Al Clark Makes a Stand

Objects to Too Little Affordable Housing in State Allocation

Carpinteria Vice Mayor Al Clark was the sole holdout in the county over housing allocation numbers, protesting that not enough homes were mandated for low-income residents. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Carpinteria Vice Mayor Al Clark announced he was “a little ticked off” during a discussion of the state’s housing requirements on Monday. His small seaside town of 13,000 was to zone for 348 new homes that would be affordable to above-moderate-income households — or those at 120 percent of the county’s median income. “We don’t need that kind of housing,” he told the other members of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG). “We need lower-income housing.”

In a later conversation, Clark made his point clearer: “Where do people who make $10 or $35 an hour today, where do they live?” In Ventura or Oxnard, he answered, “That’s what’s happening.” Clark had seen the extreme vagaries of local house prices in 1998 when a friend moved to Massachusetts and sold his home with a long escrow. In the space of four or five months, the house value went from $210,000 to $295,000. The sticker shock has continued to this day. “Prices plateau, shoot up, and plateau again,” he said.

To create affordable housing, Clark, a member of Carpinteria’s City Council since 2006, explained that the city has been able to demand one such unit for every seven market-rate units built. “At that rate, you’re never going to build yourself out of an affordable housing crisis,” he said. Existing housing too often goes to out-of-towners, many of whom he meets as new retirees to their second home. Apartment buildings torn down or converted to short-term rentals add to the lack of modest housing: “With rental availability less than one percent, we need affordable housing, but no one is building it,” said Clark, returning to the source of his protest at the SBCAG meeting on Monday.

The nine jurisdictions in Santa Barbara County — the eight cities and the county itself — met on March 22 to accept the formula used to distribute housing targets formulated by the state for 2023-2031. The process, formally known as RHNA (pronounced “reena”), or the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, requires cities and counties to zone for housing — not to build it — and to create the rules that enable housing based on income level.

As SBCAG staffer Michael Becker explained, housing targets across the state went up this year because of 2018’s Senate Bill 828, which prioritized an increase in housing. The county as a whole is to accommodate 24,856 more dwellings; the previous eight-year goal had been 11,030. Regarding the formula, present and future jobs form the first criteria in housing location, which came down to a 60/40 split between South and North County. Then, overcrowding and “cost burden,” or households paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, were considered in further dividing the allocations by income level, which resulted in 14,881 for the South Coast and 9,974 for the North County.

The eight cities and the County of Santa Barbara have been assigned target numbers by the state for housing affordable to lower income groups, to be implemented between 2023 and 2031. The targets don’t require jurisdictions to build homes but to make zoning and other rules to enable them. | Credit: SBCAG

All the county’s jurisdictions had met the state’s requirement to make housing spaces available in the current 2014-2022 cycle, but that’s different from building new homes. As far as actual permits and building went, as of last May’s projections, new housing in the county would meet 41 percent of the goal by 2022; likewise, the majority of jurisdictions statewide had not met their goal. The City of Guadalupe led with the most qualifying housing in the county, especially low-income housing, Becker said, mostly through its Pasadera Homes development, where prices range from $350,000 to $480,000. Lompoc lagged the most at 11 percent of the state goal, with the City of Santa Barbara next at 28 percent.

Unmet goals weren’t necessarily added into the next cycle, but unbuilt units were intrinsic to the new numbers: “Vacancy, overcrowding, and cost-burden adjustments are directly influenced by past production,” Becker said of the housing completed. “These three adjustments account for 15,778 of the 24,856 total” for the county, or 63 percent, he noted. In short, he said, “if more housing had been produced in the past, the number would be lower this cycle.”

For Carpinteria, out of a total 901 new units, 286 were to be for very-low-income households, or those making up to $38,000; low income was 132, moderate was 135, and the 348 for above-moderate were for households making up to $92,400 — or 120 percent of the county’s median income of $77,000 per household. Carp’s allocation reflects the distribution by income level for each jurisdiction: 23.3 percent very low income, 15.8 percent low income, 17.7 percent moderate income, and 43.2 percent above moderate income.

The last category came down to a couple making $45,000 each, Supervisor Gregg Hart pointed out: “That’s not a lot of money; the state is not trying to drive the production of expensive housing.” (See the chart for the split across all jurisdictions.)

Clark agreed his remark that they shouldn’t be zoning for the “rich” might have been off the mark, but he stuck to his guns in saying that the RHNA numbers continued to put the most housing — 43 percent — out of the reach of the lowest in income. They needed housing the greatest, for many reasons, he argued, including the greenhouse gases produced by commuters coming to south Santa Barbara jobs from outlying areas.

Adding to Hart’s point, Supervisor Das Williams said that a couple in that income group wouldn’t qualify for a home loan on the South Coast, where the cheapest homes for sale were in the $700,000-$900,000 bracket. “This process is always acrimonious and really misunderstood,” Williams said. The RHNA process had less force than people thought, he noted, yet housing for people to live and work here was a vital necessity for prosperity, climate goals, and reducing the impacts of growth. Williams acknowledged the irony of the last, explaining that 80 percent of complaints about growth were traffic impacts, but commuters in cars were an impact from the lack of housing.

Clark said his solo “no” vote at SBCAG was conveyed to Carpinteria’s City Council on Monday evening. They’ll be taking a vote at their April 26 meeting on whether or not to appeal the city’s housing allocation. 

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