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 Riley, Crystal Cove, Bolsa Chica, Banning 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.

  • Kathy Ward

    Lucy Dunn did her best to develop Bolsa Chica wetlands. It wasn’t her choice to protect it.

    Whose comment is it that we need “good” council members? Is that a call for new council members or a call for current council to ignore what their residents want and ignore decades of planning that went into the city’s general plan? Should we ignore our city’s planning to do the bidding of the Orange County Business Council?

    Most cities have updated general plans and zoning is clarified once it is adopted. Anyone wanting to do infill development will have clarity and they need to take the time to do their homework and read a city’s zoning and general plan. Developers have the onus of doing the research and developing consensus for their projects with the neighborhood. It is not the job of city council members to “sell” a private project.

    It is the job of a city council member to protect their residents’ housing and have an interest in affordable rents so workforce housing does not disappear. Our duties are increasingly made difficult by varying messages meant to confuse common sense issues and sell new ideas.

    All mayors in Orange County have been invited to a 2nd Annual Regional Mayor’s Summit where one of the topics will be the ‘shared economy’ and representatives from AirBnB and VRBO will be speaking.

    So let’s heed the call for “better council members” to build infill developments of affordable housing while we lose our housing and our residents on the back end to vacationers.

    We need to keep our focus in a straight line and not on the ever-bouncing-ball the lobbying organizations would like us to.

    Lastly, the Governor is warning of a looming recession and the state could have a deficit if it doesn’t pare down spending. One of the plans to correct this deficit is to reduce next year’s one-time budget spending, including the elimination of the $400 million set-aside for affordable housing. With that in mind, I question the timing and true meaning of this article.

  • Lori

    With the surge in popularity of tiny homes, the issue of rising homelessness and the lack of affordable housing, cities should be developing SRO units. Trouble is for profit developers aren’t interested in building those and the state did away with Redevelopment Funds so the question is who foots the bill for SRO units for the homeless, the low income and the tiny home loving hipsters?

  • cynthia curran

    Well, a solution that the voice of OC doesn’t like some people here in OC illegality return to Mexico or Central America. In fact Anaheim would probably turn in some folks with a criminal background with ICE. Also, an effective e-verify system would caused thousands to lose jobs, hence return home.

    • LFOldTimer

      Isn’t that the way it usually goes in modern day America? The most glaringly obvious solutions are overlooked and mysteriously left unsaid.

      No idea how Santa Ana leaders from one side of their mouths could express angst about the city’s high level of poverty, lack of available housing and increasing crime rates – then from the other side declare sanctuary city status that would import more poverty, further reduce their available housing (thus forcing rents even higher) and pile on more criminal activity.

      If anyone could provide a rational and meaningful explanation for such behavior I’m all eyes and ears. Maybe there’s a part to this conundrum that I’m missing. I’m willing to learn. But that requires an open discussion.

      • LFOldTimer

        I didn’t expect anyone to accept the challenge. The open-border advocates know in their hearts that logic and reason defies their cause. It’s a losing argument. They just won’t outwardly admit it.

  • Stephen Masek

    The new Mission Viejo City Council, now loaded with members who received loads of money from various special interests, are ready to vote on an emergency ordinance to increase the number of members of the Planning Commission, obviously as part of their plans to load Mission Viejo with giant apartment blocks and the resultant traffic, crime, and Democrat voters.

    • Lori

      Stephen. All of the City Council members on the Mission Viejo City Council are Republicans who as you pointed out “received loads of money from various special interests” and whose plans are as you said “to load Mission Viejo with giant apartment blocks and the resultant traffic, crime and Democrat Voters” you sound like an intolerant NIMBY, but if you’re looking for someone to blame for the impending doom of the arrival of Democrat voters, blame the Republican council and the Republican voters who put them in office.
      If the citizens of Mission Viejo are opposed to “giant apartment blocks and the resultant traffic” then why on earth did they vote for Bucknam? How did they miss that by profession she is a housing development lobbyist? How did they miss that by profession Goodell is a Real Estate Development Consultant who states openly on LinkedIn “I help landowners and developers gain government approvals to build new projects”. What did these voters think these individuals were going to do? Protect open space?

