Saturday, May 13, 2017

A second look: Marin Grassroots Protestors outside the Citizen Marin Town Hall Meeting on March 20, 2013

Editor's Note: This video is worth a second look after the "State of Emergency" news conference by Marin Grassroots. Here you will see many of the same participants refusing to interact with their fellow citizens inside the meeting. Notably, John Young of Marin Grassroots won't go in because "he wasn't invited and on the agenda" at the end of the tape.
Brief video with the protestors outside the Citizen Marin Town Hall on March 20, 2013.  The Town Hall event was open to the community to talk about affordable housing solutions.  People from all perspectives were encouraged to speak up about their views on affordable housing.
This group of activists were organized by Cesar Lagleva,  a Marin Profesional Public Employee Union Shop Steward (M.A.P.E.) encouraged others to protest against the public event.  Their cries of Racism, NIMBYism and Classism are meant to intimidate people from speaking openly about housing.  The irony is that most people inside at the event SUPPORT a fair allocation of affordable housing provided it is financially responsible and fits in to existing neighborhood densities.
Cesar was author of the highly offensive Marin Voice article I mentioned in an earlier post here.
Also present was the every present protestor and self proclaimed "Janitor of Political Waste Management", Jimmy Fishbob Geraghty. His daily rants about "racist Marinites" can be found on the San Rafael Patch and Marin IJ online.  You will often see him holding signs and protesting around the Bay Area.  If you can't get enough of him on the public news sites, you can get the full rants on his facebook page.   After this footage was shot, I spoke with him briefly, and came away with a positive impression of him.  He seems earnest but misguided and genuinely a nice guy.  It was one of my personal highpoints of the evening.

Local affordable housing lobbyist,  Dave Coury, also was present wearing his button to end Racism, Nimbyism and Classism.  He had been overheard at the February 2013 planning meeting asking for "affirmative action complaints against the Dixie School district" on his cell phone in the lobby during testimony about the Housing Element and its effects on school funding for Dixie School District.  He also has publicly called on the supervisors to simply zone all land in Marin within 1/2 mile of 101 Freeway as 30 units per acre multifamily housing.  We can only guess his client list funding his activities. In the July 9, 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting,  Dave Coury called the struggle for housing in Marin ""a war" and linked a shooting in Marin City to the housing issue.
Cesar Lagleva, sat next to me at a One Bay Area Plan meeting on April 16th.  I greeted him and offered to shake his hand and he shot back "don't touch me".  Clearly, we have a ways to go on our friendship.
Cesar Lagleva, is one of the organizers for Concerned Marinites to End Nimbyism (CMEN jokes please) and their website is where you will find more of their rhetoric.    It is amazing to me that this public employee union official  attacks the taxpayers that support him with such language  I am told he is a clinical social worker or psychologist. Here is a puff piece put out by his union.
Supervisor Steve Kinsey was the keynote speaker.  He thanked M.A.P.E. for organizing and told the crowd that "Marin can be very unwelcoming". Like the rest of the crowd gathered,  he was invited to participate the open town hall inside and share his views.  Supervisor Kinsey did not attend but stopped for a TV news interview, got in his car and sped off.
We think a fruitful discussion about affordable housing will begin with honest, open dialog and not with shouts of RACISM, CLASSISM and NIMBYism. 

We still have time to talk and my offer for a cup of coffee to share with Cesar is still open.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer

Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer

The $25 million Labre Place in Miami was built using the low-income housing tax credit program. It's named for the patron saint for the homeless and is now home to 90 low-income residents, about half of whom were once homeless.Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

On the south side of Dallas, Nena Eldridge lives in a sparse but spotless bungalow on a dusty lot. At $550 each month, her rent is just about the cheapest she could find in the city.

After an injury left her unable to work, the only income she receives is a $780 monthly disability check. So she has to make tough financial choices, like living without running water.

Every day, she fills bottles with water from a neighbor's house and takes them home. She washes her hands with water heated in an electric slow cooker. She uses a bucket to flush the toilet.

"I'm tired, but I don't have nowhere to go and I don't have enough money to do it," she says, fighting back tears. But she adds, "I'm not living on the streets. I'm not homeless."

Eldridge is among the 11 million people nationwide making these kinds of choices every day. The government calls them "severely rent burdened" — people paying more than half their income in rent.

Thirty years ago, Eldridge was the type of person Congress sought to help when it created the low-income housing tax credit program, which is now the government's primary program to build housing for the poor.

But the tax-credit building that's only a little more than 2 miles from Eldridge's house, where she might pay as little as $200 or $300 in rent based on her income, has a waiting list up to four years long. In Dallas and nationwide, many of these buildings don't have any vacancies.

In a joint investigation, NPR — together with the PBS series Frontline — found that with little federal oversight, LIHTC has produced fewer units than it did 20 years ago, even though it's costing taxpayers 66 percent more in tax credits.

In 1997, the program produced more than 70,000 housing units. But in 2014, fewer than 59,000 units were built, according to data provided by the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

Industry representatives don't dispute the numbers; they say these trends are the result of rising construction costs, decreasing federal dollars that funded other housing subsidy programs, and stricter state requirements to build homes for the lowest-income households. They also say the business is less profitable than it used to be.

But NPR and Frontline also found that little public accounting of the costs exists, even among government officials and regulators charged with monitoring the program. Some key lawmakers say that needs to change.

"My suspicion is, there's a lot of things wrong with the program," says Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "If you aren't following the money, how do you know if the low-income housing tax credit is working?"

How the low-income tax credit housing program works

The federal government used to build its own public housing, which still houses more than 2 million people today. The model was simple: The government built the apartment and became the landlord.

