Housing Crisis in California (2024): Causes And Solutions

California's housing crisis has reached a critical point in 2024, affecting millions of residents and posing significant challenges to economic stability and quality of life. With median home prices soaring above $800,000 and rental rates skyrocketing, many Californians struggle to find affordable housing. The housing shortage in California is exacerbating homelessness, pushing low- and middle-income families out of their communities, and creating widespread social and economic disparities. This article strives to delve into the multifaceted reasons for California's housing crisis and explore viable solutions to address this pressing issue.

Understanding the Housing Crisis in California

Understanding the Housing Crisis in California

Historical Context

California's housing market has been characterized by periods of rapid growth and severe shortages. The post-World War II boom led to expansive suburban development, but growth slowed in the following decades due to increasing regulation and land-use restrictions. Proposition 13, passed in 1978, significantly impacted the housing market by capping property taxes and discouraging property turnover, limiting the housing supply. The current problem is in this historical background, where supply has consistently lagged behind demand, leading to soaring prices and rents.

Current Statistics

As of 2024, California faces a dire housing shortage. By 2025, the state will need 3.5 million additional homes to meet demand, but building rates are significantly below this target. The median home price in California is over $800,000, more than double the national average. Renters face similar challenges, with median rents for a two-bedroom apartment exceeding $3,000 monthly in many urban areas. More than 25% of renters have high-cost burdens, spending more than 50% of their income on housing, and over 50% of renters pay more than 30% of their earnings on housing ​ (California Budget and Policy Center)​. The state's homelessness crisis is also severe, with over 160,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night​​.

Major Causes of the Housing Crisis

Major Causes of the Housing Crisis

Supply and Demand Imbalance

One of the leading causes of California's housing crisis is the mismatch between the state's supply and demand for housing. Housing development must catch up to population growth caused by migration and natural increase. Major urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego attract many new residents each year, but the rate of new housing development has yet to keep pace. This discrepancy has led to a significant undersupply of housing, driving up prices and rents.

Regulatory and Zoning Challenges

Local zoning laws and land-use regulations play a significant role in restricting housing development. Many California cities have stringent zoning codes that limit the density of new developments and prioritize single-family homes over multi-family units. This "Not In My Backyard" (NIMBY) mentality has hampered efforts to build affordable housing. Additionally, while essential for protecting the environment, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has been used to delay or block housing projects through lengthy and costly litigation processes​​. The California Association of Realtors (CAR) indicates a 6.2% rise in median prices over the next year, with an optimistic outlook for the housing market due to falling mortgage rates, rising prices, economic expansion, and strong demand for homes.

Economic Factors

High construction costs further exacerbate the housing shortage. Land in California is expensive, particularly in desirable urban areas. Labor costs are also high due to the state's prevailing wage laws and labor shortages in the construction industry. Material costs have risen due to supply chain disruptions and increased demand for building materials. These factors collectively make it difficult for developers to build affordable housing, even with incentives.

Construction Costs

  • The average cost to build a house in California ranges from $200 to $600 per square foot.
  • The total cost of building a house in California is between $400,000 and $600,000.

Labor Costs

  • The construction industry faces numerous labor challenges, including a smaller talent pool following the Great Recession, an aging workforce, and intense competition from other sectors.
  • Labor shortages are expected to persist soon, increasing wage pressure.

Material Costs

  • Approximately 82.5% of construction materials have seen substantial cost increases since 2020, with an average surge of 19%.
  • According to CBRE’s latest Construction Cost Index, as labor and material costs continue to grow, construction expenses will have increased by 14.1% year over year by the end of 2022. 

Housing Shortage

  • California has been invaded by a regular housing shortage for decades, especially for low and middle-income earners.
  • California only produces between 70,000 and 110,000 minimum housing units yearly, leaving a 2.5 million dwelling gap across the entire state. 
  • As of 2019, California is 980,000 housing units short of meeting its residents’ housing needs.

