Another year has passed, but local headlines remain the same. The astronomical demand for even a little place to call your own on the Central Coast has all but dried up the supply of housing, sending rent and home prices into the stratosphere.
As 2016 gets underway, we at Peoples’ Self-Help Housing (PSHH) are seeing the same stories as well: a Facebook message from a hardworking mother looking for a safe home as her family can’t afford what’s on the market; a phone call from a veteran who bravely served our country but is now living out of a car. We do all we can to find an opening in our affordable housing for those in need, but the waiting list has ballooned to about 3,000 families and individuals, and rental prices continue to rise.
As president and CEO of PSHH, the largest affordable housing provider in the tri-counties, I wanted to let you know that we haven’t taken this challenge lying down. If anything, we’re more determined than ever to provide a safe affordable home for low-income families, seniors, veterans, and other special needs groups.
In its 45-year history, PSHH has developed more than 1,600 affordable housing rentals that it continues to manage and has helped nearly 1,200 families build their own homes in the tri-counties. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but we recognize the battle is far from over.
One of the greatest challenges we face in developing affordable housing is dwindling financial resources. An inclusionary policy report, “Creating and Maintaining Equitable Communities” by Rick Jacobus published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in September 2015, stated that with federal and state resources for affordable housing declining, “communities will need to take full advantage of every potential tool.” This requires effective leadership from local government to pull every piece of the affordable housing matrix together, such as supporting Community Development Block Grant and HOME funding. And local nonprofit affordable housing developers must play their role as well with their expertise in navigating complex financing, land use, and property and asset management practices.
Finding properties suitable for affordable housing is another great obstacle we face. But we’ve been able to take a unique approach to the problem by preserving existing affordable housing, keeping it from being reintroduced as market-rate housing or condos. This successful model is apparent at Villa La Esperanza in Old Town Goleta. This 75-unit complex was built in 1971 under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 236 Program and was owned and operated by the Goleta Valley Housing Committee (GVHC). The members of this single-asset nonprofit were representatives of local churches who originally built the apartment complex.
GVHC recently donated Villa La Esperanza to PSHH, and last fall we broke ground on an $18 million renovation of the property. The rehab work will include breaking up larger, underutilized apartments to make a total of 85 units available, construction of a new two-story community building, upgrade and remodel of all existing units, as well as installation of energy- and water-saving features and systems.
Unique partnerships, as with GVHC, are incredibly important as the need for affordable housing in our communities grows. A 2014 study by the Coastal Housing Coalition and True North Research found that a third of nearly 3,000 employees working on the South Coast were priced out of renting locally. For 70 percent of those interviewed, buying a home within a 25-minute commute was out of the question. This results in lengthy, daily commutes — with tens of thousands of people driving in and out of our community each day — that is cutting into local taxes and business support, time with family, and involvement in the community, as well as increased stress levels.
Local businesses are suffering as well, with more than two-thirds of employers reporting they are struggling to retain employees because of housing costs. More than half of employers are struggling to even attract employees from outside of the area, which has led to decreased productivity, morale, and even profitability, resulting in companies leaving the Central Coast.
With families unable to afford a place to live, lengthy commutes clogging up Highway 101, and businesses struggling to attract the best talent, affordable housing is an issue that touches us all and will take our combined efforts in 2016 and beyond. If you’re interested in learning more about our work or helping this effort, visit PSHHC.org.