In a season filled with reasons to celebrate, we can add one more help is on the way for those desperately seeking affordable housing.
Last week, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve an ambitious new plan to address the housing crisis felt by this community. These much-needed changes will serve everyone feeling the harmful effects of our housing shortage, from low-income households desperately seeking affordable housing to middle-class families wanting to buy their first home. This change will also make our economy more competitive and create more local jobs in the construction trades.
The board’s decision will make an important and lasting impact on our community. Currently, developers must pay inclusionary housing fees for all homes over 900 square feet built in a subdivision. To be clear, this fee is paid by developers and does not affect existing homeowners. Affordable housing developers leverage these fees to build homes and provide services for our communities’ most vulnerable residents. This fee has typically generated approximately $35,000 each year — an incredibly small amount to produce a multi-family housing development.
Our new policy will increase the unit-size exemption for these fees from 900 square feet to 2,200 square feet, which will ease the fee burden experienced by many first-time homebuyers and encourage the development of more modest-sized homes. Additionally, for newly constructed homes over 2,200 square feet, the fees will be tiered so that many new homes will still pay less fees than under the previous fee structure. Finally, luxury custom homes, which were previously exempt from paying any inclusionary fee, will now be required to pay fees, just like any other new development. Due to these changes, the county will generate approximately $1 million annually for affordable housing, largely in part because custom homes will now pay their fair share. The board also will consider other funding options, such as fees on vacation rentals, to fill the $2 to $4 million annual gap in affordable housing funding.
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It is important to note that the formation of the Coalition of Housing Partners and the policy produced are uncommon, perhaps even unprecedented. This type of broad collaboration between business groups, for-profit homebuilders and nonprofit advocates is an unlikely partnership of varied and often competing interests.
Therefore, it is important for us to ask ourselves – why did this happen here and now? For almost a decade, many previous supervisors tried and failed to find a fix this complex problem. Yet, this current board accomplished what others could not. Why?
While the problem is complex, the answer is rather simple — collaboration. Thanks to the top-down leadership demonstrated by the board and spearheaded by the Housing Subcommittee members, Chair John Peschong and Supervisor Bruce Gibson, our coalition came to understand that some issues are larger than ourselves and require us to rise to the occasion to be bigger and bolder. After all, the success of this community is all of our success.
We learned we cannot approach the same issue in the same way and expect different outcomes. The supervisors’ strong desire for results guided our process, which allowed us to follow ideas wherever they might lead, despite individual interests or ideology. The board demonstrated that we must all transcend some of our personally held beliefs in order to find solutions. It might be uncomfortable at first, but moving outside of our comfort zones is an essential component of compromise.
The housing crisis is not our only threat — the imminent closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the omnipresent threat of fire disaster and others now unforeseen – will require us make some difficult decisions. However, as challenges arise, we must not forget this community is capable of making extraordinary progress when we all work together for the common good.
Among our coalition, and indeed many others in this community, there is a sense that we’ve turned a proverbial corner. It is our hope that the county’s success last week is only the beginning of a larger ground swell of change. Due to the board’s leadership, we found a proven process of broad-based collaboration and solution-centric policy that is the new gold standard. We now know that this is possible.
This is a moment worthy of celebration and we thank the board for the vision, courage and leadership required to address this compelling community challenge. We are ready and willing to work with you for the good of this entire community.