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Housing affordability continues to plunge in California

California lawmakers are now proposing a $1 billion a year down payment assistance program for first-time home buyers
Posted at 6:41 PM, Jun 20, 2022

It's becoming even more difficult to afford a home in California and it was already expensive.

California lawmakers are now proposing a $1 billion a year down payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers.

"We just don't have enough homes for the number of people who want to live in our area and so that has driven up prices," said San Luis Obispo realtor Kim San Jule.

Buying a home is becoming increasingly out of reach for people on the Central Coast and across California.

"For first-time homebuyers, it's really tough. There are a couple of things but it boils down to tight supply and, of course, affordability," said Oscar Wei, Deputy Chief Economist for the California Realtors' Association.

High demand, a lack of housing and rising interest rates are making the situation even worse.

"It seems that since the pandemic started, with people's ability to work remote, everybody has discovered the Central Coast," San Jule said. "As you and I know, what better place could there possibly be to live."

The result is a growing gap between the average household income and the money needed for a down payment.

For example, a 20 percent down payment for the average California home is $160,000. The average household income is just half of that, at around $80,000.

"What we call the housing affordability index -- the percent of households that can afford to buy a median-priced home -- has dropped from somewhere around 33% in 2020 to about 20% right now in the first quarter," Wei said.

The housing affordability index is expected to drop even further to below 20 percent. That's the sharpest drop since the housing market burst before the great recession.

California is now looking to help first-time homebuyers with a down payment assistance program called the California Dream For All.

"Getting people into homes is a great thing but we need to read the fine print," San Jule cautioned.

The program would give first-time homebuyers 17 percent toward their first home. That money would be reimbursed to the state if the homeowner sells or refinances.

"The California Dream For All program will give more people the chance to break free from the cycle of renting, become the first in their families to own a home, and make it possible for more people to set their children and grandchildren on a path to success," said California Senate Leader Tony Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who is spearheading the effort.

"A down payment assistance program is one step," Wei said. "We're hoping to build more homes. I think the bottom line is still getting more homes built in California."

Experts say this is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't address the main problem which is a lack of supply for high demand.

"I don't think it's gonna be large enough to really make a dent," said Moussa Diop, Assistant Professor of Real Estate at the USC Price School of Public Policy. "It's gonna help some people buy a house, but if the program is significant enough, it can make prices go even higher unless supply can respond."

The proposal continues to move through the California Legislature as part of the state budget.