntly states. In other words, there are screw-ups.

To put this in local terms, each year ABAG tells local cities how much new housing they need to provide. For Palo Alto, the city has ben tasked with 6,086 new units between 2023 and 2031. Originally ABAG demanded a 10,000-unit increase, but did not explain why the decrease.

But I look around me and see San Antonio Road near El Camino crammed with massive housing and commercial buildings; Menlo Park along El Camino has two blocks of high-rise under construction – a massive amount, visually. Is there enough demand now to fill them, since the construction started years ago and based on older growth estimates?

At-large Columnist Tom Elias also wrote a column about this auditor’s report and noted that even Gov. Gavin Newsom has reduced his housing-needs figures, perhaps based on similar findings about overblown numbers. In 2018, he said California would need 3.5 million new units, but now says we need 1.8 million by 2030. Newsom never explained the drop in his projections. Plus, evidently HCD did not adjust their numbers, nor has it, according to the report.

Now I am not dismissing at all the escalating housing needs in many parts of our nation; they are there. But in California, where the needs still exist, it looks to me like we may be overbuilding based on false predictions and unreliable information. At least, let’s all think about it, especially our city officials and some legislators in this state who are still coming up with ways to make our communities a lot denser (e.g. SB 9 and SB 10).

It’s a shame to have all our communities adjust its housing because of false numbers.

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