Opinion » Shredder

Double trouble housing bubble

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Who wants to talk about how to fix SLO County's low-income housing problem? I can hear certain right-wingers' whispers already. People who can't afford to live here should go somewhere else. But who's going to serve you that spiffy glass of wine at your favorite tasting room?

Yup, those people diligently working away in the service industry that makes this county so famous can't afford to buy a home here. So, I guess you can look forward to pouring your own glass of cab.

Oh wait, I can hear the chanting of certain lefty ideologues rising to a dull roar: "That's what inclusionary housing is for!"

Well, we've already got this county ordinance that's supposed to be the fix. (Not that it's working. I still live in the box I came in.) Currently, developers must either provide a certain number of low-income homes in developments or pay in-lieu fees under the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, with collected funds going to build low-income housing in the county.

Whew! Am I right, tighty righties? You can blame those damn socialist Dems for being anti-business and heave a sigh of relieve as you raise your glass for that next taste of red. Lefties basically scored that point a while ago, and developers are footing the bill for your political leanings. But before you take that one for the long haul, there's some maneuvering afoot now that the county Board of Supervisors has a majority of red-undy-wearing conservatives—and there are whispers that the Homebuilders Association of the Central Coast is at the helm.

But the sentiment is nothing new. Jeff Eckles, the executive director, admits his organization has "always been opposed to the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. We're all for below market [housing], just don't put it on the back of new homeowners."

According to Eckles, when you force developers to pay for low-income housing, they're forced to pass those costs onto new homebuyers. But doesn't the market set home prices? In other words, doesn't the county's ordinance cut into homebuilders' profits?

Another option to fund low-income housing is to have municipalities pay for it with tax revenue, which was basically what 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill proposed earlier this year, to divert $5 million from the county budget for low-income housing. In other words, they suggested that instead of developers footing the bill, county taxpayers should pay to subsidize low-income housing.

So, ya got three choices, ya see. Go blue, go red, or go home. Oh wait! That's not true—there's this thing called compromise. I know it's crazy, but keep your pants on.

Obviously we don't want to make it so costly to build here that developers such as Gary Grossman of Coastal Community Builders, who's behind the San Luis Ranch housing project, decide it's not worth developing here. But, shouldn't all SLO County residents have to pay for those low-income folks who are also spending their hard-earned dollars in the local economy?

People's Self-Help Housing head John Fowler argues that the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is an important tool and source of funding for low-income housing. He argues, "The model exists for this to not be us vs. them."

Basically—we could do both! Developers chip in a little, taxpayers chip in a little. Red bleeds into blue and becomes that muddy purple color some states become on Election Day. In other words, we all change the color of our undies and compromise. I know it's a long shot ... I know I'm trying to complete a daisy chain that's going to get ripped apart.

In other "whoopsy-daisy" news, it appears the city of SLO made a big, fat ... let's call it "mistake" ... when it set up the special election for Measure B-17, which is hitting city voters' mailboxes this week. Yes, it's about housing!

As I mentioned last week, B-17 replaces the controversial Rental Housing Inspection Program with the Non-Discrimination in Housing Ordinance, which asserts that nothing can be used to discriminate, but which the SLO City Council said also means that city programs aimed to help those in need will be decimated because technically such programs "discriminate" in favor of low-income renters, the elderly, veterans, or the disabled.

Here's where the city blew it: It changed the wording of the proposed new ordinance as it was stated on the petition that brought on the special election. That's a huge no-no. The petition, courtesy of former SLO Vice Mayor Dan Carpenter and local attorneys Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight, said B-17 would "repeal and replace" the old ordinance, but the city slyly added that the ordinance had already been repealed by the City Council.

The discrepancy was brought to the attention of SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow by (surprise, surprise) local gadfly Kevin P. Rice, and in a letter to Rice, Dow, via Assistant DA Lee Cunningham, confirmed that the city "unlawfully altered the initiative," though not to the level of "criminal" action.

It was just a mistake, an oversight, a mishap, see? Hence, the DA suggested that if Rice wanted to pursue it further, "a civil action may be your only remedy." So, you know, get a lawyer and spend the money to pursue if you want, buster, 'cause we ain't doing nothing. Surprise, surprise.

Sometimes, it feels like nothing is all government is good for. Δ

The Shredder likes to wear purple underwear. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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