Letters to the Editor

SLO County needs a variety of tools to increase supply of lower-cost homes

Keith Gurnee’s Jan. 2 response to John Fowler’s Viewpoint in support of implementing county-approved affordable-housing fees offered several important potential tools to make housing more affordable to all. Mr. Gurnee expressed several good ideas that we hope many in our community will consider actively supporting. We do, however, feel a strong need to address and clarify some points made in his response.

We agree zoning more land for housing, reducing parking requirements, revisiting all fees and advocating for ideas such as changes to California Environmental Quality Act requirements and limitations to liability for developers of condominiums and attached housing are effective additions to the “making housing more affordable” toolbox.

Mr. Gurnee suggests nonprofit agencies and for-profit builders collaborate to “think outside the box.” We are happy to report that representatives from the San Luis Obispo Association of Realtors, the Economic Vitality Corp., the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, nonprofit organizations, employers, local jurisdictional staff and elected officials have gathered in forums over the past few years, resulting in innovative and formative collaborations among these diverse groups.

We also agree with his suggestion to allow a density bonus, equal to the number of affordable units incorporated within a market-rate housing project. However, there is already a provision that allows this in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance — the same ordinance he wants to eliminate.

While additional fees for the buyer, as Mr. Gurnee suggests, would add to the cost of housing and may prove a disincentive, inclusionary housing requirements do not drive up the price of housing. New homes sell for as much as the market will bear. Like other markets, the housing market is set by the supply and demand for housing. Producing more housing will increase the supply and soften prices, but implementation of in-lieu fees — fees local developers have been aware of for several years — will not increase prices for buyers, and only slightly narrows the growing profits for developers.

Home prices in some local communities have increased as much as 20 percent from last year and 50 percent from the low recession market, as a result of demand. While we all understand that these in-lieu fees were reduced during the Great Recession and we agree with the rationale for that specific period, these fees have paced far short of the housing price growth rates and have not even reached pre-recession levels.

With agreement on so many fronts, let’s work together and more deliberately to assemble a wide variety of tools that will address high housing costs and the desperate need for more housing, particularly for our local workforce.

John Fowler is president and CEO of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing. Scott Smith is executive director of the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo. Jerry Rioux is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Housing Trust Fund. Julia Ogden is CEO of Habitat for Humanity for San Luis Obispo County. Jill Bolster-White is executive director of Transitions-Mental Health Association. David Cooke is executive director of the Paso Robles Housing Authority. Jim Roberts is CEO of Family Care Network. Marianne Kennedy is executive director of the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County.