      • Stephen Masek

        They are Republicans in name only (RINOs). Oh my, to be accused of being “intolerant” – sticks and stones…. Most of us moved to Mission Viejo precisely because it is a community of most all single family houses with ultra-low crime and easy access to I-5, I-405, and 241. Most all of us want traffic relief and excellent roads, not more apartments. Mission Viejo is not some isolated place surrounded by fields. People who want to live in dense urban areas can go many nearby places to do that. Those who want to live in big apartments can go many nearby places to do that. Property rights are vital, so when one owner attempts to do something which hurts others owners, they are trying to exceed their rights. Building big apartment blocks would hurts most of us by adding traffic and crime. That is not “intolerant,” simply factual. Some of the stuff the RINOs put out is like some bad joke. For example, they say their children can not afford to live in Mission Viejo. So what? It is not a starter home kind of place. Every place does not have to be just like every other place. There are plenty of starter home places. Those of us who live in Mission Viejo, by and large, earned the right to live here. Others have the opportunity to do the same.

        • Lori

          So what you’re saying is you just want to keep people who can’t afford homes out of Mission Viejo? So you want to segregate people who rent by keeping them out of your elite owners only club? You don’t want to tolerate people who are of a different income class… you want them to live in another city… not your. Ok NIMBY!

          Maybe all the people who work low paying jobs in Mission Viejo schools, restaurants, stores, gas stations and the people who manicure your lawns and are nurses and garbage collectors should also not be allowed to come work in the city to reduce your traffic….Let’s let all the property owners run your own city and see how things go! I see how your property owner council is running the city…. right into what you think is the ground.

          • LFOldTimer

            I would like to live in Newport Coast. But I can’t afford it. Are you claiming that I’m being segregated or discriminated against?

            So if someone works as a clerk at a 7-Eleven in Newport Coast that should entitle him or her to own property there or obtain affordable rents based on their income? Is that your argument?

            Thanks in advance for clarifying.

          • Lori

            It’s not my belief or my argument. There are requirements for cities to offer affordable housing. Most cities use loopholes by allowing developers to pay in-lieu fees to get around meeting that requirement (Newport Coast being one of them) and others build Senior Housing and pass that off as their share of affordable units.

            I choose to own property in a city where there are both property owners and renters and my commute to work is 3 miles so I don’t contribute to traffic by living in south county or Newport Coast to be away from renters. If people who worked in Mission Viejo could afford to live there, they wouldn’t be creating traffic trying to get to work and then returning home.

            You feel that your status as an owner “entitles” you to live in a city without renters and that reminds me of a dark time in our country’s history where people who didn’t own property were viewed as lesser people and not granted certain privelages like voting. My issue is with your low opinion of people who are renters and where you place the blame for crime, traffic, overdevelopment and unresponsible city planning. The whole point of “balanced cities” is to have a healthy mix. If people can live and work in the same community…. guess what? No traffic trying to get to/from!

            The State has a housing shortage, lack of affordable housing and major homelessness issue but it seems you don’t want any of that stuff addressed where YOU live.

            You also equate renters to increased crime but Irvine has property owners and renters and they have one of the lowest crime rates in Orange County so despite your beleif that renters = crime Irvine seems to be doing ok.

          • LFOldTimer

            You attributed comments to me that I never made.

            1. “You feel that your status as an owner “entitles” you to live in a city without renters….”

            I didn’t make that comment nor do I believe it.

            2. “You also equate renters to increased crime….”

            No, I did not state that renters increase crime. I opined that people who have a history of or a propensity to commit crimes generally commit more crimes. And that’s supported by state and national crime statistics.

            3. ” My issue is with your low opinion of people who are renters….”

            Another inaccurate statement that you cannot attribute to me. I rented for many years. I know renters that I have a very high opinion of. Many people in my neighborhood rent that I have the utmost respect for.

    • Kathy Ward

      Mission Viejo kept it at 5.

  • David Zenger

    “Citizen legislators” are sick and tired of having massive, cookie-cutter, multi-family housing projects dumped on them by city councils getting campaign money from developers and their “consultants” ,er, lobbyists.

    Upzoning and General Plan changes and CEQA waivers mean huge profits for Dunn, Pringle & Co. while everybody else gets to suck up the radiating costs of the development. Their other clients will make even more as they widen freeways in an ever-futile attempt to catch up.

    • cynthia curran

      The great Donald Trump is going to caused California to lose 1 million people as he cracks down on illegal immigration. In fact OC is going to lose 200,000 people. In fact the Voice of OC will be shocked as Ca goes does to 37 million by 2021 and continues to lose population as Donald Trump also cracks down on Asian immigration as well No need for more housing Ca only grew 256,000 and OC about 20,000 last year. By next year it will grow under 200,000 and less every year while Texas grows 4 million and Ca loses 2 million because of the dropped of illegal and legal immigration as people go to other states where its cheaper.

      • Stephen Masek

        It will be wonderful not to have the financial, crime, and traffic burdens created by the illegals! The sooner they are gone, the better. Mexico will also benefit, as closing the border to illegals will increase the pressure for them to finally reform and be the wealthy and free nation they could be.