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Santana: Local Officials Have the Power to Alleviate Housing Crisis

Orange County residents carry the highest housing cost burden in California.

And that’s something that every local elected official in our county should be called out on.

Because they can solve it…

According to a new statewide housing assessment issued last week by the California Department of Housing and Community Development on California’s housing future, the state faces a stark shortage of housing with ominous implications for our families and individual health.

As it is, no one in California pays more for housing than Orange County residents, concludes the statewide assessment – noting that an OC resident pays about 44 percent of their income toward housing (way above the 30 percent mark recognized as housing affordability).

One third of renters overall are paying 50 percent of their income toward housing, the assessment concluded.

It also notes that California’s streets, parks, libraries and underpasses now house 22 percent of the nation’s homeless and state officials note that getting that number down is directly connected to providing permanent supportive housing for vulnerable populations.

More and more, studies like this state assessment are showing that the housing crunch is also directly impacting people’s health, threatening family stability, leading to over-commuting, overcrowding and often pushing the most vulnerable, often the mentally ill, onto the streets.

The only real solution, according to state housing planners, is more engaged local government.

Better planning and vision.

And building more affordable housing…

It’s something every local elected official can influence from the public dais in terms of culture and funding.

State planners, who are soliciting public input on their draft plan until March 4th, themselves offer some interesting suggestions as conversation starters about where local governments can really engage and make a difference to get housing built.

They suggest that:

City councils streamline permitting at the front counter by doing their job and spurring robust public engagement and environmental reviews on projects early and upfront as well as during updates of general plans, community and specific plans and zoning ordinance updates.

They can also increase certainty for infill development by clarifying and streamlining permitting, where consistent with environmental reviews, regulations and general plans.

Council members also can maximize the use of state and local surplus public lands for affordable housing as well as invest directly in affordable home development and rehab, rental and homeownership assistance programs.

Regional leaders, like county supervisors, can increase regional coordination on land use planning.

They can continue aligning with state housing programs — following best practices such as the “housing first” model to directly address homelessness, improving supportive services, particularly where it can result in increased flow of federal funds to cover costs.

They can consider steering Medi-Cal 2020-expanded benefits such as the Whole Person Care Pilot and Health Homes Program, to flexibly deliver services that help vulnerable populations get permanent supportive housing.

Elected officials at all levels can also encourage federal funding for California, such as incentivizing the underused federal four percent tax credit by providing greater matching funding from state programs for developments.

So how well does Orange County perform on these kinds of issues?

Not that good.

The Orange County Business Council has in recent years developed an actual scorecard where they rate cities on how well they are building housing to meet current and future needs of employers.

According to the 2015 OCBC Workforce Housing Scorecard (the most recent produced), places like Anaheim and Irvine are doing a decent job of building housing to keep pace but many communities — places like Santa Ana, Orange, and Fountain Valley, have added jobs without significant housing growth.

The scorecard notes that Santa Ana, as example, is particularly short on the mark – adding more than 7,000 jobs but less than 200 new housing units between 2010 and 2013.

Nearby Garden Grove added more than 3,000 jobs with negligible change in housing supply.

OCBC President and CEO Lucy Dunn notes that builders often feel stuck in the middle.

To meet state climate change targets, state officials are pursuing development standards that are driving development into urban core areas, Dunn notes. Yet once there, builders are often confronting neighborhood opposition and can’t craft consensus.

Orange County’s big development battles are largely past, with environmentalists largely saving many big parcels that were slated for building.

“We’ve protected a lot of land, places like RileyCrystal CoveBolsa ChicaBanning Ranch, that would have been developed because we have made choices,” Dunn said. “We made choices to not develop on infill sites.”

That means that the development battles are coming to a neighborhood near you.

And that means, more than ever, we need good city council members.

People who can take the time to really engage with neighborhoods as well as developers and study through tough issues with vision, work to craft consensus and avoid being frozen by fear when a few people are unhappy or problems arise.

Citizen legislators.


Posted on January 10, 2017

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