California home builders began construction on 194,956 new homes and apartments in 2003, the highest level since 1989, according to preliminary building permit statistics compiled by the Construction Industry Research Board in Burbank. Included in that total were 138,679 single-family homes and 56,277 multifamily units, mainly apartments.

December production was also up sharply in most parts of the state compared to both December 2002 and November 2003, signaling that builders believe the strong housing market will continue in 2004.

But California Building Industry Association President Sherm Harmer, a San Diego homebuilder specializing in high-density condominiums and townhomes in inner-city neighborhoods, warned that even the 200,000 housing starts expected this year won’t be enough to meet the demand for new housing – or to begin easing the nearly 1 million-home shortfall caused by more than a decade of underproduction.

“California’s population is growing each year by about 600,000 people. To keep our housing supply in balance, we need to build about 230,000 new homes and apartments every year, but we haven’t hit that mark since 1989,” Harmer said.

In the hopes of stemming ever-escalating land costs, Harmer called on lawmakers to approve two bills designed to encourage housing production. The first measure, SB 558, by Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, would reform how land is approved for development – including the requirement that localities ensure an adequate land supply for housing for up to 20 years.

The second bill, SB 493, by Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, would conform state law with federal law in regards to future clean-up of so-called “brownfields,” former industrial sites often located in or near downtown areas. This common-sense law would require developers to clean up newly acquired properties to make them habitable and safe, but not require builders to be responsible for unforeseen problems that the original polluters created.

The California Building Industry Association is a statewide trade association representing nearly 6,000 businesses – homebuilders, remodelers, subcontractors, architects, engineers, designers, and other industry professionals.

The Construction Industry Research Board is a nonprofit research center established in 1974 to provide statistical information on the California building and construction industry.

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