What if, instead of adding new housing to house employees in a neighborhood, the state helped employees get to where housing is more affordable? Decoupling housing choices from jobs provides an immediate opportunity for workers to reduce their housing costs. In the process, it may also offer the greatest opportunity to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, by reducing daily commutes.
The experience of the coronavirus response has led companies to introduce or expand remote working in their operations. One estimate found that during the pandemic, about 42% of the U.S. workforce was working from home full time. As a result, there has been a big impact in many rental markets: Since March 2020, the median rent in San Francisco has fallen almost 25%, while Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego have also seen rents drop. or at least eventually flatten out.
In a sense, for businesses impacted by stay-at-home orders, the pandemic was a forced pilot program to assess different networking and communications technologies. The result of the experiment is that companies, such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Morgan Stanley, will expand their previous program to permanently implement a remote working device for certain employees. They do this because, in general, new telecommuting technologies can offer businesses money-saving opportunities. As such, we can expect companies to continue to make more use of remote access work and decentralize their business structure, even after the pandemic and it is safe to return fully to the office.
Additionally, another reason that companies are likely to expand tele-employment agreements is that they are popular with employees. A survey showed that three quarters of workers would like to continue working from home at least several days a week, with one third indicating that they would like to work from home every day. Additionally, in the same survey, around 28% of workers said it was at least somewhat likely that they would move to a new city or state if they could work remotely indefinitely.
Employees living in high housing communities can solve the housing problem by voting with their feet. More remote communities with lower housing costs could become alternatives for employees who did not have to travel daily. For example, according to Trulia, in 2019 the median housing costs for Santa Maria and Lompoc are $ 388,000 and $ 350,000, respectively. In contrast, the cost of a house in Santa Barbara is $ 1,105,000 and $ 779,500 in Goleta. These communities are about 1 hour (55-65 miles) apart. More separate is New Cuyama, which sits on the other side of the Santa Ynez Mountains from Santa Barbara, with journey times around two hours or 120 miles apart. There, the median cost of a house is $ 156,500, almost a million dollars less than the cost of a house in Santa Barbara. Since employees do not have to visit an office on a regular basis but can work from home and only occasionally visit the main office or a smaller satellite office, they can live further away from the company. avoid travel costs and have a wider range of communities to live in.
Is this a solution to the housing crisis that the state would like to promote? The government can start by helping businesses assess the benefits and challenges of remote working for them. The state may offer companies tax credits or deductions to cover the costs of a restructuring plan to decentralize its employees and offices. The state could also offer tax breaks to employees who move to California, potentially favoring certain counties or cities over others where the benefits to the area – improving the job-housing imbalance – are significant.
However, if the objective of the State can be to guide the impacts of this technological force of communications motivating the decisions of management of the companies, it does not want to guarantee the destruction of its cities. Invariably, cities are going to be significantly affected by the emigration of employees. School districts are built to support a target number of children, so a reduced number of students can result in the district closing schools. Cities plan planned levels of water, road and wastewater use based on the assumed number of residents. In addition, by allowing its employees to work from home, some companies may then find it profitable to reduce their office space. These decisions can have far-reaching consequences for local economies: undermining municipal tax revenues, reducing office building, and reducing the viability of nearby restaurants and stores.
The state can support cities in several ways. This can help cities develop mitigation plans to make a transition less painful. While some emigration can benefit a city by reducing high rents and overcrowding, cities can assess the reallocation of empty office space and freed up shopping malls and reimagine its downtown. These new mitigation plans could form the basis of a new partnership between cities and the state. Finally, the state should adjust the obligation of cities under state housing laws, which requires cities and counties to plan for an increase in the number of dwellings.
The expansion of remote employment offers the opportunity for the state to reduce housing costs and expand housing options, without adding massive levels of high-density housing to neighborhoods that dramatically change the character of the city. community. In doing so, it can help reduce carbon emissions.
Stuart Kasdin is a member of the Goleta City Council and teaches political science at Santa Barbara City College. This article is part 5 of an ongoing series on how to achieve affordable housing.