There are no easy ways to address California’s severe housing shortage. Land is scarce, property prices are skyrocketing, and when developers are building it is usually easier to finance market-priced housing, even if the greatest need is for affordable housing.
It is a sign of the severity of our housing shortage that lawmakers and some cities are even considering converting golf courses into housing. This should be a last resort given the lack of open spaces in many communities. Empty malls and other unused commercial spaces should be the first places to look. They already sit on large plots of land in the urban infrastructure. But the housing crisis demands that all options for locating the construction of new units – parking lots, underutilized commercial strips and dying malls – be on the table.
A bill before the Legislative Assembly this year, Assembly Bill 1910, would encourage local governments to convert some of their public golf courses into affordable, market-priced housing sites. There are 960 golf courses in California, according to the National Golf Foundation, a golf industry trade association, but only about 200 are owned by local cities and counties.
Some municipal courses are experiencing financial difficulties and have to be subsidized by the local government. This could make them candidates for conversion, especially in a community that would rather have housing and open spaces than a golf course. Under the bill, developers would be required to make at least 25% of units affordable to low-income renters or buyers and set aside at least 15% of the land for open space accessible to the public.
There is no doubt that golf courses are ideal, even idyllic stretches of real estate as large as 100 acres or more. Even with the open space requirements, this type of land could hold a lot of housing.
But there are plenty of issues to keep in mind. Public golf courses already offer something affordable: golf. The national average price for an 18-hole round of golf on a course open to the public was $38 last year, according to the National Golf Foundation. This includes all courses – public and private – that are publicly available. It’s a bargain compared to private clubs with expensive membership fees.
Many golfers from diverse backgrounds – in terms of income, ethnicity, age and gender – learned on public courses and still play there. Golf has long since ceased to be the exclusive preserve of wealthy whites. This is partly because people from diverse backgrounds found an accessible public course and a youth program or golf league they could join.
Although the the invoice is paid by housing advocacy groups and affordable housing builders (such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation), dozens of golf clubs, the National Golf Foundation, and the nonprofit Southern California Golf Assn oppose it.
No city is going to sell popular or legendary public golf courses. Rancho Park in Los Angeles, Torrey Pines in San Diego come to mind. Nor is the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), trying to kill public golf courses — especially those that communities want to keep.
“Let’s have a conversation,” Garcia said. “Is this the best use of this land? Do we want to use this property in a different way? »
And that’s exactly what all elected officials should be doing – talking about how and where to create more housing. Whether or not Garcia’s bill passes, it raises an important point that needs to be discussed. How can California create the millions of housing units the state needs to keep people housed if we don’t look everywhere for available land? According to figures from the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Southern California alone needs to build more than 1.3 million unitsmost affordable, to solve the housing crisis in this region over the next seven years.
Another proposition worth discussing is a bill introduced this week by Assemblyman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) that would cut red tape for developers looking to build affordable, mixed-income housing on properties zoned for office, retail and parking.
Lawmakers need as many tools in the toolbox as possible to help with housing production. That’s why they passed Senate Bill 9 last year, which allows for split lots and duplexes in single-family housing areas. It won’t produce all the housing we need, but it will help.
Legislators need to be open-minded and proactive in finding new locations for housing. Otherwise, there will never be enough buildings.