Some of the big, concrete high-rises became infamous for high rates of crime and their concentration of poverty. The government banned public housing construction in 1968 and began demolishing many of the buildings in the 1990s. But while direct federal construction went away, the need for new buildings did not.

From NPR's Archive

Demolished: The End Of Chicago Public Housing

So, in 1986, Congress developed a strategy to entice private businesses to build better affordable housing. That incentive came in the form of a tax credit. Since then, an $8 billion industry has evolved to help the government house the poor.

There are two types of tax credits, the smaller of which is financed by tax-exempt state and local bonds. NPR and Frontline focused our investigation on the largest part of the LIHTC program.

Here's how that tax credit works: Every year, the IRS distributes a pool of tax credits to state and local housing agencies. Those agencies pass them on to developers. The developers then sell the credits to banks and investors for cash. Often, to find investors, developers will use middlemen called syndicators.

The banks and investors get to take tax deductions, while the developers now have cash to build the apartments.

Because taxpayers essentially paid for the construction, the buildings can have much lower rent than market-rate developments.

"A very enduring public-private partnership"

The program is often described as a win-win. Low-income people receive well-built, affordable places to live, and private industry players — developers, syndicators and investors — make a profit for their involvement. Years later, the private industry continues to profit, but it's no longer clear whether the poor benefit as much as they could.

Betsy Julian and Mike Daniel, civil rights lawyers who have been investigating the program for years, say the thriving private industry is a sign that the scales may have tilted away from the tenants.

"It's a frightfully expensive way to provide low-income housing and it's got layers of profit built into it that we think we have to provide in order to get people to do something for poor people," Daniel says.

Julian says 30 years ago, attending affordable housing conferences was different than it is today.

"I have the feeling that I'm in the room with nothing but a bunch of rich guys and gals," she says. "That's an impression that has to do with the ambience and the sense that there's a lot of money to be made around affordable housing."

Betsy Julian, a civil rights lawyer who has been investigating the LIHTC program for years, says she has noticed a significant shift in the industry.Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

Some attendees at a conference for the LIHTC industry last fall told NPR and Frontline that business is booming.

"We've had so much capital pouring into the market," says Stacie Nekus, senior vice president of investor relations at Alliant Capital, a top syndicator.

But she adds that the thriving industry has not benefited at the expense of the people for whom the affordable housing is built. "It gets the most amount of units built," she says. "We house millions of people."

Advocates of the program say that providing an attractive incentive to businesses is crucial.

"Without private capital we would not be modernizing public housing. We wouldn't be building affordable housing," says former New York Republican Rep. Rick Lazio, who leads the housing finance team at the law firm Jones Walker. "We've got to be realistic about the fact that investors need some return."

That return comes partly in the form of the fee that developers and syndicators earn for their work. The association of state agencies recommends developers receive no more than a 15 percent fee from the total development cost, but the actual percentage varies by state. So if a building costs $20 million, a developer would receive $3 million.

Industry representatives told NPR and Frontline that syndicators earned more than $300 million in fees last year.

This program has been described as a subterranean ATM, and only the developers know the PIN.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin

Financial institutions see these investments as low risk. Because of the high demand for affordable housing, the chance of foreclosure is low: Buildings fill with tenants and stay full, often with years-long waiting lists. Banks also use the investment in LIHTC buildings toward the requirement mandated by the Community Reinvestment Act, which says they must help meet the needs of borrowers in the poorer communities in which they do business.

These incentives are purposefully designed to encourage investment in a public good. Mary Tingerthal, a board member of the NCSHA, the group representing the state agencies that run the program, says it has been working well for people who need affordable housing since it began.

"It has housed more than 6 1/2 million households and it's been a very enduring public private partnership that has produced good housing that's very well run," she says.

Higher costs, fewer units

So why are LIHTC costs higher if fewer units are being produced?

The IRS, which oversees the program, declined a request from NPR and Frontline for an interview. We also reached out to more than 20 industry officials, including the leadership of the Housing Advisory Group and the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, which represent investors and syndicators such as Boston Capital, PNC Real Estate and CohnReznick LLP. They did not agree to an interview but answered questions by email through lawyers representing the industry.

Industry Response

After our stories aired and were published, 25 national affordable housing organizations, sent a response. Read it here.

They say several factors have led to higher costs and fewer housing units; primarily, increased construction costs. Indeed, NPR and Frontline found in an analysis of government and NCSHA data that the inflation rate associated with rising construction costs accounts for about half of the overall increase during the last 20 years.

The representatives also noted the decline in grants from two other federal subsidies developers used to help pay for these buildings — the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnership program. Still, fewer than one-third of tax credit units have received grants from these programs historically, according to data from the NCSHA.

Many states also are requiring tax credit buildings to target even poorer renters, which means less rent to cover any debt. But data from the NCSHA show that the proportion of LIHTC tenants in the lowest income category rose from just 4 to 9 percent of new units from 2000 to 2014 across the country.

"Millions ... almost overnight"

On a downtown street in Miami, one tax credit property's dark history offered another reason for increased costs. Labre Place, named after the patron saint for the homeless, is a $25 million development shaded with towering trees. The lobby is painted lime green and the building includes a fitness center, computer lounge and library. It is home to 90 low-income people, about half formerly homeless, and there's a two- to three-year waiting list to live there.

In the leasing office, the apartment manager proudly displays the many state inspections the building has passed. But there's one thing that wasn't inspected: how much money the developers were making off the deal.

For developer Michael Cox, it was a dream job. A longtime advocate for the poor, Cox worked at a string of nonprofits until 2006. That was when he and his own company, Biscayne Housing, partnered with one of the country's top affordable housing developers, the Carlisle Development Group. Between 2006 and 2009, Cox says the two companies had more than $250 million under development.

