During the Board of Supervisors meeting of Dec. 12, Supervisor Lynn Compton rejected reforms to our county’s housing policy because she did not trust the recommendation of builders, businesses and nonprofits because they “have a dog in the fight.”
Then, Supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Compton chose to continue with our current failing system until they gathered more community input.
I hope this Viewpoint will give them the feedback they desire. However, I should first clarify that I, too, have a dog in this fight.
Like thousands of other renters here on the Central Coast, I have struggled to find an affordable place to live for as long as I’ve called this place my home. Despite working full time during the week and holding a second job on the weekends, every time I write my rent check I’m reminded how expensive it is to live here and just how close I am to not being able to afford it. I struggle not because I’m not a hard worker — I graduated from Cal Poly with honors — but because housing is simply too expensive.
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My experience is not unique. Almost 13,000 renters in SLO County pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent. A worker earning the average wage would need to spend more than 90 percent of his or her monthly income to afford a median-priced home. This is simply unacceptable. We cannot continue to do more of the same, yet expect different results.
My family experiences these effects firsthand. My parents, siblings and their spouses all live and rent here on the Central Coast. My brother and sister-in-law are even expecting their first child in March. My family has put down roots here, yet with each passing year home ownership seems like a dream that is becoming less and less attainable.
As a career counselor for at-risk youth in the South County, I regularly see how the lack of affordable housing affects the most vulnerable among us. A report earlier this year, “The 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress,” found that 95 percent of our county’s unaccompanied homeless youths are unsheltered (Page 50). That means 95 percent of the homeless kids in our community have nowhere safe to go at night. I work with these youths almost every day, and it both pains and angers me how as a community we fail to do more for them.
The inclusionary housing ordinance is one of the most important tools available to build affordable housing, which we desperately need. However, the fees can be particularly burdensome for smaller homes.
The proposal before the Board of Supervisors would have reduced or eliminated the affordable housing fees for smaller homes and made it easier for families to buy their first home. Home ownership opportunities would have increased, especially in areas like Nipomo and San Miguel, which are already cheaper.
Instead of easing the fee burden for first-time homebuyers, the conservative majority decided to keep the current fees in place, which charge affordable housing fees on units as small as 900 square feet. This is not how we create affordable housing.
Additionally, another proposed change to our housing policy would have made millionaires who build custom homes pay their fair share of affordable housing fees, as they are currently exempt because the ordinance does not apply to projects with only one home. If millionaires pay into this fee the same as everyone else, we can create more affordable housing.
The board’s decision certainly does not benefit the low- and middle-income families who can’t afford a place to call home. This raises the question: Who is benefiting from these decisions?
I am not a home builder, nor do I represent a nonprofit, but I am a Central Coast community member who, like countless others, personally experiences the crippling effects of the housing crisis in our community. It’s true I have a dog in this fight, but it’s time for Lynn Compton and the board majority to recognize that we all do.
James Sofranko is a Cal Poly alumnus and a San Luis Obispo resident. He works with at-risk and homeless youths in the South County area.