There’s been a whole lot of hand wringing over housing prices in San Luis Obispo, where a modest, three-bedroom home without an ounce of curb appeal can go for $600,000.
Something a bit more upscale — with some landscaping, maybe — costs at least $1 million.
There are lots of reasons for the run-up in prices, one being lack of supply. Over the past 10 years, the city added 916 units. When you subtract demolitions, the net increase was just 695 units.
In this super-tight housing market, a sizeable number of employers, residents and wannabe residents have gotten behind two large developments making their way through the city’s approval process: San Luis Ranch and Avila Ranch. Together, they would add 1,300 homes to San Luis Obispo.
We join in supporting these projects.
They are well-planned, with a good mix of housing types, including apartments, condos, duplexes, modestly sized, single-family residences, as well as some higher-end homes.
If preliminary cost estimates hold up, a majority of the homes will be markedly less expensive than many of the houses on the market today.
San Luis Ranch, which includes 580 units, estimates its homes will sell between $350,000 and $600,000 in today’s dollars.
Estimates at Avila Ranch, with 720 units, range from $350,000 for townhouses to $400,000 to $850,000 for single family homes. Most of the houses — 377 — will be in the $400,000 to $650,000 range.
Under the city’s affordable housing law, the developers will be required to build some deed-restricted units for low-income and moderate-income buyers. (Deed restrictions ensure the units remain affordable over the long term.) Under plans currently on the table, San Luis Ranch will include 34 affordable units and Avila Ranch will include 67, for a total of 101.
The city also is negotiating for a guaranteed number of units for families earning in the “workforce” salary range, loosely described as between $90,000 and $125,000. (The exact range depends on family size.) Avila Ranch has agreed to 25 workforce units; the city is negotiating with San Luis Ranch.
But is that enough?
Some city leaders — including Mayor Heidi Harmon — say no.
“If we are willing to make sacrifices of prime agricultural land and traffic impacts, we should really only be willing to do so if it truly provides housing for the young families and young professionals that need it most,” Harmon wrote in response to the San Luis Ranch proposal. (Avila Ranch is still undergoing Planning Commission review.)
We, too, wish the homes were more affordable; $600,000 hardly seems like “workforce” housing—especially if those prices creep up by the time the projects are built. We encourage the city to continue negotiating to keep prices as low as possible.
At the same time, let’s not lose sight of the benefits of these developments — built-in affordability being one. By keeping most of the units smaller-than-average and placing them on small lots (in some cases, lots are roughly half the size of a standard, 6,000-square-foot residential lot) the majority of homes will be competitively priced — or “affordable by design,” as planners like to say.
Another plus: Both projects plan to give priority to buyers who already have ties to San Luis Obispo, which should help ensure the young families and young professionals Mayor Harmon speaks of will get first crack at the housing.
Developers also plan to put restrictions in place to prevent investors from snapping up homes and then turning around and selling them at a big profit within a couple of years.
Bottom line: We believe there is much to like about these projects.
Not everyone agrees; in addition to concerns about affordability, there have been complaints about increased traffic congestion, loss of farmland and open space, removal of trees and a lessening of air quality.
Some of these impacts are inevitable; you can’t add 1,300 homes without seeing some changes, but there also will be benefits of additional parks, bike lanes, trails, traffic improvements and other amenities.
Also, keep in mind that San Luis Ranch is within county jurisdiction; even if the city denies that application, the property could develop under county regulations, and the city would have little or no control over what happens. (Avila Ranch has already been annexed into the city.)
As for the negative consequences of growth, let’s get real.
If you really want to gripe about traffic, drive south on Highway 101 at 5 p.m. any weekday, and join the crawl-like commute from San Luis Obispo to South County. That’s a perfect example of the consequences of the jobs-housing imbalance that’s been building for years.
Other communities have been providing housing for San Luis Obispo’s workforce for decades.
It’s time the city pulled its weight.
We urge the San Luis Obispo City Council to approve San Luis Ranch and Avila Ranch.
Correction: This editorial has been updated to reflect the fact that Avila Ranch has already been annexed into the city.