"I went from working with this very small nonprofit to an equal partnership with the state's largest affordable housing developer. So it became millions of dollars ... almost overnight," Cox says.

Michael Cox's company, Biscayne Housing, was the developer for Miami's Labre Place.Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

That was before Cox discovered his partners Lloyd Boggio and Matt Greer were stealing money from their developments, and he eventually joined them. Together, according to court records, $34 million was stolen from 14 tax credit projects, including almost $2 million from Labre Place.

"It was a construction kickback scheme," Cox recalls. "The scam was to submit grossly inflated construction numbers to the state in order to get more money than the project required and then have an agreement with the contractor to get it back during construction."

"I convinced myself that this was OK and that I was doing such good works and I was building amazing projects in the community," he adds.

Last year, Boggio, Greer and another partner, Gonzalo DeRamon, pleaded guilty to crimes related to the kickback scheme and were sentenced to prison. Cox was sentenced to home confinement and probation. He cooperated with prosecutors, never spent his portion of the money and returned all of it. But the impact of his theft is lasting.

"At Labre, if the costs had been stated in a correct way, we could have built 10 more housing units. So, that's 10 more people every year that that project could have served," Cox says. "That's 10 lives. So it's those people that really take it on the chin when costs are inflated."

"A program of trust"

In a government office building just a few blocks from Labre Place, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin has spent five years investigating the tax credit program in Florida. He also unraveled the Carlisle/Biscayne theft.

"This program has been described as a subterranean ATM, and only the developers know the PIN," Sherwin says.

The IRS relies on the housing agencies to identify corruption. But Sherwin says he doesn't believe the Florida agency, the Florida Housing Finance Corp., was equipped to spot the theft.

"It's really a program of trust," Sherwin says. "These housing agencies don't have a lot of funding. Looking at Florida housing, they have good people that work there, but there are limited resources. It's a small office with a limited staff that is in charge of managing hundreds of millions in state, local and federal money."

Steve Auger, the man who ran Florida's housing agency, says the Miami case was one bad apple.

"This kind of fraud has not been rampant in the tax credit program both here in Florida or nationally," Auger says, adding that Florida has added additional audits to make sure developer theft won't happen again.

"It's probably the most efficient tax housing program that has ever existed," Auger says. "That's why you've got this asset class that has performed so well with such few scandalous incidents."

Steve Auger, then-executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., called the LIHTC program "the most efficient tax housing program that has ever existed."Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

After the interview with NPR and Frontline in late 2016, Auger was forced to resign from the agency after an audit revealed he spent more than $50,000 on a steak and lobster dinner for affordable housing lenders and gave his own staff almost half a million dollars in bonuses.

A few months later, Sherwin charged a Miami-based shell company called DAXC LLC belonging to the owners of Pinnacle Housing Group, another one of the largest developers in the country, with the theft of $4 million from four tax credit developments.

In an agreement with prosecutors, a DAXC representative acknowledged that the company "inflated costs" for its own "personal benefit." The company returned the money and paid a $1 million fine. In early 2017, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. went to court to ban Pinnacle from affordable housing projects for two years. Pinnacle declined our request for an interview but told us it didn't violate any state rules and would contest the ban.

Sherwin says he is not done investigating the LIHTC program. He says he is turning his investigation to more developers with projects in other states and also to the banks, lenders and syndicators.

"I know that this fraud doesn't just reside in South Florida," he says. "There's too much money involved, and based upon other information that we've looked at, this fraud exists in other jurisdictions."

Following the money

There are well-built, attractively designed tax-credit buildings all around the country where developer fraud has not played a role. Industry representatives say it's unfair to draw wider conclusions about the program from what happened in South Florida. They say they support more stringent auditing and do not tolerate any fraud.

But without strong oversight of the billions flowing through LIHTC's private sector, there is no way to say for certain just how rare fraud is: The vast majority of housing agencies have never been audited. There have been only seven audits of the 58 state and local housing agencies that the IRS relies on to watch the program since it began in 1986. And when you trace the tax credits of LIHTC properties upward to syndicators and investors, the profit structure becomes even more obscure.

Grassley, the Iowa senator, is one of the few lawmakers looking into the program. He recently asked the GAO to find out how much money syndicators are making and whether that is influencing developments.

"The lack of data shows that maybe the IRS isn't doing a proper job of oversight," Grassley says.

Despite the lack of data, Tingerthal of the NCSHA says the investors' willingness to participate in the program and compete against each other is a sound indicator of the program's overall efficiency.

"This is a market-driven program. And our barometer is really that rate of return: How much is the investor willing to pay for those tax credits and for those units of housing?" Tingerthal says. "We're working all the time to drive towards more cost-efficiency."

"It's all we got"

Daniel, the civil rights lawyer who has been focusing on the program, says the industry's focus on rates of return can lead to blind spots in other areas. He discovered that 90 percent of projects in Dallas were built in high-poverty areas. He filed a lawsuit against Texas that in 2015 went all the way to the Supreme Court and helped set standards for fair housing nationwide.

Daniel says getting deals done matters more to the developers, syndicators and banks than how many units a project has or where it's located. Building low-income apartments in high-poverty areas doesn't get met with as much opposition.

"They don't make these deals in good places. They make these deals in the same places they won't lend," he says. "They were being put there because it's easier to do."

Mike Daniel, a civil rights lawyer who has been investigating the LIHTC program, says getting deals done matters more to the developers, syndicators and banks than how many units a project has or where it's located.Screenshot courtesy of Frontline (PBS)

Nationally, only an estimated 17 percent of projects are built in high-opportunity areas – places without a lot of crime and with access to jobs and high-performing schools — according to forthcoming research by Kirk McClure, a professor of urban planning at the University of Kansas who has studied LIHTC for more than a decade. And that matters: Studies show that moving to these types of areas helps children rise out of poverty so that when they're adults, they may not need any government housing help.

