Why is Butte County issuing permits for 5x more units than us?

One of the key challenges we face in Shasta County is that there are too few places to live and housing is expensive. Our housing shortage fuels our homelessness problem (though it is not the only cause – mental illness, addiction, and family issues also are primary causes).

So last week I looked at data on building permits issued and I found something very shocking.

In 2022, Shasta County and its 3 cities issued permits for 375 units.

Butte County (where Chico is), which is just a bit bigger than us, issued permits for 1,853 units, almost 5 times more than we did.

By the way, this is how I approach problems – look at the data, and then compare us to similar counties and see if other counties are outperforming us. If they are, then see what we can learn from them.

But first, I needed to see if the gap between Butte County and us is a one-time incident or a trend – was 2022 just a weird year, or has this been going on for a long time?

First, I looked at how we’re doing this year. We have permits for 78 units. Butte County has 502.

Then I looked back 10 years. During that whole time, Butte County has issued more permits than us but in 2012, they issued 1.5 times more permits than us. Now, they issue almost 5 times more than us.

It seems that much of the increased gap can be explained by the difference in devastation between the Carr and Camp Fires. The Carr Fire destroyed ~1,600 structures compared to ~18,000 in the Camp Fire.

These fires don’t explain, however, why Butte County averaged more than 2 times the permitted units we did even before 2018. It also doesn’t explain why we’re permitting the same number of units we did in 2015 when we had ~4,000 fewer people.

Here are 2 other observations:

  1. In 2022, almost half of Butte County’s housing were multi-family units. In Shasta, 0 were multi-family units. Friends in the county who are developers tell me that single family homes are tough for developers to build right now because it is hard for them to make money on them.
  2. This is not just a city problem either. 30% of the permits issued in Shasta County in 2022 were issued in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Why is this important? Because housing prices follow supply/demand curves. If we aren’t growing our supply of housing, then prices will go up, fewer people will be able to buy homes, and more people will end up homeless.

My goal is to figure out how Butte County is issuing 2-5 times more permits than us and then see what we can do to change that so more of us can buy homes and fewer people slip into homelessness. I’m reaching out to Butte County permitting department and our Resource Management department to see what I can learn.

If you know anything about why this is happening or have any ideas, let me know.