Another View

Mending the affordable housing crisis

By: Randi Swisley
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California’s housing affordability crisis was a primary focus of the California Legislature in 2017.  I offer an explanation here of the affordable housing situation locally.
Forty-two percent of people in Placer County pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.  According to McKinsey Global Institute, the housing need in Placer County over an eight-year period starting in 2013 for moderate incomes ($54,850 - $82,200) is 9,779 units.  One fourth of the way into that eight years (2013-2015), less than 10 percent progress was made toward meeting that need (809 units were built).  The low income ($20,600 - $34,250) need over the same eight-year period is 11,846 units.  There were zero units built for this income range between 2013 and 2015.
Owning a house, one of the pillars of the American Dream, is out of reach for over half of the households (those earning $238,000 or less) in Placer County because the median price of a home is $421,000 in Placer County.  Retail and other low income jobs built up in North Auburn offer no matching availability of housing for that workforce.  Our local commerce misses the opportunity to provide services and products to these would-be residents when they cannot afford to live here.  Their commutes add to the congestion on our roads and pollution in our air.
Local economies have proven to work well when the residential vacancy rate is about 5 percent.  Today in our community it is less than 2 percent.  I witnessed the real pain of this situation recently.  
The ups and downs in the rental market can be quickly and easily gauged by listing a property for rent and seeing what happens.  In the 25 years I have been a landlord, I have never witnessed the desperation I heard when I listed a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment for rent for $880 in September.  Apparently nothing between Auburn and Colfax was available for rent below $1,200 per month.  A hard-working waitress with one child, a couple in their early 60s, a truck driver and his wife, and  a couple of park rangers are samples of the qualified people who applied – all with glowing references from employers and previous landlords.  Most applicants were couch surfing at friends and relatives because there were no other options.  I received about 20 calls a day for as long as the apartment was listed.  
According to Placer County data, there are thousands of kids who are homeless, including those couch surfing.  
Placer County projects 54,000 new homes in the next 20 years, mostly in unincorporated Placer County and Lincoln.  The goal is to provide 10 to 20 percent of those housing units in a price range attainable for working families in the affordable range, but developers are allowed to opt out of the affordable housing stipulation by paying a nominal fee. 
The 100,000 unit Bickford Ranch development could have generated an additional 10,000 affordable units for our county but a fee in lieu of $4,000 per unit was paid instead.  The units under construction between McCoulough’s and Dr. Fox’s statues will rent for $1,900 a month because affordable units also did not pencil out for that builder.
A proposal is underway to build 80 affordable housing units at the DeWitt center.  This would be a step in the direction of alleviating the pressure.
If you are wondering what you can do to help mend the affordable housing problem in our community, building the political will to change the situation is a good option.  For example, the city of Roseville does not take in lieu money and instead requires each developer to build at least 10 percent of their units in the affordable range.  Removing fiscal disincentives, lengthy approval processes and community opposition make it easier for our politicians to say yes to new affordable housing.  Let your county supervisors and city councilmen know how you feel.  
For more information, see or contact Placer Community Foundation.
Randi Swisley  was born and raised in Auburn. She has served as president of the League of Women Voters of Placer County for four years, as chairman of the WAC Municipal Advisory Council, on the Executive Committee of a the Juvenile Justice Commission, the Auburn Technology Commission, the Auburn Oversight Committee, and is a happy member of the Sugar Plump Fairies promoting art and music in the area.