(Bloomberg) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti blamed high housing costs for the surge of people moving out of the second-largest U.S. city.
LA County lost 160,000 residents during the 12 months through July 1, the biggest population drop of any U.S. county, according to a U.S. Census report released last week. That accounted for almost two-thirds of the declines in California, the most populous state.
“You don’t have to be indigent, you don’t have to be homeless to feel that it costs a lot,” Garcetti said during an interview Friday at LA’s city hall. “If you ask me the question, what are the top three issues facing Los Angeles or California, I’d say in this order: housing, housing and housing.”
U.S. coastal cities saw the biggest decreases in residents during the pandemic. Aside from the high cost of living, factors contributing to the urban exodus ranged from strict lockdown rules to high taxes and safety fears, including rising crime rates. A lower birth rate, slower foreign immigration and increased deaths also played a role.
LA County’s large drop in residents in part reflects its sheer size — with 9.8 million people, it’s by far the country’s most populous county. On a percentage basis, New York and San Francisco had the biggest reductions in population from April 2020 to July 2021.
Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, as well as Collin County, Texas, near Dallas, and Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, experienced some of the biggest population gains, according to the Census report.
Under Garcetti, LA launched ambitious programs to increase housing availability, but those efforts haven’t kept up with the need. The city approved permits for 17,900 housing units in 2021, more than double the number issued when he took office in 2013 — an increase that Garcetti credited to a raft of state and local laws to increase housing density.
Still, the number of homeless in LA — a city of 4 million residents — has nearly doubled from almost 23,000 in 2013 to 41,290 in 2020. The increase continued after voters in 2016 approved a $1.2 billion bond with the promise to develop 10,000 new housing units for the unsheltered. The program has been beset by slow progress and soaring costs, with an average price per unit running nearly $600,000.
The median single-family home price in LA County was $773,490 in February, up 84% since Garcetti took office, according to the California Association of Realtors.
Garcetti, 51, is nearing the end of his tenure after nine years in office, barred by term limits from running again in this year’s election. He’s awaiting Senate approval as President Joe Biden’s pick to serve as U.S. ambassador to India.
While high costs are driving people out of the area, LA remains a magnet for those seeking the “California Dream,” which still offers great weather and attractive jobs, Garcetti said.
“Part of the problem in LA is too many people want to be here,” he said. “This isn’t Detroit or Pittsburgh in the ‘80s.”
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