As a 65-year-old resident of San Luis Obispo County—pardon, there was a three-year hiatus after college where I work for a Semi Conductor Company in Santa Clara back in the 1980s, but for the most part born and raised in SLO—I've watched the growth of this county, San Luis Obispo city in particular, as I've lived here almost all my life. I've probably only thought about the cost of housing since the 1980s, when I moved back here from Silicon Valley and started a new job, and with my wife-to-be, and started looking for a place to live. Since then, I've been cognizant of home prices and jobs in this area, and SLO has never been an "affordable" place to live. It's almost exclusively, to most of the longtime residents, a place where you live only because you have family with established roots, who can help you live here.
I became aware of the fact that many of the people who work in SLO live outside the community in my early 30s. I was lucky that my mother's family has been in this community for generations, and that my mom and dad started a business in the community in the 1950s where I was able to work with my brother. We've both felt that we were lucky to be able to do that, and as such, we donated money over the years through our business, as well as a lot of "in-kind" donations doing work for free to help a project along. Two of the perhaps higher-profile projects include work at the SLO Children's Museum and the original SLO homeless shelter. But we also did many jobs at local churches, at cost or a small loss. Not to toot our horn, just saying that I understand how hard it is to live here, and we felt that we should pay our community back for being able to live here.
So when you, Shredder, talk about affordable housing ("Sweet relief," March 24), frankly, I haven't seen it very often. To work in SLO as a government employee, you lived in Atascadero, Santa Margarita, Templeton, Paso Robles, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, Los Osos, Baywood, etc. Now those places are really expensive to live. It's no longer affordable to live there either, and SLO just continues to get more expensive. People push out to Shandon, Creston, and the California Valley.
What is "affordable housing"? I don't know. I've never looked it up. Is there an official explanation of what that is? Just off the cuff: Is it housing that only with a good loan costs you 50 percent of your income—60, 65, 70 percent? Lord knows that when I moved back here from Silicon Valley in 1989 and a year later, my wife-to-be moved here, we knew right away that we were only going to own something in the area if we both worked, and both had good jobs, and both had benefits.
There was not going to be any one-income family with mom or dad staying home with the kids. I've never thought that it was a possibility, anyway, because my folks were always at work at their business, and I mean day and night. They worked like dogs, for 12 to 16 hours a day and raised four kids. I know, I know, that sounds so "I walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways," but it was true. I was a latchkey kid, but SLO back in the day was a great place, and parents could do that without worrying about some pervert stealing the kids. Hell, when I was younger than 10, parents could tell their kids to go outside and play and not worry what was gonna happen to them. I'm just saying that SLO was great community; maybe it was affordable back in the '50s and early '60s, but it's not been affordable since.
So how do you tackle "affordable" housing?
Well, whatever you build, I think, has to be sold for less than 50 percent of a double average income. This assumes that you get married, have a partner, or a roommate. If you're gonna go it alone, you better have a higher than average income, or what has become the norm these days: benevolent parents. How does one do that? Hell, I don't know, but building something that "starts in the $800,000s" ain't it. And perhaps putting the burden on just the building industry is not fair. It seems like the builders complain because if this is a community problem, why isn't the cost of "fixing" it being shared by more of the community? Anyway, this has been a problem for most of my 65 years, and it's gonna take a lot of thinking outside of the box to solve.
I know that I'm going to be helping my children when it comes to housing if they want to stay in the area, and if I want that, too, then it's up to my wife and me to help make that happen. I think that is a common story nowadays. Businesses can no longer assume people will move here from out of the area unless they are moving from someplace that is more expensive, because living here is expensive. The places where people live that are more expensive than here are fewer and fewer, most are from LA or the Bay Area, few come from the Valley for more than a weekend, and out of state, forget it.
I've often thought the way to help this problem would be for our community to actively recruit businesses that can offer higher-paying jobs. But as has been the history of this area, no one wants to draw industry here because they're worried it will create overcrowding, and then there is the issue of providing water and services. Shredder, you will always have a job complaining about one thing on another. When you solve affordable housing, then you'll need to solve the lack of good paying jobs, then it'll be overcrowding, then it'll be water resources and sustainability. At least you have built-in job security; you can't argue that. Δ
Ed Thoma responded to the Shredder from San Luis Obispo. Send your affordable housing solution to email@example.com.