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In his May 26 article, Brandon Pho frames the Willowick Golf Course redevelopment as a “now-or-never” opportunity to build a park in a park-poor community. This issue is not “now-or-never;” nor is it “us-versus-them.” If viewed through the lens of “now-versus-later,” all parties could work towards a third option to meet the needs of both current and future neighbors.

The Surplus Land Act prioritizes both affordable housing and open space. These needs are not mutually exclusive; we can have a successful project that includes both, and indeed the Santa Anita neighborhood would benefit from both.

The article characterizes housing into two camps– “affordable” and “for profit.” This characterization is inaccurate and feeds anti-housing sentiment. Both for-profit and non-profit corporations entitle and build income-restricted housing for low-income households. The same state and federal tax credits subsidize these developments, and the layers of financing are equally difficult to assemble regardless of the corporation’s profit status.

It may make people feel warm and fuzzy to award a project to a non-profit developer, but the person who finds an affordable home is simply grateful to have a place within their budget.

Orange County has a pervasive, unrelenting shortage of places for people to live. Those with more money are able to displace those with less. And while it is instinctual for a neighborhood or community under pressure to protest new housing, it actually works against the long-term goal of neighborhood stability and community identity.  While housing itself does not have a profit motive, homeowners do! When homeowners sell their property, they do not choose the new buyer based on how closely they resemble their neighbors’ ethnicity or socioeconomic strata. Homeowners sell to the highest bidder.

The reality is that we can build a lot more homes for low-and-moderate income people if we include a mix of unit types, a mix of price points, and a mix of for-sale and rental homes (apartments, condos, townhomes) in the redevelopment of Willowick. This way, financing and infrastructure investments can leverage each other, and we can create places for those who currently live in Santa Anita, and newcomers who want to live there. (Some of these homebuyers will likely be the adult children of current Santa Anita homeowners.)  

The redevelopment of Willowick Golf Course will include park space and community gathering space in some form. The question of the future identity of the Santa Anita neighborhood is wholly dependent on if there are places for sale and for rent at a variety of price points. Unless we substantially increase low-to-moderate income and “missing middle” housing, with and without subsidies, the only ”winners” in the Willowick redevelopment plan will be current homeowners whose property values will increase with the addition of a brand new park right across the street. 

Elizabeth Hansburg is the Co-founder and Executive Director of People for Housing Orange County. She lives in Fullerton where she serves as chair of the planning commission. She can be reached at elizabeth@peopleforhousing.org

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