Stark Contrasts–What I owe to renters as a homeowner in CA

26 Nov

The following article by Steve Lopez (LA Times, 11/26/17) deeply moved me because of my situation as a homeowner, missionary, and housing justice advocate. In 1994, when I purchased my home in Northwest Pasadena, then a predominantly African American neighborhood, I qualified for a loan of only $100,000 because of my limited income as missionary and a part-time ESL teacher. So my parents each gave me $20,000 to help with my down payment for a cute three-bedroom, two-bath bungalow costing what seemed a lot at the time: $143,500.   Today this home is worth over $700,000. We have made some improvements, but most of this increase took place in my sleep, as Steve Lopez says in this article. What I pay for my mortgage is less than what what it costs to rent a room in Pasadena. Is this fair? Is this consistent with God’s intentions for how we are housed? This article provides some important insights to help us answer questions like these.

A study in stark contrasts

California homeowners are seeing another gold rush. What do they owe to neighboring renters who are struggling to catch up?

Lawrence K. Ho Los Angeles Times
“WHEN we collectively decide not to build housing even as our economy grows, we deliver a windfall to people lucky enough to own homes and a punishment to those who rent,” said Michael Manville, a UCLA professor of urban planning. Above, apartments in Koreatown.

I lived in an apartment until I was 8, when my parents scraped together a down payment and bought a modest little house on a cul-de-sac, taking hold of a deed that was our ticket to the kingdom of suburban California royalty.

Housing developments grew out of the dust all around us in eastern Contra Costa County, as working folks took out mortgages on their own sense of pride and belonging.

People extolled the benefits of owning, rather than giving money to the landlord. But in that time, you bought for the sake of inserting yourself into a dream decorated with shaded patios and manicured lawns, and not so much as an investment.

Today, home ownership in California is the best investment any of us will ever make, thanks, in large part, to a scarcity of housing. The pace of construction has not kept up with population growth and demand, so those of us with houses own a staggering amount of equity wealth that grows even as those without homes pay a higher price for survival.

California was always a model of stark contrasts in the realm of haves and have-nots. But as rents rise and wages stagnate, a majority of L.A.-area renters are paying more than onethird of their income on rent while thousands are paying 50% or more, with no end to these trends in sight.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of homeowners in Los Angeles and Orange counties have enjoyed super-low interest rates and seen their equity rise to all-time highs. Roughly one decade after thousands of people lost their homes in the housing crash, 96.4% of Californians with mortgages owe less than their homes are worth…..

In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 533,000 homes are owned free and clear, and the value of them is $402 billion. That works out to about $700,000 in equity for each owner.

Those who hold current mortgages in the two counties have $842 billion in equity wealth, lifting the two-county equity total to $1.2 trillion.

“A lot of moola,” said Frank Nothaft, who compiled the numbers and is chief economist at CoreLogic, which does global real estate market research. Californians with active mortgages, Nothaft said, have more than one-quarter of the nation’s $8.2 trillion in equity.

Well, good for us, right? By clever planning or dumb luck — and it’s mostly the latter in my case — we are modern-day prospectors in another great California gold rush.

The gains are rightfully owned, and people who have worked and paid their bills and built up a nice cushion for their retirement have no reason to apologize.

But the state with the fifth-largest economy in the world has the highest poverty rate — about 20% — when housing prices are factored into the cost of living. So here’s a question: Unless we’re living in a real estate bubble that’s about to burst, which is certainly possible, do those who have prospered owe anything to those who have fallen further behind, including teachers, nurses, laborers and others essential to both our economy and our best definition of community?

To learn Lopez’ answer to this question, see


A study in stark contrasts

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