To protect affordable housing in SLO, vote no on Measure B-17

In a recent Tribune Viewpoint, former San Luis Obispo mayor and councilman Allen Settle and attorney Stewart Jenkins asked readers to look at the “facts” regarding the upcoming special election for the ballot measure, B-17.

First, I would like to note that I have a lot of respect for Mr. Settle, who is an esteemed and respected member of this community. Mr. Settle’s impressive history of public service exemplifies his love for this community, and I am sure he has good intentions for his support of B-17. However, I would like to respectfully disagree with his position on this ballot measure, which will clearly threaten San Luis Obispo’s ability to support affordable housing.

Mr. Settle is no doubt a knowledgeable and experienced individual in his field and brings much expertise to the table. However, he is not an affordable housing expert. This became clear in the viewpoint, which often oversimplified and misrepresented the city’s important role in facilitating the development of affordable units.

I hope my experience as president and CEO of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, an organization that has 47 years of affordable housing expertise and created over 3,000 affordable housing opportunities along the Central Coast, may shed some light on this subject and help better inform voters on this important issue.

Mr. Settle suggests the city acts only as a middle-man, passing federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to nonprofit organizations. In years past, this may have been true. However, with federal housing funding on a continual 40-year decline and the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2012, local governments are having to step in more as state and federal support dwindles in order to fill the much-needed gap in housing for low- and middle-income households.

While it is true that “nothing in B-17 forbids giving general fund or federal HUD money to nonprofits to build or rent affordable housing,” B-17 could seriously jeopardize the city’s ability to administer crucial local programs, such as the inclusionary housing ordinance.

While the comment is true that “the city does not manage, control, or own any of the affordable housing units in town” it is a gross understatement and even a misrepresentation to claim local government plays a small role in the development of affordable housing. The policies adopted by local governments provide the framework to incentivize, facilitate, or even require, the development of workforce and low-income housing.

Mr. Settle also claims that because San Luis Obispo does not own or rent units created under the inclusionary housing ordinance, “the city has little to do with inclusionary housing.” This conclusion is simply wrong, as the city was responsible for the program’s adoption, and now, oversees its implementation. This argument is a bit like saying that the federal Food and Drug Administration has little to do with food regulation because it does not own the food that it regulates.

Furthermore, the viewpoint suggests that nonprofits oppose B-17 because the City Council would otherwise withhold important funding for these organizations. This is simply untrue. We oppose this ballot measure, in conjunction with our civic leaders, because it undermines the city’s authority to enact or implement housing programs that serve the most vulnerable members of our community.

Here are the real facts: The Rental Inspection Housing Program became the deciding issue in our most recent local elections. The community spoke, our elected representatives listened, and the City Council voted to repeal it by a unanimous 5-0 vote. The checks and balances between the public and our civic leaders worked. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of affordable housing advocates, the strongest supporters of equal protections such as the Fair Housing Act (landmark legislation which already protects housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin), oppose B-17 because it has the potential to hurt low-income people.

Please, vote no on Measure B-17 and protect the future of affordable housing in San Luis Obispo.

John Fowler is president/CEO of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and the Duncan Group as well as a planning commissioner for the city of San Luis Obispo.

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