Editorials

Ouch! USA Today says SLO County housing market is nation’s fifth least affordable

It was bad enough being the seventh least affordable housing market in the nation, as reported in last week’s Tribune.

Well, it just got worse.

Less than a week after the National Association of Home Builders released its report listing San Luis Obispo County in the seventh spot, a different report published in USA Today placed pricey SLO County even higher: at No. 5.

If we keep this up, we should be No. 3 by March.

Both affordability studies were based on data from the fourth quarter of 2018, with a slight difference: The home builders looked at family income — $80,600 for San Luis Obispo County — while the USA Today ranking was based on average annual wage, which is $47,034 for SLO County.

Also, the home builders study looked at metro areas, while the USA Today report was based on counties.

The priciest county in the nation, according to USA Today, is Kings County, New York, followed by Marin County, Santa Cruz County and our neighbor to the north, Monterey County. Santa Barbara County came in at No. 18 — thanks, no doubt, to low housing prices in North County communities like Santa Maria and Guadalupe.

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If those rankings aren’t bad enough, a recent report in the Sacramento Bee found that teachers in San Luis Obispo County are in a tough spot when it comes to affording homes, which makes it more difficult to recruit new teachers to replace retiring baby boomers.

The average teacher salary in San Luis Obispo County is $70,974. To afford a median-priced home here, teachers would have to pay more than half their annual salary — 52.8 percent — for housing.

If it’s any consolation, in San Francisco it would take an entire teacher salary — and then some — to afford the $7,030 monthly payments on a typical $1.3 million home.

This is all depressing news for house hunters, but keep in mind that such studies are based solely on statistics — not on real life. They shouldn’t be taken as gospel, since every buyer’s situation is unique.

For example, some studies assume a very small down payment, when in reality, home buyers in California often put more money down to lower their monthly mortgage. Also, studies look only at income and not at other assets. Buyers may already own a home in another location that they plan to sell, or they may be getting some other form of financial assistance, such as help from parents..

Still, this barrage of unaffordable housing news is not good PR for San Luis Obispo County, especially as it tries to attract new employers to offset job losses from Diablo Canyon, which is due to close in 2025.

If they weren’t already feeling a sense of urgency, local officials tackling affordable housing plans should be even more committed to act, starting with the county Board of Supervisors. It’s scheduled to consider a new affordable housing fee ordinance on March 12.

Stay tuned.

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