Viewpoints

SLO County needs more affordable housing. Here are three ways to get it

Homes under construction at the Trilogy subdivision in Nipomo.
Homes under construction at the Trilogy subdivision in Nipomo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

As the newly hired executive director of the Home Builders Association, I have recently returned to SLO County after serving more than 20 years as an Air Force officer. This is my home. I care about the community and the people who live here, and I want to preserve its character.

As a military officer, I’ve spent my adult life steering clear of politics. In this job, I will continue that tradition: When it comes to solving hard problems, I have learned that it’s far more effective to focus on people and their needs rather than a political ideology.

My job is to advocate for housing, which I do with pride and passion, because I believe accessibility to quality housing is essential to our community’s overall health.

It’s not news that Central Coast housing costs are among the least affordable in the country. The median price of a home is just over 100 percent higher than the national median while the median household income is only 16 percent higher than the national median, according to the SLOCOG 2050 Regional Growth Forecast.

Without blame or emotion, I offer the following as among the main reasons for the high price of housing, which have also been cited by California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office:

▪  Demand: California, and SLO County in particular, is a great place to live.

▪  Land price: Central Coast prices are among the nation’s highest.

▪  High fees: California’s development fees are the nation’s highest.

▪  Lengthy review process: The regulation and approval process is lengthy and uncertain. Sometimes a decade passes before builders get a final decision. According to a study by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, communities in California’s coastal markets often take 55 percent longer to issue building permits than in a typical California inland community or the typical U.S. metro (seven months compared to four and a half months). Similarly, rezoning, often necessary before homes can be built, often takes 33 percent longer.

As a result, we are not producing enough housing to keep up with population increase. In fact, we are producing about half of what is needed. At this rate, the affordability problem only worsens.

So what’s the solution? There isn’t a scenario in the foreseeable future where the median home price becomes perfectly aligned with the median household income. There is simply too much unmet demand.

But if we’re practical and work together, we can achieve an outcome where we build the right mix of affordable and market-rate housing. The right mix of additional housing supply can help reduce upward pressure on price. This would give people of all income levels hope that they, too, can have access to the housing they need and want. The ability to work hard and have within reach the opportunity to rent or own a high quality and safe home (all types: single family home, apartment, condo, tiny home, etc.) is crucial to having a healthy community, one that functions well socially and economically.

For those who are worried about any growth, please consider what history has shown since the beginning of time: Population will increase and change will happen, so let’s be smart about it. We can grow responsibly without hurting our environment, overusing water, or trading away our open spaces. As has been outlined in SLOCOG’s 2050 Regional Growth Forecast, published last June, we can honor these priorities while providing the housing needed for our existing residents and the new talent our businesses desperately need.

If you agree our housing crisis is something we need to work together to address, I propose that we consider, collectively, a few constructive steps. I urge you to contact your local elected leaders ask them to take action on the following items (and some of them are willing to do these things but need your support):

▪  Streamline the review process: Depending on the specific government entity, we need to begin or continue to streamline the review processes so that new housing can be brought to market in a more predictable time frame. This will result in lower risk to developers and thus lower cost to buyers and renters. Fees should be charged to mitigate impacts, but not more or less than a fair cost of those mitigations.

▪  Fund infrastructure improvements: Advocate for a bond measure that provides needed funding for infrastructure. If you’re like me, you hate the idea of paying even more to live in SLO County, but state and federal infrastructure dollars have all but disappeared. Meanwhile, our decades-old infrastructure is in need of repair and modernization (traffic/roads especially, but also water/sewer). It’s for the greater good, and it’s a matter equal opportunity and fairness that we have adequate infrastructure and that we all contribute to paying for it.

▪  Provide more funding: This is an issue for the county supervisors. They should adopt a more effective Inclusionary Housing Ordinance and provide additional funds, because inclusionary fees alone will not solve the need for affordable housing, and it is a need. Broader funding is needed to move the needle in the right direction. Additionally, they should implement a tiered fee schedule that incentivizes the kind of growth we need, while generating more funds. The current ordinance burdens buyers of smaller homes, barely able to enter the home-ownership market, with the cost of a one-size-fits-all fee.

I submit that a healthy community should be inclusive and look out for everyone’s interests. The Central Coast is in desperate need of a housing market that is more affordable than our current situation. We have the opportunity to benefit everyone, if we take steps now, and your voice is essential.

Andrew S. Hackleman was named Executive Director the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast in September. He grew up in Atascadero and retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in April 2017.

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