California's record poverty and real-estate bubble are creating a "wheel-estate" boom of people with good jobs living in their cars

Extreme housing prices in California -- driven by a combination of speculation, favorable legal/tax positions for landlords, foreclosures after the 2008 crisis, and an unwillingness to build public housing -- has created vast homeless encampments, but there's a less visible side to the crisis: working people in "good jobs" who have to live in their cars.

There's a whole subreddit devoted to these folks, a mix of maker culture (modding cars to make them more comfortable as homes), hobo chalk-marks (where can you park, and for how long?), and generalized anxiety. It's not just single middle-class people, either -- they're roaming America's streets in company with a vast nomad army of homeless seniors who drive from town to town looking for seasonal work to replace their busted pensions.

What’s striking in California is that many communities already accept people living in vehicles, despite there often being rules or laws against it. This fall, the city of San Diego expanded its Safe Parking Program, which designates lots that can be used by those living out of their cars, and many other cities have similar programs. Under a law passed last year, Los Angeles also allows overnight parking in some commercial districts. In Mountain View, the mayor brags about the services his city provides to those living in more than 330 cars, trucks and RVs.

So long as vehicle dwellers aren’t in residential areas, the NIMBY attitudes that have helped spur California’s housing shortage seem to be relatively in check. And given the many huge parking lots that are empty overnight, capacity is not going to be a problem if living in vehicles becomes a California phenomenon — at least if owners of those lots have a compassionate streak or can monetize this use of their property.

Given the centrality of Golden State’s car culture to its image and history — reflected in movies like “American Graffiti” and in the once-huge popularity of drive-in restaurants and movie theaters — a redefinition of the car in California as not being about independence and adventurousness but about shelter would be a twist that not many state residents would have seen coming 25 years ago.

More Californians living in cars? A ‘wheel estate’ boom is coming. [Chris Reed/San Diego Union Tribune]

(via Naked Capitalism)

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