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Economy

In California, Momentum Builds for Radical Action on Housing

The origins of and potential solutions to California’s housing crisis, explained.
Homeless encampments, like this one in downtown Los Angeles, have become an all too familiar scene across California.
Homeless encampments, like this one in downtown Los Angeles, have become an all too familiar scene across California.Damian Dovarganes/AP

Cities around the world are dealing with severe housing shortages and inflated housing costs. But nowhere is housing such a potent political issue as in California, whose unique geography, state policies, and activist culture have combined with a poorly distributed economic boom to create a “perfect storm”—the chosen words of multiple sources for this story.

California is home to more than one-fifth of the nation’s homeless people, and the numbers are continuing to grow. Los Angeles County saw its homeless population increase by 13,000 people last year, while Sacramento and Alameda counties both saw increases of 1,000 individuals. But the crisis extends well beyond the least fortunate. An astounding 54 percent of renter households and 39 percent of homeowners are considered “cost burdened,” paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income toward housing. A recent report found that nine of the nation’s ten least affordable metros are located in California.