Homes in California and the Problem of Super Commuters

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In everything they do, Californians strive to be the best, whether it’s in college athletics or wine. However, the state also holds the dubious honor of being the state with the longest commutes and the most expensive housing. As a result of these two reasons, there is a growing community of “super commuters,” people who travel enormous distances or for lengthy periods of time to get to their jobs.

Champions of the One-Way Commuter

Between 2006 and 2019, the average time it takes to go to and from work in the United States grew on a yearly basis for the majority of workers in the Golden State. California’s largest cities have record-breaking commute times, with one-way trips taking an average of more than 30 minutes, according to a new Census report released in 2019.

Workers in California face an average one-way commute of:

  • 35 minutes to get to San Francisco
  • 34 minutes in Riverside
  • In Los Angeles, 32 minutes is a long time
  • San Jose is 30 minutes away by car
  • Additionally, it takes around 28 minutes to reach Sacramento
  • It takes 27 minutes to go to San Diego from here

According to a UCLA study published in 2022, low- and medium-wage people are forced to reside far from work because of a shortage of affordable housing options near job centers. In view of recent studies showing that long commutes can have major health consequences, this is a concerning trend. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, even a 10-mile one-way commute increases your risk of heart disease. Workers’ economic mobility is hampered when they move out of cities because of high housing expenses.

Transportation and Low-Wages

According to Department of Housing and Urban Development research, low-wage workers who reside near job centers are more likely to experience upward mobility for themselves and their children than low-income super commuters. Real estate professionals, who spend a large amount of time commuting as part of their employment, are especially concerned about the negative effects of long commutes. Housing supply in job-rich locations must be protected and expanded, especially in long-term rentals, to reduce the negative effects of long commutes on residents.

Commuter Benefits and Drawbacks

Lower-wage, middle-wage, and high-wage workers were all included in the UCLA study’s three income brackets. The researchers then calculated the affordability of housing by comparing it to the incomes of local workers. Higher-wage workers are traditionally thought to travel longer distances from the suburbs to workplaces in and around metropolitan centers. In contrast, low-wage workers tend to live near their workplaces, allowing for shorter commutes. The analysis confirmed the story that higher-wage workers travel longer distances to go to work. On average, lower-wage workers walked 11 miles to work, while higher-wage workers walked 14 miles — a 32% increase.

Longer Travel Time

To balance out these optimistic findings, researchers noted that housing options for low-wage employees are severely limited. Even if higher-wage workers must commute longer, they are able to do so because of greater wages, lower housing costs, and other neighborhood amenities — such as high-rated school systems and more open space — that are available to them. It’s common to have these advantages viewed as a trade-off for longer travel times.

However, low-wage workers may not be able to afford the housing options near job centers that are now available. Only 4% of low-wage workers (those making less than $1,250 a month) worked in communities with affordable housing units situated near low-wage employment. Seventy-seven percent of higher-paid workers (those earning more than $3,333 per month) also lived in areas where housing costs were proportional to their income.

Long Commuters

As a result, lower-wage workers have a tough time securing housing in the areas where they are employed. Long commutes, without the benefits normally associated with commuting, are instead forced upon them. Only about a third of the rental units near workplaces are affordable to those with higher incomes, while around nine out of ten are unaffordable to those with lower incomes unless they choose to bear the financial burden of renting.

Resolving the Housing Shortage

The housing problem in California is reaching a boiling point as a result of the state’s inability to provide adequate housing for the state’s low-income population. The state’s authorities are at a fork in the road: either they enhance the housing supply or they watch residents and jobs leave. Workers and businesses are relocating away from the most expensive coastal districts of California in favor of states with lower housing costs. Between 2020 and 2021, 300,000 Californians will leave the state.

California’s inventory shortage will require long-term solutions. The following are a few common-sense ways to accomplish this:

  • The construction and maintenance of houses for those with less financial resources;
  • Zoning restrictions that have been in place for decades should be relaxed.
  • Encouraging the development of infill and higher-density housing;
  • To promote ADU development, among other things:
  • Transit-oriented neighborhoods; and
  • Of course, the construction of new dwelling units.

Importantly, given the current housing market, long-term rentals will be in high demand. For example, renting is still a common (and often required) option in California’s high-priced coastal communities.
Long-term rental communities in the suburbs are being financed by California property speculators, who perceive a high demand for housing but high prices that make them unaffordable. Cash-strapped investors may ensure a consistent flow of rental income from first-time homebuyers who are unable to afford a home in today’s seller’s market by investing in build-to-rent properties. Residential rental units will take over California’s housing market as renters-by-choice find themselves competing with renters-by-necessity.

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