The balance of power in the LIHTC program, Daniel says, tips heavily in favor of the banks, brokers and developers.

"They're the ones that have a lot more influence than the poor people who need the housing. Nobody else involved in it has got any reason to come in and criticize it," Daniel says.

Even housing advocates independent of the industry are not likely to publicly criticize the program, he says.

"If they take it away, what do you have? Not only do you take it away from poor people, but you also take it away from all the intermediaries who lose the money," Daniel says. "It's difficult to get anybody to look at it from the taxpayers' point of view. Or even the families that should be benefiting from it. It's all we got."

Frontline's Emma Schwartz, Rick Young and Fritz Kramer contributed to this story.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

In America’s Affordable Housing Crisis, More Demand but Less Supply

In America’s Affordable Housing Crisis, More Demand but Less Supply

MAY 9, 2017

by PATRICE TADDONIO Assistant Director of Audience Development

More and more Americans are struggling to make rent. Each year, an estimated 2.5 million people across the country are evicted.

Today, in a joint investigation called Poverty, Politics and Profit, FRONTLINE and NPR join forces to examine the crisis in affordable housing, exploring why so few people are getting the help they need, and whether government programs designed to aid low-income Americans with rent are working as they should.

One of those programs, called the low-income housing tax credit, relies on partnerships between the federal government and the private sector. The IRS gives billions in tax credits to the states, who then award the credits to developers. The developers sell them for cash to investors, mostly banks, and then use that money to help build apartment buildings. And because taxpayer money pays for most of it, they can charge the lower rents required.

The program, which has cost about $8 billion annually in recent years, is often described by supporters as a win-win: Low-income people get quality affordable housing and the private sector makes money. But in Poverty, Politics, and Profit, NPR and FRONTLINE crunch the numbers — and find that the program is costing taxpayers more in tax credits, but producing fewer units.

In the above excerpt from tonight’s documentary, produced by FRONTLINE’s Rick Young and his team, follow Laura Sullivan of NPR as she tries to find out why.

Then for more on the story, listen to All Things Considered today and watch FRONTLINE tonight. From exploring why those who receive Section 8 vouchers often struggle to find housing, to examining charges that developers have stolen money meant to house low-income people, to delving into the legacy of segregation in government housing programs, Poverty, Politics and Profit is a probing exploration of a system in crisis.

Dixie Outdoor Classroom is now open

The Dixie Outdoor classroom is open today at Dixie Elementary School on Idyleberry Rd.  Created with a generous grant from the Las Gallinas Lions club and with labor provided by the Friends of Marinwood-Lucas Valley, the Friends of Miller Creek Watershed and the children of Dixie Elementary School.  

Debra DiBenedetto, the teacher that spearheads the project is justifiably proud of her accomplishment,  "The kids have been just great".  The classroom will be used to teach about environmental science and the natural history of Lucas Valley.


Reports find that immigrants commit less crime than US-born citizens

Reports find that immigrants commit less crime than US-born citizens

© Getty
Immigrants commit crimes and are incarcerated at a much lower rate than U.S. citizens, according to two separate studies released this week.
A study by The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group, found that "foreign-born residents of the United States commit crime less often than native-born citizens." 
Another study, by the libertarian Cato Institute, compares incarceration rates by migratory status, ethnicity and gender. 
"All immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives relative to their shares of the population," the Cato study reads.
On the campaign trail and as president, Donald Trump has portrayed illegal immigration as a dual risk: an economic threat and a source of increased crime.
Under President Trump's 2018 budget request, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) budget would grow by $3 billion to fund his proposed border wall and executive orders on immigration.
When he launched his presidential bid, Trump said that illegal immigrants “are bringing crime.” And in speeches, he frequently mentions individuals whose loved ones have been killed by illegal immigrants.
"It's all enforcement-only, following the rhetoric of Trump that he used in the campaign and continues to use, making immigrants at fault for everything, from crime to the economy," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
But the two studies don’t point to immigrants posing more of a threat of crime than citizens born in the U.S.
Among people aged 18-54, 1.53 percent of natives are incarcerated, as are 0.85 percent of undocumented immigrants and 0.47 percent of documented immigrants, according to the Cato study of comparative incarceration rates.
The Cato study found that there are about 2 million U.S-born citizens, 123,000 undocumented immigrants and 64,000 documented foreign citizens in U.S. jails. 
If natural-born citizens were incarcerated at the same rate as undocumented immigrants, "about 893,000 fewer natives would be incarcerated," read the study. Similarly, if native citizens were incarcerated at the same rate as documented immigrants, 1.4 million fewer would be in prison.
The Sentencing Project study even goes so far as to suggest that increased immigration "may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates" since 1990.
While the study is "not definitive in proving causation," it links crime trends — 730 violent crimes per 100,000 citizens in 1990 compared to 362 per 100,000 in 2014 — and immigration trends in the same period. According to the study, there were 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country in 1990, and 11.1 million in 2014.
Democrats say it's a well-known fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, but they say Trump is using fear of immigrants for political gain among his voter base.
"There's always the horrible, fallacious view that you have to go after immigrants and then you point out a few immigrants that have committed horrible crimes," said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). 
"You could do the same with mothers. I remember quite well a mother taking her children and driving them into a lake, and they all drowned. You wouldn't make the argument then that mothers are bad and we have to go after mothers because mothers are criminal," he added. 
Grijalva said the tactic would ultimately backfire on Republicans.
"The weakest of people in this country are the ones being made the scapegoats for everything, and unfortunately, facts don't matter, logic doesn't matter," said Grijalva.
"It's a rush to deal with a campaign issue that I think Republicans in general and the Trump administration specifically feel that an anti-immigrant strategy is going to be something that will serve them well in the next round of elections. I don't think so, I think it's going to catch up with them," he said.
But for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the issue isn't whether the Trump administration enforces existing laws based on statistical information, but whether those laws are adequate. He criticized both Trump and former President Obama for their immigration priorities.
"This president is emphasizing border security — the last president deported more people than anybody in history. Both of those approaches, I think, don't deal with a big part of what is broken, which is a legal system that is just dysfunctional," Diaz-Balart said.
Diaz-Balart added that the border is "porous" and that Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises by focusing on border security. 
But Democrats have a sense of urgency in reversing Trump's initial actions on immigration, both because they believe that immigrants are less prone to crime, and because they disagree with Trump's budget proposal. 
"I live in San Diego. A high number of immigrants live there, both documented and undocumented, and that's one of the reasons why it's such a safe area. The crime rate among immigrants is much lower than it is among the general population. So spending all this money to go after immigrants, a safer population, really makes no sense at all," said Vargas.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Battle of Sacramento vs. The People begins. Look out Marinwood