Political and Governance Issues

California's fragmented housing governance system is another significant barrier to addressing the housing crisis. Housing policy is influenced by a complex web of local, regional, and state agencies, often with conflicting priorities and limited coordination. For example, local governments control zoning and land-use decisions, but regional bodies like the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and state agencies set broader housing goals. This fragmentation leads to inefficiencies and delays in housing production. Recent legislative efforts, such as S.B. 8, S.B. 9, and S.B. 10, aim to streamline housing development and increase accountability, but challenges remain in their implementation​​.

Impact Of Housing Crisis On Californians

Impact Of Housing Crisis On Californians

Economic Consequences

The housing crisis has far-reaching economic implications. High housing costs contribute to a higher cost of living, reducing disposable income for other essential needs such as healthcare, education, and savings. Due to the high cost of living, businesses also need help attracting and retaining employees, which can stifle economic growth and innovation. Furthermore, when workers are compelled to reside farther from their places of employment, a shortage of affordable housing may result in lengthier commutes, worsening traffic, and more serious environmental pollution. 

Housing Downturn: The current downturn in U.S. housing is more cyclical than structural deficiencies. The U.S. Federal Reserve increased the federal funds rate by 450 basis points (bps) between March 2022 and February 2023. This increase was made up of four increases, each totaling 75 bps. This led to a rise in long-term borrowing and mortgage rates that doubled last year. As a result, demand for housing got hit. Starts are down 23.4% from April 2022, while prices have eased.

Housing Affordability: In October 2021, about half of Americans (49%) said the availability of affordable housing was a significant problem where they live, up 10% points from early 2018. According to 70% of Americans in the same 2021 survey, young folks now have more significant challenges when it comes to homeownership than their parent's generation did. 

Housing Prices: According to the Case-Shiller index, The rate of increase in U.S. housing prices is 15% annually, the quickest rate in the last thirty years. The average selling expense of an existing house sold in May 2021 was more than $350,000, a 24% upgrade from the previous month. 

Housing Burden: Housing costs rose during 2019 and affected over 22 million households in the United States in 2021. According to a 2022 survey, more than 33% of renters could not purchase property due to financial constraints.

Housing Supply Deficit: A current study by Freddie Mac evaluates that as of the fourth quarter of 2020, the U.S. had a housing reserve shortage of 3.8 million units. It will take years to close the gap, with housing commencing at an annual rate of 1.6 million units in the first quarter. 

Social Consequences

Socially, the housing crisis contributes to rising homelessness and displacement. Many low- and middle-income families are being priced out of their neighborhoods, leading to gentrification and loss of community cohesion. Homelessness has reached alarming levels, with individuals and families forced to live in shelters, cars, or on the streets. The stress and instability associated with housing insecurity also have damaging impacts on mind and physical health, exacerbating issues like anxiety, depression, and chronic illnesses​ (California Budget and Policy Center)​. A 2024 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that over 30% of U.S. renters spend more than 50% of their income on rent, significantly damaging their finances.

Proposed Solutions to Alleviate the Crisis

Proposed Solutions to Alleviate the Crisis

Legislative and Policy Reforms

State-level legislative reforms are essential to addressing the housing crisis. Recent laws such as S.B. 8, which extends the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, streamline the approval process for housing projects and limit local government's ability to downzone properties. S.B. 9 allows for the construction of duplexes on single-family lots, effectively increasing housing density. S.B. 10 enables cities to up zone properties near transit and job centers, facilitating multi-family housing development​ (California Governor)​.

Local Government Reforms

Local governments must also play a role in alleviating the housing crisis. Cities can offer incentives for housing development, such as density bonuses and reduced permitting fees. Streamlining local approval processes and reducing regulatory barriers can accelerate new housing construction. Local governments should also revise zoning codes for higher-density developments and prioritize affordable housing projects​ (SPUR)​.

Innovative Housing Models

Innovative housing models can provide alternative solutions to traditional housing. Affordable housing projects and mixed-use developments that combine residential, commercial, and recreational spaces can create vibrant, sustainable communities. Co-living spaces and micro-apartments offer more affordable options for young professionals and single individuals. These models can maximize land use and provide diverse housing options to meet varying needs.

