January 28, 2023 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

Column: Time to Crack Down on Vacant Homes’ Owners

By Tom Elias, Columnist

​​There is no doubt California has a housing shortage. That’s fact even in the wake of the state auditor’s springtime report showing this state’s Department of Housing and Community Development figures are unreliable, making it hard to know the actual extent of the shortfall.

But we definitely know some of the causes and at long last, a few cities are beginning to figure out ways to at least reduce whatever shortfall exists. The most commonly proposed tactic is to force vacant homes onto the market via a tax or a fine on places that go unused for long periods.

How extensive is the vacancy problem? One estimate from the California Association of Realtors suggests as many as 1.2 million units, apartments and single-family homes, now sit vacant around California. Most are in cities, where in some cases, entire apartment buildings are empty.

San Francisco, where a severe housing shortage caused rents to shoot up sharply just before the coronavirus pandemic, is considering – but has not yet imposed – fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 for holding livable quarters off the market.

That proposal moved to the back burner last winter, when it became clear that pandemic-inspired changes in white collar working conditions allowed thousands of city residents to move to more rural digs and work from home, emptying large numbers of San Francisco units.

But the opposite is true across San Francisco Bay in the college town of Berkeley, where city officials are considering a plan to tax vacancies. Much smaller than San Francisco, Berkeley recently reported 141 vacant multi-unit residential buildings, at a time when students are scrounging for housing and controversy surrounds plans for new University of California-owned student quarters.

City councilwoman Kate Harrison has claimed 68 of those buildings had been empty for more than 120 days as of late July, a month before most UC Berkeley students were to return to town.

So Berkeley altered its definition of “blight” to include residential buildings that stand empty more than four months. This will see landlords who hold buildings empty and also allow them to become eyesores in other ways – falling apart, infested by weeds and rodents or in drastic need of new paint – pay fines ranging from $100 to $500 per violation.

Similar ordinances already exist in a very few other cities.

Even Harrison, who badly wants the empty units fixed up and opened to student renters in order to help resolve her city’s obvious shortage, admits fines of that level likely won’t cause investor owners to do much.

But if fines don’t bring movement, the city will likely ask voters to OK a far higher tax on long-term vacancies, the amount not yet determined.

Meanwhile, investor owners are increasingly common all over California, where widespread advertising tempts homeowners to sell while prices are high. “We’ll buy your house as is,” declare some of the television commercials. “No need to spend money fixing it up.”

The citizen group United Neighbors claims institutional buyers, including pension funds and Wall Street investment banks, spent a record $77 billion on single-family homes in the last six months of 2021. Many of these stay off the market while land values rise, in the hopes that increasing housing demand will spur future sales to apartment and condominium builders, now authorized by new state laws to build high rises in areas formerly reserved for single family homes.

One thing for sure: even if there are enough vacant units now held off the market to solve most of a housing shortage estimated at 1.8 million units by Gov. Gavin Newsom, they won’t resolve the need for more affordable housing.

For the owners of units now off the market are after more than just a small profit; they want big-money returns on their investments and those will not be forthcoming from renters except in a very few places.

So far, the capital needed to create affordable housing in large quantities has not appeared. Which leaves the state and its cities in a bind that can be eased only if owners of most currently unused units can be incentivized to rent or sell.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.

Related Posts

Sage and Seekers to Foster Intergenerational Connections at Palisades High

January 27, 2023

January 27, 2023

Sage and Seekers are slated to begin their winter session at Palisades High School on January 30 By Keemia Zhang...

Lua Kobayashi Celebrates Family Legacy and History Through Art Exhibit in Westwood

January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023

Artist Lua Kobayashi has an exhibition in Westwood featuring pieces of her grandmother’s wardrobe, jewelry, and a diary from her...

A Sushi Taco Restaurant Has Just Opened in Century City

January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023

Lucky Tacoshi up and running in Westfield Century City food court By Dolores Quintana The fast pace of the Westfield...

Column – A California Positive: Kids Swarm Extra Classes

January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023

By Tom Elias It’s become a cliché, the shibboleth that California has lousy public schools and most of the kids...

UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance Announces 2023 Spring Programs

January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023

Highlights include the return of Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha, dancer / choreographer Shamel Pitts, Grammy-winning ensemble Quinteto Astor Piazzolla, jazz piano...

Westside Food Bank Lacking Necessary Eggs to Meet Demand

January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023

Avian flu outbreak and inflation have been driving these shortages Westside Food Bank is turning to alternative suppliers to try...

St. Joseph Center President & CEO Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum to Lead LAHSA

January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023

25-year veteran of St. Joseph Center will service as serve as CEO of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Dr....

Mandatory Green Bin Recycling Now In Effect for LA Residents

January 24, 2023

January 24, 2023

Rule now in effect for all residents serviced by LASAN OrganicsLA is a curbside organics recycling program enacted by California’s...

Attorney Jailed for Five and Half Years After Duping Investors in Fraudulent Real Estate Scheme

January 22, 2023

January 22, 2023

Prosecutors say defendant DEREK Jones sold interests in real estate that he did not own DEREK Jones, a disbarred California...

Kendrick Lamar Pays $15.9 Million for Bel Air Estate

January 21, 2023

January 21, 2023

Rapper buys seven bedroom property in East Gate neighborhood By Dolores Quintana Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and world-famous rapper Kendrick Lamar...

Foreclosure Auction for Next Century Partners’ Stake in $2.5 Billion Century Plaza Redevelopment Delayed

January 21, 2023

January 21, 2023

Auction now to take place February 23  By Dolores Quintana Next Century Partners and Woodbridge Capital Partners’ stake in the...

UCLA published a study indicating playgrounds contain higher levels of microplastics than other areas in urban parks

January 20, 2023

January 20, 2023

UCLA Study Finds High Concentrations of Microplastics in Playgrounds . @brentwoodnewsla UCLA Study Finds High Concentrations of Microplastics in Playgrounds...

Market Report: Seasonal Squash

January 19, 2023

January 19, 2023

Learn about two squashes currently available at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. @centurycitywestwoodnews What's in season at the Santa Monica...