California's Legal Assault On NIMBYs Begins

Over 100 bills aim to fix the state’s severe housing crisis, including many that would crack down on developers and communities that aren’t doing their part.
Construction workers build a single-family home in San Diego.
Construction workers build a single-family home in San Diego. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
There are more than 100 bills before the California Legislature that address the state’s housing crisis, and a large share of them would crack down on communities that don’t do their part by facilitating the construction of new homes.
A California Department of Housing and Community Development report published earlier this year paints a dire picture: Home ownership rates are at their lowest numbers since the 1940s; homelessness is high. Existing homes cost far too much for low-income and even middle-income residents. But the report focuses most of its attention on the homes that don’t exist yet.
“In the last 10 years, California has built an average of 80,000 homes a year, far below the 180,000 homes needed a year to keep up with housing growth from 2015-2025,” the report says. “Without intervention, much of the population increase can be expected to occur further from job centers, high-performing schools, and transit, constraining opportunity for future generations.”
Annual housing production in California from 1995 to 2015. (Data: Construction Industry Research Board/California Homebuilding Research Reports 2005, 2013, 2015. Graphic: California Housing and Community Development)
Dozens of the solutions floating in the state Legislature aim to address that supply problem, including several that would streamline the process by which housing projects get approved (one, for example, would limit the circumstances in which a special permit could be required to build a granny flat). Others would not-so-subtly make it much harder for local residents and government agencies to block new projects, like by requiring a two-thirds vote for any local ordinance “that would curb, delay, or deter growth or development within a city.”
That latter bill epitomizes the frustration many young working people and families have as they try to attain what was once a milestone of adulthood—homeownership—that is now out of reach for even those making decent money. Some of those folks are YIMBYs, or supporters of a “Yes in My Backyard” agenda. “We know that our housing struggles are not the result of impersonal economic forces or lack of individual effort, but derive from bad policy and bad laws that have restricted housing growth for decades,” said YIMBY leader Brian Hanlon, co-founder of the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, at an April Assembly committee hearing.
California already has several laws on the books aimed at nudging localities to greenlight housing construction. One, the Housing Accountability Act, is even known as the Anti-NIMBY Act. But localities and residents have found ways around them. Many of the current proposals on the table either close loopholes opened by local governments, or add teeth to measures that some cities or neighborhoods have long ignored. A bill to strengthen the Housing Accountability Act, for instance, would even allow a court to authorize punitive damages against cities that act in bad faith. Another would set aside funds specifically for the state attorney general to enforce existing housing laws.
Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who represents several upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods including Santa Monica and Beverly Hills and who has written a package of housing bills, says many of the solutions that address localities aren’t meant to be antagonistic. “I think many in our local communities are very appreciative of clarifications. They recognize that things have gotten out of hand, and they’re not the right agencies to provide the clarity that we provide at the state level,” he says. “There are times, particularly in a time of crisis, that the state needs to step in and provide a better sense of expectations for local governments.”
Counterintuitively, some local officials might secretly crave punitive measures, says Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and urban design and director of cityLAB-UCLA. “Because the most vocal and organized housing cohort is often a conservative one, city councils and local administrators have a hard time fulfilling their obligation in terms of providing more housing,” Cuff says. With state enforcement, she adds, “the local administrators will have a means to argue back that they have to do this or they will be punished.”
Other bills being floated, though, are more carrot than stick. One, written by San Diego Assemblyman Todd Gloria, would allow local housing authorities, which typically deal solely in affordable housing, to earmark some units in new projects for middle-income residents. Residents might be less likely to rally against a new project, the thinking goes, if it means their new neighbors will be teachers and firefighters in addition to those receiving housing subsidies.
During the recession, many market-rate projects that had been OK’d were abandoned by cash-strapped developers and converted into affordable housing projects because the government was the only entity doing any building. The community’s reception of a market-rate project compared with the same project when it became an affordable housing project was noticeably different, says Gloria, who was a San Diego city council member at the time.
“Whatever reason that might be, it could just be a pure no-growth approach or it could be a true fear of what affordable housing is perceived to be—and it’s never what it really is—maybe this [bill] is a way to address that,” he says.
It’s unclear what the chances for each bill are. Though legislators seem eager to spur more housing construction quickly, some of their allies might not be. Many environmentalists, for example, want new projects to comply with CEQA, the state’s landmark environmental law that requires developers to study and possibly mitigate the environmental impact of whatever they build. And developers are never quick to embrace mandates that they include affordable units in their projects.
If the bills do pass, will any of them actually make a dent in what’s become a crippling problem all across the state? The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters recently wrote off the current proposals in the Legislature as “tepid, marginal approaches that would do little to close the gap.” Cuff admits many critics dismiss individual bills as a drop in the bucket. “But on the other hand, let’s put a drop in the bucket,” she says. “A drop is better than a drought.”
Smaller, incremental solutions are also more likely to go over well with wary residents, as opposed to sweeping mandates that would never be implemented, Cuff says.
Bloom cautions that even if an explosion of housing production suddenly takes off, it will still take a long time for it to make a meaningful impact. Lawmakers also need to focus on solutions that can take the burden off of residents right away, he says, such as repealing certain restrictions on rent control.
“Even if I waved a magic wand today and we were to double our current housing production around the state, it would take us a minimum of 10 years to catch up,” he says. “I think that we need to give thought to the circumstances that tenants are facing today and see if there isn’t a way in which we can provide some immediate relief.”



