Soumya: It sounds like two steps forward, one step back. Or even, two steps forward, two steps back.
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Conor: I think it’s two steps forward, two steps back. And that’s because home prices have slowed down, but it’s not really that much more affordable.
Soumya: How does that affect our homelessness problem?
Conor: What’s going to be very interesting for 2023 is how people react to homelessness. Because I think voters’ attitudes have grown both darker and more optimistic. Looking at the mayoral election in Los Angeles and looking at elections around the state, we have seen, in general, a willingness among voters to fund (i.e. tax themselves more to pay for) bigger homelessness initiatives. What’s worrisome is that at the same time, they have shown a greater degree of — for lack of a better term — fed-upness.
People are increasingly willing to fund extensive homeless programs and increasingly willing to vote for politicians who promise to change zoning and other things that would make housing easier to build, but they expect to see results relatively quickly. And what’s worrisome is that it seems unlikely that anybody can show material results in the time-frame that voters expect to see them.
Soumya: Why is that? It feels as though we put so much money toward housing programs, and in Sacramento there’s a slew of pro-housing bills passing each session. Why is it so difficult to create more housing?
Conor: In all sorts of fundamental ways, we have made it very, very expensive to live in California. And the past five years have shown us that the things that make housing so difficult to build here are so distributed and are so inherent. The state government, the local government, and this agency and that agency — it so permeates everything we do and who we are that all those things have to change for the situation to change. I think that’s happening, but this is not a one bill or a one legislative session fix.
Soumya: Any final things you’re paying attention to in 2023?
Conor: With the rise of work from home, there are all sorts of employees who would just rather not be here, and increasingly can choose not to be. I think California’s inhospitableness to families and to our middle-class is going to start to catch up with us. And I think remote work will be the prism through which that’s viewed. People who have a really tough time with California housing can increasingly opt out, and that will be the most interesting thing to watch.