Viewpoints

We all agree: California has a housing crisis. But what can we do about it?

Homes under construction in Nipomo in 2016.
Homes under construction in Nipomo in 2016. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Concerned citizens and businesses across the state and county agree: California has a housing affordability crisis.

By placing priority on policies to help increase workforce housing, the state’s proposed 2017-18 budget underscores the severity of California’s housing challenge. How does that challenge affect San Luis Obispo County residents?

The Economic Vitality Corp., San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Home Builders Association are co-sponsoring the fourth annual Housing Summit to discuss challenges and explore potential solutions to the county’s housing affordability crisis. The summit, which is open to the public, will be from 1 to 5 p.m. March 9 at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo. The keynote speaker will be Jim Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward, a bipartisan effort focused on government accountability and creating sustainable and equitable communities.

The Central Coast continues to be ranked among the least affordable housing markets in the nation relative to annual income. Recently, RealtyTrac, a leading provider of real estate data nationwide, listed San Luis Obispo County as the sixth most unaffordable place to live in the United States.

Analyzing the county’s housing market adds a finer point to the challenge: The average household earning the median wage would have to spend 90.4 percent of its earnings to purchase a median-priced home in the county, whereas generally, housing is considered affordable if costs remain at or below 30 percent of one’s household income.

Both renters and buyers are affected by the county’s housing challenges. The high cost and scarcity of rental, single-family and multifamily homes is a growing problem within the region. The issue most directly affects those who dedicate their working lives to serving all of us: educators, firefighters, police officers, nurses and others who often cannot afford to live where they serve.

If you go The fourth annual Housing Summit will be from 1 to 5 p.m. March 9 at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo. To register, go to www.sloevc.org/events. The fee for the event is $40 per person or $300 for a table for eight.

The balance of jobs and housing is a delicate one, but solutions are in sight as our communities, business leaders and local government examine policies and fees that inhibit builders from effectively addressing the problem.

Last year, the county Board of Supervisors approved eight housing policies proposed by the EVC with its above partners and county staff. The countywide economic strategy managed by the EVC continues to set workforce housing — for any family that earns between 120 and 160 percent of the county’s median income — among its highest priorities.

What do we know about our residents’ housing needs? In 2013, according to results from the EVC’s first-ever Housing Survey, to which 467 employees and employers responded, 88 percent of county employees indicated it is somewhat or very difficult to find safe, decent, suitable and affordable housing; 27 percent indicated they are likely to leave the county in the near future because of the cost of living. It is safe to assume that residents would respond similarly today. Since 2013, the housing situation has worsened in the county as rental and home costs continue to rise while wages have not kept pace with those rising costs.

The forthcoming closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant further complicates this issue. As the EVC plans to commission an assessment and strategic plan for a post-Diablo Canyon economy, in order to replace the estimated $1 billion dollars per year that the plant contributes to the local economy, our region must continue to place workforce housing as a high priority. We must come together and create innovative solutions to the housing crisis in order to help families, workers, businesses and the local economy.

Our region must diversify the economy beyond single, large employers such as Diablo Canyon if we want to enable children to grow up and have meaningful, local careers. When locals can afford to stay and thrive in the area, then we know we are doing right by our residents. Addressing the county’s workforce housing crisis now will help the county sustain a healthier balance among the people and the economy well into the future.

Michael Manchak is president and CEO of the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo County, a regional nonprofit, economic development organization.

By the numbers

The median price in San Luis Obispo County for a single-family home is $510,000, compared with the statewide median price of $393,000. That’s more than twice the U.S. median cost of $234,900. Meanwhile, the average household median income in the county is $62,648, barely more than the U.S. average of $55,775 and less than the state median income of $64,500.

How to register for the Housing Summit

The fourth annual Housing Summit will be from 1 to 5 p.m. March 9 at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo. To register, go to www.sloevc.org/events. The fee for the event is $40 per person or $300 for a table for eight.

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