San Luis Obispo County residents have much to be thankful for this holiday weekend. Call us biased, but we truly believe we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Yet many in our community — friends, colleagues, possibly our own sons and daughters — are struggling to afford housing here. Given the magnitude of the problem, local officials should take whatever steps they can to prevent our county from becoming an elitist enclave of $1 million homes that few young buyers will ever be able to afford.
Yet, disappointingly, the county Board of Supervisors missed another opportunity to act when it recently voted 3-2 — with Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill dissenting — to continue to freeze affordable housing fees at the level set in 2008. The fees were supposed to gradually increase every year, but the board was relucant to raise them during the recession.
Now that building activity is increasing, Gibson and Hill say it’s time to increase the fees. We agree.
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However, the board majority is taking another tack; it has called for county staff to present other options for increasing the stock of low- and moderate-priced housing in unincorporated areas.
Good luck with that.
The county has been studying the lack of affordable and workforce housing, off and on, for at least 15 years.
Why, then, go back and repeat work that’s been done — especially since the county has invested a substantial amount of time and money in plans already on the shelf? For example, the county’s current Housing Element, like the one before it, includes a laundry list of programs aimed at increasing the supply of lower-cost units. Those include:
- Zoning more land for housing, especially higher density housing.
- Making the permitting process less cumbersome and relaxing regulations when appropriate.
- Providing incentives to developers willing to build affordable homes.
- Requiring developers building market-priced homes to either include lower-cost units in their projects, or pay fees that can be used to build affordable housing projects elsewhere — a program known as inclusionary housing.
Another report is unlikely to come up with much in the way of new strategies, much less a solution. County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi said as much when he warned the board that most options already have been vetted over the years.
This is not a problem that county staff is going to be able to solve.
Dan Buckshi, county administrative officer
Unfortunately, the county didn’t choose to run with those options when it could have made an appreciable difference. During the building boom of the pre-recession years, hundreds of homes were approved without any requirements to pay fees or to provide a minimal number of affordable units. Contrast that with the city of San Luis Obispo, where an inclusionary housing program has either created or had a role in creating 386 units since it started in 2001.
The county doesn’t lack for affordable housing programs; what it’s lacking is the necessary commitment on the part of its leaders to implement those programs.
As more and more of their constituents are priced out of the market, the majority of county supervisors continue to deliberate and call for more study.
These are the same county supervisors who, at election time, talk the talk about making affordable and workforce housing a priority.
Another election is looming.
We urge candidates — as well as current board members — to move past the rhetoric. Don’t just gripe about red tape and burdensome county regulations and the need to open up more land for housing. Give us specifics; tell us which programs you can support and how you will make them work.
Please, do not let another Thanksgiving come and go without providing some progress on one of the biggest challenges facing our county.