By Marianne Kast, President, League of Women Voters of Fresno--Since last spring, the LWVF Housing Committee has been asking numerous experts in the housing industry the same question: What are you doing to encourage affordable housing? From developers to non-profit CEOs, everyone agrees that lack of money at the state and local levels is the number one reason for Fresno’s affordable housing shortage of 40,000 units. But next to lack of money, local experts say, is our lack of will to deal with this problem. Here’s how it is supposed to work: Each community’s general plan includes a housing element which outlines its existing and projected housing needs. A statewide regional needs allocation process determines every community’s fair share of housing to be built, and cities and counties are responsible for incorporating their share into their housing element.
The allocation process is complex, but what happens when cities or counties don’t meet the needs allocated to them? Basically, not much. Non-compliant communities become ineligible for certain housing related state-grant funds. These funds have always been a very small part of local government resources, and now represent even less as Governor Brown has steadfastly refused to add much in the way of housing funds to recent state budgets.
Here’s the reality in the City of Fresno: For the years 2008-2013, Fresno constructed 14% of the Very Low Income (<50% of median income), 25% of the Low Income (<60% median income) units, and just 2% of the Moderate Income units it was responsible for in the statewide allocation process. I can only think of a few affordable housing developments that have opened in recent years so I’m pretty sure those grim statistics have become dire needs in 2017.
Several statewide housing bills were approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Brown. Most of the money raised by SB 2, the $75 real estate transaction fee, and SB 3, the $4 billion housing bond, will help to pay for development of housing for Low Income Californians. Other bills signed are supposed to make it easier for developers to get housing projects approved, and those projects must reserve a percentage of homes for Low Income residents.
But statewide legislation will never be enough. First, the cities in the Valley will have to compete with the population-heavy areas of the state for those funds. Next, the cost of construction in this area is not significantly less than that in the rest of California, but the rent potential is much lower, making it nearly impossible for developments to pencil out without substantial public subsidies. And finally, local elected officials are barely talking about affordable housing needs here.
We cannot begin to deal with the disparities in opportunity and success for Fresno’s citizens if we cannot provide good quality, affordable housing for all. In 2018, let us demand action to create the housing that so many of us need.