George Skelton: Why Laws Cannot Fix California’s Housing Problem

State lawmakers can pass all kinds of bills aimed at building more affordable housing. But they can’t repeal the fundamental law of supply and demand for desirable land.

Land costs are what really drive up housing prices and make homeownership increasingly beyond the reach of so many Californians. Rentals are virtually impossible, too, in attractive regions along the coast, especially San Francisco.

Land prices on the coast are among the highest in the nation. A residential acre in the average U.S. metropolitan area is valued at $20,000, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported two years ago. Along California’s urban coast, an average acre is worth more than $150,000.

Sure, you can buy or rent homes relatively cheaply in gritty little towns off Interstate 5 in the San Joaquin Valley. Inland land prices in California are typically below the national average, the analyst reported.

But there aren’t many job opportunities on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side, except for picking crops. And during the drought, there was a serious shortage of drinking water in some places. It had to be trucked in. Wells ran dry.

The jobs are in the Bay Area, where it’s practically impossible for a middle-class family to move. The median selling price for a single-family home in San Francisco during July was $1.4 million, according to the California Assn. of Realtors.

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