Editorials

SLO County must plan for 10,810 more homes in 8 years. And they can’t all be mansions

The state of California has calculated — or dictated, depending on your point of view — how many additional housing units San Luis Obispo County must accommodate over the next eight years.

The new goal is 10,810, and if local governments want to stay out of trouble, they’ll have to prove they can handle their fair share of growth.

Here’s how many units each local jurisdiction has been assigned:

  • City of San Luis Obispo: 3,354
  • Unincorporated SLO County: 3,256
  • Paso Robles: 1,446
  • Atascadero: 843
  • Arroyo Grande: 692
  • Pismo Beach: 458
  • Morro Bay: 391
  • Grover Beach: 369

The target number of 10,810 is based, in part, on the state’s population projections. Although growth slowed in San Luis Obispo County over the past couple of years, it’s projected to increase by about 0.5% per year between now and 2028, reaching an estimated 295,058 by 2028.

The growth “assignments” for individual jurisdictions were made by the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, or SLOCOG, based on several factors, including where the majority of jobs are located. That’s one reason the city of San Luis Obispo wound up with the biggest number.

A word of caution: Don’t get too caught up in the figures, since there’s no guarantee that nearly 11,000 homes will be built by 2028. The state only requires that every city and county plan for growth — it can’t force local governments to actually build houses.

Shortchanging low-income housing

Still, planning does matter. It’s a way to ensue communities have adequate space for a variety of housing types — apartments, condos, tiny homes ... all the way up to mansions.

To that end, the state Department of Housing and Community Development has calculated what percentage of the 10,810 units should be added in each income category.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Very-low income units: 24.6% (for households with a maximum income of $37,450 per year for a family of 3)
  • Low income: 15.5% (maximum income of $59,900 for a family of 3 )
  • Moderate income: 18% (maximum income of $89,850 for a family of 3)
  • Above moderate: 41.9% (no upper income restriction)

It’s unfortunate — and puzzling — that the formula is so heavily weighted toward more expensive homes.

San Luis Obispo County regularly appears in lists of the least affordable places to live in the U.S.

And the state is telling us to go ahead and build nearly 4,500 more homes that most local residents will never be able to afford?

Has Sacramento not been paying attention?

Historical lack of oversight

Even if the state were to dramatically increase our affordable housing goals, that wouldn’t necessarily move the needle.

For the past several decades, state Housing and Community Development has been more concerned with planning for growth, rather than on what actually gets built.

San Luis Obispo County, for example, has allowed an oversupply of expensive homes in unincorporated areas for years, and the state has not intervened.

With the election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, that’s changing. For example, he authorized a lawsuit against the city of Huntington Beach, for allegedly passing laws that stymied housing development. Plus, passage of several new housing laws aims to hold cities and counties more accountable.

But the state’s overarching housing supply law remains the same: Cities and counties are given housing targets and must adopt elaborate plans, called Housing Elements, that show they can meet their goals.

Local agencies will soon start the process of updating their Housing Elements.

For some jurisdictions, that could require rezoning land from, say, industrial to residential.

That shouldn’t be necessary in the city of San Luis Obispo, even though it has the most ambitious target of 3,354 more homes.

Planning Director Michael Codron said his “gut feeling” is the city already has enough residential land to meet the new requirements.

Regional planning?

The city of Pismo Beach, on the other hand, has been hard-pressed finding space for low-income housing. While it’s set aside land, Pismo’s had a tough time finding developers interested in building affordable housing, even though it has more than $3 million to partner on a low-income project..

There has been discussion of taking a more regional approach to planning — one that would allow, for example, Pismo Beach to allocate housing funds to Arroyo Grande or Grover Beach. That’s worth exploring, especially for small, contiguous cities like those in the South County.

Overall, though, there has to be a balance. Cities shouldn’t be allowed to shirk their duty to provide a mix of housing types. That would exacerbate what we have too much of now: ultra-expensive communities where lower- and middle-income people can work, but can’t afford to live.

It’s way past time to turn things around.

When local agencies prepare their 2020-28 housing plans, they must do two things:

First, pass policies, programs and incentives to encourage the very-low, low and moderate-income housing we so desperately need.

The harder part comes next: Put those plans into action.

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