According to The New York Times, the car used to be “king” in the city (municipality) of Los Angeles. “'A Different Los Angeles', The City Moves to Alter its Sprawling Image,” was another story that seeks to portray the nation’s second largest municipality as having fundamentally changed. Following this now popular meme, a Slate story in 2016 referred to Los Angeles becoming “America’s next great transit city.” Los Angeles has surely become America’s greatest transit tax city, with Los Angeles County voters in 2016 approving a fourth half-cent sales tax increase principally for transit since 1980. Yet transit's market share has fallen, not only in the nation's largest county but even in the city of Los Angeles.
The Ascent of Transit: A False Narrative
The Los Angeles political establishment and media is virtually unanimous in its praise for the now quarter century old rail system. Yet, despite more than $15 billion being spent on rail transit the already meager levels of transit commuting in the city have fallen further, while solo driving has risen to an all time high. Unless platitudes are more important than results, rail’s success is a false narrative. People are driving more and using transit less according to the American Community Survey for 2015.
The share of city of Los Angeles residents commuting by transit fell from 11.2 percent in 2010 to 9.5 percent in 2015 (Figure 1, note truncated axis). The 2010 figure was the highest decennial census year transit figure in the period starting in 1980. Just five years later, in 2015, however, the city of Los Angeles transit commuting share had fallen below 1980 levels.

In 1980, 10.8 percent of the city’s commuters used transit, a figure that fell to 10.5 percent just before the initial Long Beach “Blue Line” opened in 1990. While new light rail lines and the Metro (subway) line opened after 1990, transit’s market share fell further, to 10.1 percent by 2010. During the 2000s, transit commuting rose 1.1 percentage points to the 11.2 percent figure, propelled by unprecedented gasoline price increases. But progress was short-lived as the share dropped to 9.5 percent in 2015.
City of Los Angeles Surge in Driving Alone
At the same time, commuters were turning even more to driving alone. In 2015, 69.8 percent of work trip access was by solo drivers. This represents a substantial increase from the 66.8 percent drive alone share in 2010. From 1980 to 2010, driving alone edged up slightly, much less than the increase in the last five years. In 1980, 65.1 percent of commuters drove alone. In 1990, a nearly identical 65.2 percent drove alone. In the last five years, driving alone has risen more than the entire previous 30-year increase in the city of Los Angeles.

The news could get worse. According to new American Public Transportation (APTA) data, total ridership on all Los Angeles County MTA services dropped more than five percent from 2016. The APTA reported decline is astounding, since the highly touted extension of the Expo light rail line to downtown Santa Monica opened in 2016. Even more astounding is that the expensive, at least seven line (counted at radial line ends plus the transverse Green Line) system has added not a soul to transit ridership on the Los Angeles MTA bus and rail system since 1985. Not all MTA service is in the city of Los Angeles, however, the APTA data could presage a further transit market share decline in the city with the American Community Survey data due in the Autumn.
All of this is consistent with the larger trend in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (which includes Los Angeles and Orange Counties). Overall, the transit work trip market share in the metropolitan area fell from 6.1 percent in 2010 to 5.1 percent in 2015. The MTA 2016 decline is likely to push this figure lower.
The Illusion of a "Different Los Angeles"
Yet to read the press and media accounts in Los Angeles, one might be inclined to believe an alternate reality that LA transit is ascendant.
Christopher Hawthorne, who teaches urban and environment policy at Occidental College told The New York Times that the recent defeat of a development moratorium, along with approval of the transit tax and an affordable housing measure is “a very clear statement from the voters that they want a different Los Angeles.”
The voters may want a different Los Angeles, but apparently commuters are sufficiently happy with driving and have been for the more than a quarter century since rail transit was restored to Los Angeles. This is not surprising, since the average commuter can reach 60 times as many jobs by car in 30 minutes in the Los Angeles metropolitan area as by transit. (30 minutes is the average one-way commute time in the metropolitan area). Data is not available for the city of Los Angeles (see: “Access in the City”).
However, it is a generally hopeless task for transit to be an alternative to the automobile, except for trips to and from the urban core (downtown and nearby). The reality is that it could take as much as the total income, every year, of a metropolitan area to provide transit that could effectively compete with the car throughout a metropolitan area for work and other trips.
Platitudes do not ride, people do. At least with respect to the implied transit ridership increases and forsaken cars, the “different” Los Angeles is an illusion, completely inconsistent with reality.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Is more urban sprawl the solution to California’s housing crisis?

Is more urban sprawl the solution to California’s housing crisis? 

