More apartments can lower rents. Here are the California places building them

Rent is rising fast in many California cities, leading the state Legislature this month to approve a new, comprehensive rent control measure. Sacramento’s own ordinance was approved just last month.

One possible way to bring rents down is to build more high-density, multifamily housing, economists and urban planners say. The logic is simple: Put more housing units on the market and competition may lead to lower rents.

Some California cities are allowing for the construction of a lot of new multifamily units. Many are not. About 125 of the 200 largest cities in California issued more permits for single-family housing than multifamily housing from 2010 through 2018, according to a Bee review of housing permit data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But other areas are putting their focus on apartments and other multi-unit housing developments. Among the 200 largest cities in California, the city of Irvine in Orange County built the most new multifamily housing units per capita from 2010 through 2018. Several Bay Area cities followed closely behind.

In the Sacramento region, the cities of Rocklin, Folsom, West Sacramento, Davis and the city of Sacramento itself built the most multifamily units per capita. But every large city in the region issued more permits for more single-family units in the last decade than for multifamily units.

A few Sacramento-area cities built a lot of single-family units, and hardly any multifamily units. Elk Grove, for example, issued permits for almost 4,500 housing units from 2010 through 2018, but only 9 percent of those units were multifamily, federal data show.

The town of Lincoln was one of a handful of large cities statewide that built more than 1,000 housing units from 2010 through 2018 - but no multifamily units, federal data show. Located about 30 miles from Sacramento, about 7 percent of Lincoln’s housing stock is composed of multifamily units, census data show.

There are many factors that can explain why one area builds more multifamily housing than others. Some cities grow faster than others. Some cities have less room left for housing units than others.

But residents in some places fight hard against multifamily housing, arguing that it will lower housing prices or hurt the character of a neighborhood. Some California cities have zoning laws that discourage multifamily housing.

A controversial bill that would have forced many places to build more tall apartment buildings was effectively killed this year but will likely come back up in 2020.

Phillip Reese is a data specialist at The Bee and also teaches at Sacramento State: 916-321-1137.

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Phillip Reese is a data specialist at The Sacramento Bee and an assistant professor of journalism at Sacramento State. His journalism has won the George Polk and Worth Bingham awards, and he was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.