For the last several months the Huntington Beach City Attorney and at least four members of the newly elected City Council have been in a struggle with the state of California. Put perhaps too simply, the subject of this struggle has been the state government’s directives and orders concerning the construction of affordable housing in California cities. The state is demanding more affordable housing and Huntington Beach is saying “no” to those demands. It seems that City Attorney Gates is leading the fight against affordable housing in Huntington Beach and it probably is important to try to understand his thinking. After all, we have know for a long time that housing in “Surf City” is so scarce and expensive that ordinary working people can not afford to live here.
Here is what appears to me to be the more or less hidden logic of the arguments against the state’s affordable housing plans (with apologies to great American satirists like Mark Twain).
City Attorney Gates and the majority of the city council will allow working class people to be in Huntington Beach in order to detail their cars, landscape their lawns, take care of their children, take care of their elderly friends and family, clean up their streets, parks, and neighborhoods, deliver their packages, and so on. Basically working folks are invited in to do all that “essential work” that was talked about so much during the pandemic. These are the people we called “heroes.”
However, there is one thing that Mr. Gates and his council member friends do not want these working class “heroes” and their families to do in Huntington Beach: live there. Gates and his supporters are worried that their presence (at least after work) will somehow degrade the city’s lovely residential neighborhoods. The folks opposing the state’s mandates for affordable housing are worried about “multi-family” buildings disrupting their city. Unless, of course, those multi-unit buildings are in expensive apartment home and condominium developments (which our “essential” workers, of course, can not afford anyhow).
Huntington Beach could do better. The city could make housing more affordable by initiating rent controls. It also could use the time and money now being spent on fighting the state mandates, to develop policies that favor mixed income housing developments containing both single and multi-family housing. Huntington Beach could decide to incentivize both the development of new inclusionary housing and the reconfiguring of existing empty lots and vacant houses. It could provide credits for builders of housing developments that include neighborhoods with units of various sizes – for instance, combining single family homes with what are called “big houses” or multi-unit buildings designed to look like a single big house. There also could be areas containing different size homes all with harmonious designs.
These communities might also contain mixed use social spaces such as parks, playgrounds, gardens and playing fields. Finally, homes in these neighborhoods would be made affordable through supportive public subsidies and lending policies. These new neighborhoods would benefit all their residents and the surrounding neighborhoods as well.
Housing would become more affordable for all; home ownership rates would increase; and, healthy and safe diverse environments would emerge.
The Huntington Beach City Council could do this, but will they?
Tom Meisenhelder is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, San Bernardino. He resides in Huntington Beach and the United States Virgin Islands.
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