Chapman fellow says yes, others say no

In a state where vacant homes and apartments are scarce and where rents and house prices are out of control, state leaders and experts have proposed a host of solutions. Build more homes, build them in higher-density developments and build them in existing cities and suburbs, closer to jobs, buses and commuter rail line. (Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register)

By JEFF COLLINS | | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2017 at 12:01 am | UPDATED: May 3, 2017 at 8:27 am

In a state where vacant homes and apartments are scarce and where rents and house prices are out of control, state leaders and experts have proposed a host of solutions.

Build more homes, build them in higher-density developments and build them in existing cities and suburbs, closer to jobs and transit to reduce pollution and congestion, they say.

On Tuesday, however, a Chapman University fellow offered a more traditional solution: urban sprawl.

Rather than limit new construction to apartments and condos in “infill” development, California needs to build more houses, using vacant land in interior communities like the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, said Joel Kotkin, Chapman’s RC Hobbs Presidential Fellow in urban futures and co-author of a new report on millennials’ housing needs.

Kotkin was a guest speaker Tuesday at a California Association of Realtors forum in Sacramento streamed over FaceBook.

“Millennials contemplate unaffordable housing that could compel them to leave California,” said the report, “Fading Promise: Millennial Prospects in the Golden State.”

“Nothing,” the report states, “could improve housing affordability than to restore the competitive market for land by permitting greenfield development.”

For decades, California homebuilding has failed to keep up with growth, resulting in some of the highest rents and home prices in the nation. The problem is worse for millennials — people aged 20 to 36, Kotkin’s report said.

While homeownership rates for California baby boomers are close to the national average, only one in four Californians aged 25 to 34 own a home, the third-worst homeownership rate among states, the report said.

But converting vacant land into housing runs contrary to the prevailing view.

A recent UC Berkeley report that denser, “infill” residential housing near jobs and public transit would allow California to meet its housing needs and emission-reduction goals. The study’s authors issued a response to Kotkin saying he ignores other costs of urban sprawl.

“Encouraging more sprawl will only result in more driving, higher transportation costs, and increased pollution,” the statement said. “We need housing solutions that take into account all costs – not just the full cost of living for a resident but the full cost to our environment and to our state’s mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

A 2015 study sponsored by the nonprofit California Housing Partnership found that locating affordable housing in close proximity to jobs and services causes a significant decrease in pollution as people switch to walking, bicycling or taking public transportation.

“I don’t see how you can solve the housing crisis by sprawling unless you decide that climate change is not important,” Matt Schwartz, the California Housing Partnership’s president and chief executive, said in response to Kotkin’s report.

But Kotkin argued that such an approach won’t work because millennials don’t want to live in expensive apartments in high-density environments.

“What we’re seeing is an attempt to re-engineer Southern California into something that it’s not,” Kotkin said in an interview before Tuesday’s presentation. “High-density housing is not a substitute for building houses. The vast majority of people … want a house.”

Kotkin maintains high-density construction costs as much as 7.5 times more than the cost of building houses. Few places in the nation, and certainly not Southern California, have New York-type amenities and transit to make high-density living desirable, he said.

Congestion can be reduced by moving jobs inland, closer to where new housing is developed or by allowing people to work from home. To increase supply in existing communities, “redundant” retail space should be redeveloped into small-lot houses or townhomes, he said. Prefab construction techniques also could help keep housing costs down.

Authors of the Berkeley study disputed Kotkin’s claim that millennials want houses, saying recent surveys show they want to live in walkable, mixed-use communities and in neighborhoods where they don’t have to use a car often. Millennials, the authors said, were split almost evenly between single-family vs. multi-family preference.

Meanwhile, new data released Monday shows that California inched closer to meeting housing goals, but still is falling short.

The state had a net increase of 88,562 housing units last year, 41,155 of them in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the state Department of Finance reported. While the statewide total is up 31 percent from 2015, it’s still less than half the 180,000 new housing units state housing officials say California needs annually to keep up with population growth.

Eight Lies and Excuses about Plan Bay Area 2040

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a massive social engineering project that attempts to plan for the growth of the San Francisco Bay Area 9 counties with millions of residents. In this exchange, Ken Kirkey, Planning Director of the MTC makes 8 excuses why local data will not be used in developing the twenty five year plan. It is interesting to note that the old Soviet Union only dared to make five year projections. Find out more about Plan Bay Area 2040 at Email your comments before June 1, 2017.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Socialism is Great, No?

Venezuela National Guard Run Over Protesters

Published on May 4, 2017
Footage emerged Wednesday showing the Venezuelan National Guard using armored riot-control vehicles to run-over protesters in the capital Caracas. President Nicolás Maduro has intensified a crackdown on protests and civil unrest that have cost at least 31 lives in recent weeks.

Venezuela Undercover

Published on Mar 20, 2017
It's got more oil than any country on the planet but its people eat garbage and gangsters rule. Defying a media ban, Eric Campbell goes undercover in the onetime socialist idyll of Venezuela.

“Housing Issues In Marin" featuring Linda Jackson and Bob Silvestri

“Housing Issues In Marin"

Linda M. Jackson, Program Director--Aging Action Initiative
Bob Silvestri, Founder--Community Venture Partners

Price increases, affordable housing programs and concerns, limited supply . . . The issues that surround housing here in Marin are numerous and sometimes daunting. Join us on May 3 when our two very knowledgeable presenters will share their perspectives and solutions regarding the various dimensions of one of the most pressing topics in our community.

Linda M. Jackson is program director of the Aging Action Initiative. She has over 30 years of experience in strategic planning and communications working for Austin and San Rafael, the Transportation Authority of Marin, and non-profit agencies. She is a trustee with the San Rafael City Schools Board of Education, and serves on the boards of the San Rafael Public Library Foundation, League of Women Voters and Sustainable San Rafael. Linda holds an M.S., Community and Regional Planning and an M.A., Latin American Studies from U.T./Austin, and a B.A., Urban Studies from Wellesley College. After college, Linda served two years with the Peace Corps in the Andes. She and her husband live in San Rafael.