Community and Private Sector Initiatives

Community organizations and the private sector are crucial partners in addressing the housing crisis. Non-profits and advocacy groups can provide support and resources for affordable housing initiatives. Public-private partnerships can leverage private investment and expertise to develop housing projects. Corporate responsibility programs can also play a role, with companies investing in employee housing or contributing to local housing funds.

Long-term Strategic Planning

Long-term strategic planning is necessary to ensure sustainable solutions to the housing crisis. Creating a unified state housing agency can improve coordination and streamline efforts across different levels of government. This agency could oversee housing policy, funding, and development, ensuring that goals are met efficiently. Additionally, engaging in long-range land use planning that considers population growth, environmental sustainability, and infrastructure needs is essential for creating resilient housing communities​ (SPUR)​.

Environmental and Sustainability Considerations

Environmental and Sustainability Considerations

Sustainable Housing Development

Future sustainable home represents a commitment to addressing the housing crisis while prioritizing sustainability. Integrating sustainable practices into housing development can help mitigate the environmental impact of new construction. This includes using green building materials, incorporating energy-efficient designs, and promoting renewable energy sources. Sustainable housing developments reduce residents' ecological footprints and lower utility costs, contributing to long-term affordability. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for nearly 40% of total energy use, 38% of CO2 emissions, and 16% of water consumption. Sustainable development offers a significant opportunity to reduce these numbers.

Climate Change and Housing

Climate change resilient custom homes in California address the pressing challenges posed by climate to housing stability in the region. Rising sea levels, increased wildfire risks, and extreme weather events threaten existing housing and complicate new development efforts. Building resilient housing communities that can withstand these climate impacts is crucial. This includes designing fire-resistant homes, incorporating flood defenses in coastal areas, and ensuring new developments are located in safe, sustainable regions​​. Building a climate-change-resilient custom home in California requires meticulous planning and strategic design choices to mitigate these risks and ensure long-term housing stability. A 2023 Union of Concerned Scientists study found that 77% of Californians live in counties with areas highly susceptible to wildfire.

How a Custom Home Builder in California Addresses the Housing Crisis

How a Custom Home Builder in California Addresses the Housing Crisis

At Element Homes, we understand that California's housing crisis demands innovative and personalized solutions. As a premier custom home builder, we are committed to addressing the state's housing challenges by building homes that are not only stunning and functional but also sustainable and affordable.

Our Approach to Custom Home Building

Every home should reflect its inhabitants' unique needs and lifestyles. That's why we offer a comprehensive range of custom home-building services, from initial design consultations to final construction. Our team works closely with clients to realize their vision, incorporating modern design elements and sustainable building practices to create homes that stand the test of time.

Sustainable and Efficient Designs

In the face of California's housing shortage and environmental concerns, we prioritize sustainability in all our projects. Our homes feature energy-efficient systems, eco-friendly materials, and innovative design solutions that reduce environmental impact and lower utility costs. By integrating green building practices, we contribute to alleviating the housing crisis and promote a healthier living environment for our clients.

Affordable Luxury

At Element Homes, affordable luxury homes are our guiding principle. Our custom homes are designed to offer high-quality living spaces at competitive prices, making the dream of homeownership attainable for more Californians. We leverage our expertise and industry connections to provide cost-effective keys without compromising quality or technique.

Partner with Us

If you want to build a custom home that fulfills your specific requirements and contributes to solving California's housing crisis, Element Homes is here to help. Our loyalty to superiority and sustainability guarantees that your new home will be a lasting investment in your future and the community.



The housing crisis in California is a complex issue with deep-rooted causes and far-reaching impacts. Managing this crisis requires a multifaceted approach, including legislative reforms, local government initiatives, innovative housing models, and community and private sector involvement. By integrating sustainability and long-term strategic planning, California can create an affordable, resilient, and inclusive housing landscape. Solving the housing crisis is about building a better future for all Californians. The time for action is now, and the collective effort of all stakeholders is required to make a meaningful impact. Ready to start your custom home journey? Contact us today to schedule a consultation, and remember how we can bring your vision to life. Visit Element Homes or call us to get started.

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