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On Affordable Housing, Smell the Espresso

May 23, 2003

Re "Looking for Cheap Digs? Try Palmdale," Commentary, May 21: Shirley Svorny writes that high home prices are not only inevitable, but desirable. Market forces apply and all that. Sure, people can and should pay more to live closer to their work. If that work pays a ton, then they can afford the high cost of living. Median home prices in Orange County are now over $400,000. Great for folks with nice paychecks.

But where are these people going to eat? Who will fix their cars? Who will sell them espresso and cut their hair and clean their carpets? Who will teach their kids and get their cats out of trees and arrest burglars? Rich people cannot survive in a complex society for even a single day without the poor and middle-class folks who fulfill their mundane needs and who make a pittance at it. These people cannot live in Palmdale and ride the bus to Brentwood. Wake up.

David Stead

Seattle

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Svorny is correct that it is unlikely L.A. will ever be affordable and the housing market works best when left alone. However, the market has not been left alone for a very long time. We have a housing crisis in L.A. because it is all but impossible for developers to build new housing. When attempts are made to increase density and infill, the existing residents complain of increased noise and congestion. Trying to build on vacant land also brings environmental lawsuits, cries for open space and labels of "sprawl." A recent ballot featured bond measures both to buy more open space and provide affordable housing. The millions spent buying open space drives up the price of surrounding parcels, so the only way for a middle-class family to be able to afford housing is with a government subsidy. Doesn't anyone realize these are competing policies? No wonder the housing market is so dysfunctional.

James Johnson

West Hollywood

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