Bob Silvestri is an author, architect and former affordable housing developer, and the founder of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. CVP facilitates community-based projects and initiatives that demonstrate the highest principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability. He is also the founder and editor in chief of, the Bay Area’s first community online news magazine, and the founder and former president of Environmental Media Fund. Bob has been active in community affairs for 20 years and has served on local city planning committees in Mill Valley. His writings include "The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin,” and “Marin 2016: Dispatches from the front.” For Bob’s full CV, please see: http://www.communityventurepartners.o...

0:00:00 Linda Jackson
0:16:46 Bob Silvestri
0:35:31 Questions and Answers

Filmed on May 3, 2017 in San Rafael, CA

Sunday, May 7, 2017

LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again)

LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again)

Three Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees earned a combined $1.36 million last year — $974,779 of which came from overtime pay alone, according to just-released 2016 salary data from
Unsurprisingly, the LAFD trio earned the three largest overtime payouts of the more than 600,000 workers surveyed statewide:
  1. Fire captain Charles Ferrari received $334,655 in OT, with total earnings of $469,198.
  2. Fire captain James Vlach received $332,583 in OT, with total earnings of $469,158.
  3. Firefighter Donn Thompson received $307,542 in OT, with total earnings of $424,913.
This the trio’s 2nd year in a row as the state’s top overtime earners, having also topped the list of the more than 2.4 million government workers surveyed in 2015.
Remarkably, Donn Thompson has been appearing in these lists for decades — beginning with a 1996 Los Angeles Times report in which he was highlighted as an example of LAFD’s “paycheck generosity.”
Then, Thompson’s $219,649 combined overtime payout from 1993-1995 was the most of any Los Angeles firefighter, according to the Times. But excessive overtime pay at the LAFD went much further than any single employee, with the Times reporting that the department spent far more on overtime than any of its peers nationwide — nearly tripling the rate found at the New York City fire department, for example.
When asked about the LAFD’s overtime pay system, a Houston fire official reportedly said: “I don’t know of any other department that has it quite that lucrative.”
More alarming than the large dollar amounts was the discovery of what this money was being spent on. The Times reported that most overtime pay:
…is not being used for fires or other emergencies. Instead, most of it goes for replacing those who are out because of vacations, holidays, injuries, training, illnesses or personal leaves. Millions more go to firefighters on special assignments, such as in-house training and evaluation programs.
Thompson pulls in $1.23M over 3 years
Unfortunately, the Times exposé appears to have had little effect.
Thirteen years later, the Los Angeles Daily News reported that overtime pay at the LAFD “soared 60 percent over the last decade,” some of which was still being spent on things like after-hours remedial training for recruits.
And when the Daily News analyzed the department’s top OT earners, they discovered Donn Thompson sitting atop the list once more — this time having earned a combined $570,276 in overtime pay alone from 2006-2008.
Today, that number has risen to $880,810, which boosted Thompson’s total haul over the past three years to $1,229,504. Since 2014, Thompson has received annual overtime payouts that were either the 2nd or 3rd largest statewide — allowing him to earn more than four times his regular salary each year, according to
Thompson’s ability to collect outsized overtime payouts going back more than two decades raises a host of questions regarding safety, efficiency and legitimacy, according to Transparent California research director Robert Fellner.
“The fact that the same employee can receive such astronomical levels of overtime for so long reveals that the system is fundamentally broken.”
Six-figure OT payouts up 760% over past 5 years
In the original Times report, a retired LAFD firefighter described overtime pay as “a little extra bonus for the guys,” that allows them to get “a new boat on the river and a new truck every year.”
Back then, the department’s largest OT payout was just under $103,000 — which is less than half of the more than $330,000 earned by Vlach and Ferrari last year, after adjusting for inflation.
And as the dollar amount of these payouts exploded, so too has their number, particularly over the past five years.
Since 2012, the number of LAFD workers who received overtime payouts of at least $100,000 increased by 760 percent, hitting an all-time high of 439 last year:
By comparison, only one fire employee in the entire state of Nevada received a six-figure OT payout last year: Carson City fire captain Matthew Donnelly, who earned $110,217 in overtime pay, according to
A systemic issue that’s here to stay
In 1995, the LAFD spent a “budget-wrenching” $58.6 million on overtime pay, which — at 22 percent of total expenses — was far greater than any of its peers nationwide, according to the Times.
In 2008, that number hit $139 million, which prompted a recently retired fire captain to call for an overhaul of the department’s staffing system, according to the DailyNews.
Now at $197 million — which represents a more than twofold increase since 1995, after adjusting for inflation — overtime pay constitutes 31 percent of LAFD’s expenses, according to the City’s adopted budget for the 2016 fiscal year.
And as it did two decades ago, this rate far surpasses the level paid by other major fire departments nationwide, as shown in the chart below:
Overtime pay as percentage of fire department’s budget, FY16FDbudget
A contract provision that requires vacation leave to count as hours worked towards overtime pay illustrates the root cause of the department’s soaring overtime costs, according to Fellner.
“The issue is not a lack of solutions. Those have been forthcoming from a coalition of experts, including those from LAFD’s own ranks, for decades. The issue is lack of a political will for the precise reason an official outlined nearly two decades ago: fear of political retaliation.
Unfortunately, public unions have weaponized the trust bestowed upon the firefighting profession as a means to enrich themselves, at the expense of public safety and taxpayers alike.”
To explore the full dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit
To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or
Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at