Bureaucrats are, if nothing else, masters of the obvious.
Take, for example, the recent declaration by Santa Barbara County officials that the regionís shortage of affordable housing stops short of being a real crisis, while acknowledging that a poor economy makes the need for such housing much greater.
Thatís sort of like declaring that itís hotter in the summer than at other times of the year. But, of course, this is coastal California, when summer, according to the calendar, does not always relate directly to hot, sunny days.
To be fair, at the same time those county bureaucrats made their statement about the shortage of affordable housing not being a crisis, they made it clear that, for the folks trying to get into affordable housing, it most assuredly is a crisis.
Which is a reiteration of the problem that has plagued the Central Coast for decades ó a high percentage of working and middle-class people simply cannot afford a decent place to live.
Because of the high median price of a home, buying is out of the question. That high price also dictates, to a certain extent, local rents, pushing the cost far beyond the reach of many families and individuals.
Here is a snapshot of the problem ó at any given time, there are about
1,000 affordable rental units available. At that same given time, there are usually up to 5,000 names of hopeful renters on the countyís list, waiting for available housing.
Those numbers are current, but underscore a situation that has persisted for years.
Those numbers generally reflect people with jobs who could afford to rent, or even own ó in other markets. The homeless population is a separate issue, but just as desperate.
About three-quarters of the countyís affordable units are here in the North County, and about 40 percent of those units are clustered in three developments in Santa Maria.
County governmentís efforts to correct the imbalance between affordable housing and the people who need it have focused on creating more housing units. Those schemes invariably run up against a wall of opposition from folks living in neighborhoods where the county wants to put affordable units.
The resolve of Santa Barbara Countyís extensive NIMBY army is legendary. Often it seems the only way government can resolve the dispute is with armed force ó and we are not being facetious.
Attacking this issue from the supply side has been tried, and failed, time and time again over the years. Our guess, based on abundant historical evidence, is that future attempts to reduce the gap between supply of and demand for affordable housing by creating more housing units will meet the same, stiff resistance.
County officials and the Board of Supervisors need to approach this dilemma from another direction. Instead of running on a treadmill to keep up with affordable housing demand, a better strategy might be to help build a stronger local economy, which would create higher-paying jobs, thus giving more workers the financial resources necessary to afford market-rate housing.
We are aware that there is another NIMBY army waiting to attack such a strategy, to be sure, but since the countyís efforts to create an adequate number of affordable housing units has a history of failure, it canít hurt to at least begin talking about ways to strengthen the local economy.
We offer this suggestion because it makes little sense to remain in the
revolving-door scuffle over affordable housing. That simply doesnít help the folks who need a place to live.
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