The Cambrian

Affordable housing is about to become easier to build in Cambria following CSD vote

These are some of the issues behind California’s housing crisis

California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.
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California's housing crisis is due in large part to a lack of supply, particularly when it comes to affordable housing, and it is hitting low-income individuals the hardest.

As state and county officials continue debate about ways of providing more housing that lower-income people can afford, the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors has tentatively modified its affordable housing ordinance to bring it more in line with county standards.

Most of the changes are “to broaden the definition of projects eligible for affordable housing allocations,” including affordability standards and eligible household definitions, as suggested at an earlier meeting by Board President David Pierson.

The previous CSD ordinance had specified only “lower-income households.”

The CSD board’s unanimous vote Feb. 28 came after comments from 18 people in the larger-than-usual audience. One woman was close to tears as she spoke.

The emotional issue was vividly illustrated at the meeting when Rev. Mark Steitz of Santa Rosa Catholic Church said he’d overheard a grade-school student telling another child, “I’m so excited! I get to sleep on the couch tonight,” rather than on the floor where she usually sleeps in the family’s overcrowded accommodations.

For years, San Luis Obispo County has been among the country’s most expensive places to live. It was ranked as the fifth most unaffordable housing area in the U.S., according to USA Today’s calculations published last month.

The county has various levels of affordable housing, based on family income, size and other factors. CSD Director Amanda Rice said at the meeting that, for a family of four to qualify for affordable housing, their household income must be no more than: Extremely low, $25,000; very low, $41,600; low, $66,550; and moderate, $99,850; with the median being $83,400 and workforce, $133,820.

The CSD board can adopt its now-modified affordable-housing ordinance at its next regularly scheduled meeting March 14, perhaps, and the amendments would take effect on March 28.

Water connection fees

Another change in the modified ordinance would give the board discretion to waive up to 50 percent of the district’s water connection fees, but only for an affordable-housing project.

The waivers are an option, not a mandatory fee reduction, as several directors emphasized after Director Donn Howell and others questioned the modification, in part because they felt the change could put undue pressure on board members.

Years ago, as part of the CSD’s annual allocations of water connections, the district accumulated 56 unused connections for low-income housing. Those connections are not controlled by the town’s long-established moratorium on new connections or the wait list for water service.

The moratorium was put in place in 2001. The wait list was closed in 1991.

The district may control water and sewer service connections, but county officials ultimately must approve or disapprove any land-use issues and building projects in Cambria, unless their decisions are appealed to the state Coastal Commission.

Public opinion

Most of the speakers at the Feb. 28 meeting encouraged the board to update the ordinance. Some others said the town’s water-supply situation is too tenuous to issue any new connections, even for affordable-housing projects.

Steitz said “91 children in our school district are homeless, that’s 15 percent,” and 75 percent of them are in families that are sociologically and economically challenged. While many of the people who most desperately need the affordable housing work in local service industries, he said, lots of others work helping retired Cambrians who need assistance and home health care.

Restaurant manager Fidel Figueroa said he knows of 55 families living in converted motel rooms, and some employees commute 60 miles a day so they can live in better housing conditions.

Kathy Preciado said Cambria’s “median home price is more than $700,000. The average worker makes $47,000 a year. I could not afford to buy my home today.”

Restaurant owner Miguel Sandoval read an email sent to chamber board president Mel McColloch from a 68-year-old woman who lives and works in Cambria. She wrote that she has $60 left over each month after paying her rent and bills, and “all women who work here are in the same boat. If my rent goes up, I will be homeless.”

Tina Dickason didn’t say she opposed the ordinance changes, but mentioned a 900-square-foot home for rent in Cambria for $2,300 a month, not including utilities, focusing instead on the high cost of rentals and the need for rent control.

McColloch said in his support of the ordinance changes that he also was representing some people at the meeting who didn’t want to speak for themselves. He asked them to stand, and about 16 people stood during his entire statement.

Correction: This version of the article clarifies comments made by resident Tina Dickason at the Feb. 28 Cambria Community Services District meeting.

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