The county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have begun debate on whether to adopt inclusionary housing as a tool to create "affordable housing" on the South Coast.
Inclusionary housing is a method whereby local government places price controls on a percentage of units in a given development to compensate for high market rate housing costs.
Inclusionary housing does not work. A recent study by two San Jose State University economics professors found that inclusionary housing is a poor affordable housing producer; imposes huge costs on middle-income homebuyers; and robs lower-income homebuyers of equity. See "Housing Supply and Affordability: Do Affordable Housing Mandates Work?" www.cbia.org.
Who is qualified to obtain one of these price-controlled units is determined by the ability to pay according to household income.
The size of the unit awarded -- in number of bedrooms -- is determined by the need of the household according to the number of family members. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Such a system of housing distribution smacks at the heart of the American free-enterprise system. While other countries that have tried it are now running from the failed experiments of asset redistribution economics, i.e., Marxist economics, our county government is debating whether to expand a subsidized housing program that embraces it. And, we're not talking about housing for the poor.
According to county guidelines, families with household incomes as high as $139,750 will qualify for the subsidy.
The subsidy comes not only from the developer as granted to them by the county, but also from the citizens of the communities where theses projects are built. Their subsidy is paid via a lower standard of living caused by additional increases in traffic, pollution and crowding, loss of open space, and affected property values as a result of high-density construction that will be four to five times that of existing neighborhoods. And, let's not forget the strain on community resources and services from such growth, particularly water.
The creation of government-regulated housing programs also requires the creation of an attendant government bureaucracy to regulate them.
As has been noted previously in the News-Press, county housing officials appeared before the Board of Supervisors in August to ask for an additional $37,000 to pay for 70 random visits a year to residents living in below-market-rate housing created through government regulations. County workers, with the help of sheriff's deputies, would make these visits to determine if the residents actually are entitled to be in those units.
Since these inclusionary residences could have such restrictions for the next 45 to 90 years, the ultimate cost to the public for these projects will be incredible.
One of the arguments being made in favor of inclusionary housing is the need to provide homes for essential county employees.
The call is to bring back into the community firefighters, police officers and teachers from their residences in Ventura, Oxnard and other outlying areas. Consider this: Would such employees be willing to give up their three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car-garage market-rate home, complete with fenced-in yard in Ventura or Buellton in exchange for a small, attached, under-parked, regulated home nearer to Santa Barbara that would be constructed as part of the inclusionary program?
Secondly, most of them would be ineligible for the subsidy anyway as guidelines for qualifications as spelled out in the Santa Barbara County Affordable Housing program prohibit anyone who has owned improved residential property anywhere in the last three years from participating in the program. Hence, inclusionary housing is essentially a program for first-time homebuyers.
If the necessity exists to provide housing for county employees, the county should do so on county land and not as part of an inclusionary housing project.
Another issue prompting this discussion is the assertion that the county is losing jobs and employers as a result of a lack of affordable housing. However, according to the California Employment Development Department, the county's current 3.6 percent unemployment rate ties us with Marin County as having the lowest unemployment of all counties in the state. For California as a whole, the jobless rate was 6.1 percent last month with the nation posting a 5.5 percent unemployment rate for July.
Helping to dispel the notion that companies don't want to be here is the fact that AEC-Able Engineering has just signed a lease for 58,000 square feet, doubling the company's operations in Goleta.
Also, local firm NuSil Technologies has recently leased 70,000 square feet of industrial space in addition to the 160,000 feet it already has. The two leases were among the largest ever signed in the county.
Unless you came here in the back of the wagon with Junipero Serra, housing prices in Santa Barbara have never been cheap. Everyone in the work force attempting to buy a home here has had to struggle to enter the market at one time or another.
We believe, as does the Montecito Planning Commission, that the county should seek to address the housing needs of very low- and low-income households, but through the production of rental housing only.
County government should not meddle in a free market system by manipulating the real estate market through the fixing of home prices.
The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors should reject the inclusionary housing program as an ill-conceived idea that favors those who are yet to come at the expense of those who are already here.
The author is president of Coalition for Sensible Planning Hollister Avenue Neighborhood Association.
The county Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the proposed inclusionary housing ordinance at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway, in Santa Maria. You can also participate via closed circuit at the Planning Commission Hearing Room, 123 E. Annapamu St., See the county's Web site at www.countyofsb.org for more information.