Zócalo Public Square is a magazine of ideas from Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise.
Please forgive the tardiness of this note. You moved to California more than a year ago, and I’m only now welcoming you.
First, a huge thank you for relocating here. A move to California by “the most important and compelling popular musician of the 21st century,” as the New Yorker called you, provides a heavy dose of cultural credibility to our struggling entertainment industry.
Already, you singlehandedly debunked the enduring myth that the megarich are fleeing California because of our high tax rates. And you’ve been so quiet and discreet here that a New York tabloid editorialized against you and your husband Jay Z: “We never knew they were this boring.”
The best part is that you moved to raise your four-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, right when Southern California, at a time of lower birth rates and immigration, has seen big declines in its number of young kids.
But I know that any transition to California can be difficult. So let me offer some neighborly assistance. Particularly with the challenge that, I know, vexes you and our fellow Californians more than any other:
Finding a house to own.
As a Californian, I’m embarrassed to learn, via TMZ and real estate sites, that, now in your second year here, you are still a renter. Apparently, your first rental home in L.A. got sold for $30 million or so, and you were kicked out by the new landlord. Then you got outbid for one Beverly Hills mega mansion by that Swedish gamer (who was willing to go to $70 million). Now you’re stuck renting a Holmby Hills palace for $150,000 a month.
I realize the fact that California has the nation’s highest housing costs is probably not a direct concern of someone with a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars. But as you are now experiencing firsthand, the reason for our high housing costs is that we simply haven’t built enough houses for anybody—rich and poor and middle class alike.
With our limited coastal land and development restrictions, there simply aren’t enough mansions for all the superrich people from around the world seeking a safe haven for their families and assets, whether it’s in Carmel, Montecito, or Encinitas. This shortage at the top hurts all Californians—since we’re missing out on attracting rich people whose tax dollars could be put toward building more affordable housing for the poor.
No matter who you are, being a renter can be a real blow to one’s feeling of autonomy. And you have cultivated an image of wealth and ownership; in “Independent Women,” you sing: “The house I live in, I’ve bought it… I depend on me.” Owning would seem to be essential to privacy for someone with your professed love of cooking naked (that was in “Jealous”—I do know all your hits).
Given all this, I’m worried that you might throw up your hands and move back to your native Texas, which would be a huge blow to our state’s pride.
So, Bey, I beg you—say you’ll never let us go. You not only can afford a home here, but also you can play a big role in drawing the attention to the causes of California’s housing problems by finding one. And the subject needs attention. While polls show housing is a big concern for regular people, it’s not a priority of our leaders; Gov. Brown didn’t even mention housing in this month’s State of the State speech.
You may not believe it, but your housing problems are connected to those of people in poorer parts of the state. Our crazy governance system helps create coastal housing shortages that force people to move inland and drive up housing costs around the state, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s office. Our tax and local finance systems encourage cities to favor commercial developments over housing.
So since you share the same predicament as so many Californians (albeit at a higher price point), your housing crisis represents an opportunity: You would be an irresistible (and irreplaceable) spokeswoman for efforts to expand California’s affordable housing programs and strip away anti-housing regulations. How about bringing your alter ego Sasha Fierce out of retirement and sicing her on a major contributor to our housing crisis, the California Environmental Quality Act? CEQA long ago stopped being a force to protect the environment and limit private development; it is mostly a way for entrenched interests to block vital public projects.
Instead of a wardrobe malfunction at next week’s Super Bowl halftime show in Santa Clara, why not slip in a pro-housing statement into one of your numbers instead?
And as you struggle with your own search for a home, please know that if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, I’m just a phone call away.