Everyone's always talking about the need for affordable housing. Politicians, civic leaders, and average citizens all say that we need affordable housing to keep important people like police officers, fire fighters, nurses, and teachers in the community. And yet, affordable housing never seems to get built. Do you ever ask yourself why? Let's take a closer look.
Fact: There are four things that dictate the price of housing. The size of the house and the property, the cost of materials and labor, the number of demands and stumbling blocks that the government and its partner agencies throw in front of the builder, and the supply and demand equation.
The cost of labor and materials is dictated by market forces. The size of the house is determined by the builder. The number of stumbling blocks, such as environmental impact reports (EIRs), wildlife habitat mitigation, and lawsuits, is dictated by political agendas. Finally, the supply-and-demand equation is artificially controlled by government and also typically dictated by political agendas.
Fact: Many experts feel that the population of California will swell to at least 55 million people by mid-century, less than 45 years from now. California is already the most populated state in the nation and, if predictions are correct, by mid-century, close to one in every six people will live in California.
The only way to prevent this from happening is for government to either limit family size or limit immigration into the country or, at the very least, limit immigration from state to state. However, no known politician has the courage to introduce such legislation. In fact, few politicians from either party even have the courage to support limiting illegal immigration. In other words, there's no way to limit the population growth of California.
Fact: California can't support these numbers with its current resources. There's not enough water, even in the best years of rainfall and snowpack, to meet the needs of that many consumers, including agriculture. Fortunately, there are ways of increasing water availability. However, it will mean constructing desalination plants all along the coast, from San Diego to Crescent City. This will be expensive, but at least it's a viable option. (Actually, it may become necessary. If the doom-and-gloom people are right about the polar caps melting, which will raise the level of the oceans and swamp many of our largest cities, we would do well to skim off as much of the ocean water as possible and start drinking our eight glasses of water per day with the utmost haste.)
Unfortunately, there are no such ways to increase the amount of available land. Short of scraping off the tops of the mountains and pushing them out to sea to increase the landmass similar to what Dubai has done, California is as big as it's ever going to be. Therefore, we all have to make do with what we have, which means utilizing the land to its maximum potential. Underutilization is not only totally irresponsible, but a luxury we can no longer afford.
Land in the future will have to be carefully and judiciously utilized. Ninety percent of all homes will have to be multi-story, with no more than 10 percent set aside for the aged and the infirmed. No future lots, anywhere near a metropolitan area, will exceed one quarter of an acre and most will be considerably smaller. Street frontages (lot widths) will be no larger than 70 or 80 feet (low density), with most lots being 50 to 60 feet (medium density), and some lots being as narrow as 40 feet (high density). Even in the most extreme conditions, where land is at a premium, parks and green belts will have to be maintained and protected for their intrinsic value (such as Central Park in Manhattan).
Fact: Large urban areas, like the L.A. basin and the San Francisco peninsula, are already built out to their limits, literally from the mountains to the sea. They cannot sustain any further growth. The large cities of the San Joaquin Valley, where growth is not only allowed but encouraged, are paving over valuable agricultural land at an alarming rate. Therefore, cities in other areas of the state, including along the Central Coast, must take on their share of growth. Remember that people need to live where they work and where the jobs are. Failure to do this results in excessive commuting time and lost productivity, as well as wasted valuable energy (fossil fuels), smog, and global warming.
A no-growth philosophy reaches deep into the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. The board, working in concert with the people who have a no-growth agenda, zones land adjacent to cities as rural suburban and rural residential, allowing only million-dollar mansions to be built on one- to five-acre lots. They inadvertently or purposely cater to large corporate homebuilders and waste valuable land adjacent to city sewers that could and should be used for dense, affordable housing. They also inadvertently invite people into the county from out of the area, who have equity and can afford these mansions, while still failing to provide affordable homes for the middle class who are already here.
The various city mayors and councils aren't much better, also choosing to develop large, unaffordable lots for large, unaffordable homes. They defend their decisions by claiming that the public (their constituents) does not support dense, affordable housing. However, they fail to mention that these are only the constituents who already own homes. The county and cities also extort money from the developers in a pay-to-play scheme, by forcing them to pay for streets, curbs, gutters, storm and sewer lines, parks, bridges, traffic signals, and things that don't even directly apply to their project. They claim that they no longer have sufficient tax revenue to fund this infrastructure themselves. However, necessary or not, this cost is passed on to the consumer, driving the price of homes out of the reach of many, even before a single trench is dug or a single stick of lumber is raised into place.
Add to the mix the California Coastal Commission, which prefers only one house per five acres in some areas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which prefers zero houses per five acres so the snails, frogs, salamanders, and rats can run wild and run free and suddenly you realize that there is little to nothing left for the masses, still affectionately known as the "middle class." It's sad to think that these animals are more valued than the average American citizen, especially when they don't vote and don't pay taxes. However, important decisions on land-use should not be orchestrated by the wealthy or the politically extreme but be based on reality and practicality.
Fact: America is a vast country with a lot of land to be developed. Unfortunately, large numbers of people choose to live in specific areas that are both desirable and limited in quantity. However, land in these areas is still available, and this land belongs to everyone. It's not meant to be set aside for any specific group of people.
Owning a home is still considered the most basic American dream. However, currently in San Luis Obispo County, only 14 percent of the people who don't already own a home can afford to buy one. This leaves 86 percent of the people left chasing that dream, while actually caught in a perpetual housing nightmare. Still, the scenario necessary to provide affordable homes is attainable. The needed land is available and people do want to build affordable homes. Unfortunately, the state and federal governments, with their agencies of un-elected officials, and the County Board of Supervisors and city mayors and councils create circumstances that take such land out of this equation. Therefore, it must be concluded that the governments at every level are in fact conspiring to prohibit the building of affordable housing.
If you are one of the many families who still dreams of owning your own home, but can't afford one of the mansions on acreage, please remember these basic facts in terms of who stands in the way of affordable housing. It's your elected officials and their employees who hold the key and who have purposely, methodically locked you out of the American dream. ?
Mark C. Hanson is a Los Osos resident.