Santana: Could OC Use a Regional Housing Agency?

Jamboree Housing Corp.

A Jamboree Housing Corp. development in Anaheim, known as Diamond Apartment Homes, which has permanent housing and mental health services for formerly homeless people. Representatives of the OC cities' association and Orange County United Way cited it as an example of the type of housing that would be built under the 2,700 units plan.

Orange County business and civic leaders are smart to push for the creation of a new regional housing construction agency that can actually build affordable and permanent-supportive housing across our region.

Continuing to wait on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to come up with effective regional governing policies for critical quality of life challenges like homelessness and housing is proving to be a dangerous gamble.

The explosion of homeless encampments – alongside the Santa Ana riverbed, near Angels’ Stadium and at the county civic center – is a stark testament to county supervisors’ ignoring the issue, year after year.

County supervisors’ hasty eviction effort for riverbed homeless earlier this year landed them in federal court and has since left all Orange County cities under threat of having their anti-camping ordinances invalidated by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.

In addition, their inability to get affordable or permanent supportive housing projects built across Orange County in recent years also has many questioning whether the County of Orange should be the lead agency on any future housing effort.

Given how poorly county supervisors have performed on homelessness, I think there’s only one way that Orange County ends up supporting an affordable housing bond.

Get the money out of the hands of politicians.

That’s why it seems to me that these smart business and civic leaders are moving now to see if they can craft state legislation to create some sort of regional housing construction agency.

We will have to work hard as a community to ensure that any kind of regional housing agency in Orange County is very, very transparent – in real time – to ensure that funds don’t get squandered. That means ensuring authorizing legislation sets that kind of standard and administrators that create that kind of culture.

Now, there was some hope that supervisors might create a housing commission to manage a regional vision and strategy on housing construction.

That never materialized.

According to several sources I interviewed, an interesting model to look at is the City of San Diego Housing Commission – which provides rental assistance, addresses homelessness and creates affordable housing.

In Orange County, there are two sites – already in public ownership and with appropriate zoning – that would be gems in a regional housing strategy.

There’s the 100-acre county-owned property in Irvine near the Great Park that is already in a SB2 zone, which allows fast development for homeless shelters. Note that early land use plans for the Navy transfer of the former El Toro Marine Air base centered heavily around homelessness.

There’s another 100-acre property in Costa Mesa, the Fairview Developmental Center, which has been zoned institutional for 50 years and has already been used as a setting for mental health treatment. Fairview is currently owned by the state and State Senator John Moorlach – for years, the lone advocate on homelessness on the board of supervisors – has introduced legislation advocating the transfer of Fairview to local public ownership.

Both properties could easily see development plans and projects created that are consistent with community standards and would quickly create a solid regional system to combat homelessness.

An Orange County Affordable Housing Construction Authority could mirror the model utilized at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) where board members are a mix of county supervisors and city officials.

Except, I would issue the challenge to organizers to include more private sector people and non-politicians on the board of directors as opposed to the approach at OCTA or even worse the Orange County Fire Authority, which is such a big board of politicians that the agency doesn’t get good governance or direction.

Notice that earlier this month, when Orange County Supervisors were asked at their public meeting about the potential of supporting state bonds for housing construction, virtually none supported the effort.

In March, The Kennedy Commission called on supervisors to support an affordable housing bond for the Fall 2018 election.

“With local funds the County of Orange will be in a position to leverage significant federal and state resources to help address our current housing and homeless crisis,” wrote Kennedy Commission Executive Director Cesar Covarrubias. “With the 2017 Housing Package, the State of California is making a significant investment to address homelessness and provide affordable housing. But these state funds will only be available to counties that make similar investments to help leverage funding.”

Given everything the board of supervisors has been through on homelessness in court – exposing the utter weakness of the county system of care and permanent supportive housing – supervisors still don’t have a strategy or even an interest in finding resources to build relevant housing.

In fact, the only time during the county public discussion on housing that County Supervisor Michelle Steel even spoke up was to register her opposition to future state housing bonds. Supervisor Todd Spitzer publicly pulled up the bill setting up the statewide bond (SB2) on his phone and was critical.

Politicians politick. They can’t help it. It’s part of their DNA.

But it doesn’t get anything done.

And we should all wake up to that fact.