Guest opinion: We must work together to solve county's housing crisis


By Don Horsley, District 3 member, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors

Most residents of San Mateo County who are not policymakers see only a part of the impact of the housing crisis. You might have a child in a school that is struggling to hire and retain qualified teachers. You might be faced with an adult child who wants to come back to the county in which he or she grew up in order to be close to family, but can't afford it. You might be a small business owner, or a large business hiring director who can't find qualified applicants, unless they already own their home in our county.

As a county supervisor, I hear about all of those challenges and more. Personally, I worry about our readiness for emergencies. Many of us just participated in the Great California ShakeOut Earthquake Drill held in October. We do these drills to help anticipate and identify ways to be better prepared. But, I know that one of our weaknesses is that most of our emergency personnel do not live in the county. We have identified this, but have not been able to address it. In an emergency, we will have to rely on our on-duty first responders while needed additional first responders travel over the highways and bridges from their out-of-county homes back here to help protect us.

We are facing a housing crisis in the county and throughout the region. It is not a surprise, when you look at the numbers. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the county welcomed 54,600 new jobs. During the same time, only 2,100 housing units were built! We know that limited supply drives up cost. The median household income in the county is $108,088 but affording a median-priced home requires $205,965. A county renter needs to earn at least $88,903 to afford an average two-bedroom apartment.

Polls indicate that 62.9 percent of jobs in the county are filled by non-county residents, resulting in heavier traffic on our highways and roads. Further, a poll found that 34 percent of those who were surveyed are likely to leave the Bay Area in the next few years.

As we work to understand the growing gap between jobs and housing, the situation seems intractable. There is no single action that will solve this problem, but one thing we have to do is build more housing – at all levels of affordability, in all communities in the county. We can improve this situation only by working together.

This need to work together is what motivated the Board of Supervisors to initiate the countywide Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force last fall. The task force developed a menu of options for policymakers and the public in individual cities and jurisdictions to consider. The task force's work is complete, but the work to address the crisis has just begun. Home For All San Mateo County, the countywide initiative that will build on the work of the task force, has begun. The work will continue in four key areas: funding, legislation and policy, mobility and sustainability, and outreach and education. Policy makers in San Mateo County are working diligently to create the vision of a county where housing is available for residents at all income levels and generations.

But the bottom line is partnership with all our residents. Whether you own or rent, no matter what lens you see this crisis through, it is your willingness to participate in the discussion and be part of the solution that is key. All the data in the world and the willingness of policymakers to tackle this issue won't mean a thing without the public's collective will to look to the future and work to solve this crisis. If we don't work together now, the flight of our children, their teachers, our emergency personnel and our low- to middle-income workers threatens the thriving, prosperous, inclusive community we love.

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2 people like this
Posted by C W
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2016 at 11:29 pm

So how do we become involved? How do we, for example, advocate for means-tested permits so that the 'poorer' members of the community (those earning less than $108,888 per annum) do not have to pay to have their properties (rental or owned) brought up to code? How do we ensure that a tragedy like the Oakland Ghostship Fire does not happen again? People should not be forced to live in sub-standard accommodation because that is all they can afford. The cost of permits should not be prohibitive to anyone's ability to afford repairs and safe housing. If someone wants to build affordable housing, can't permit fees be waived so that their generosity is not 'taxed'? Where do we start?

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Posted by Sprawl Redux
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2016 at 6:11 am

Exploitation of a crisis to justify supporting marginal to bad projects is what you are reading. The Grand Boulevard concept for El Camino Real is way behind but that's not what he and Slocum will be pushing. More prawl is coming your way.

6 people like this
Posted by Utter Nonsense
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Dec 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm

This is absurd. Start to finish. "Welcoming jobs" means cities approved office buildings for investors who make huge returns. Office buildings attract businesses who hire office workers who live outside the county and drive through our neighborhoods to reach their jobs.
There is no "participation or working together" that residents who live in San Mateo County can take part in that will solve the housing shortage or the skyrocketing prices of rent and houses to buy.
People like this supervisor are selling apple pie laced with rat poison. Every city in San Mateo County has t stop approval of office developments and look for housing developers, especially partnerships with affordable housing non-profits. City governments and that includes the pro development Menlo Park Council have created the mess we are now in. Our Council has put office developers before the residents in favor of businesses like Facebook and the other office developers that come before the Council.
No one should buy Horsley's happy talk. The only responsible people who can solve this problem are the Council members we elected. Start with the most recently elected, Ray Mueller and Cat Carlton. They are as guilty as the other three.

4 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 13, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Horsley said: "There is no single action that will solve this problem, but one thing we have to do is build more housing – at all levels of affordability, in all communities in the county."

"We" don't HAVE to build anything. Government needs to get out of the way and let the private sector fill in the gaps. Government regulations have created gaps in the levels of affordable living space. That space should include a continuum, from hobos camping out to mega-mansions. See: Web Link

He also said: "You might have a child in a school that is struggling to hire and retain qualified teachers." Many of us are "qualified" to teach. The government schooling monopoly has established an onerous, and unneccessary "credentialing" process which discourages many would-be teachers from entering the field. Fortunately, that credentialing is not required for alternative education venues.
Government should be enabling real choice in education, and eliminate the compulsory attendance laws which are repugnant to a free society. Then we might see a healthy continuum of education alternatives.

Government needs to reign-in the exorbitant public employee pension plans (CalPERS & CalSTRS) which are bankrupting our country.

"That government is best which governs least" - Thoreau

3 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Yet more of the same from Jack Hickey.

Someone should remind [him] that the system he so desperately wants was summarized by none other than Thomas Hobbes in "The Leviathan," to wit that the state of man in nature (i.e., without government) leads to a situation where one's life is solitary, nasty, brutish, poor, and short.

Quite frankly, not many of us would want that kind of life.

2 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm

If we want more affordable housing we need to encourage second units. The permit costs are so high that people cannot afford to build them legally. There are five illegal units within spitting distance in my neighborhood. When the owners looked into upgrading their units, the costs were so high that not one owner stepped forward. Most of these owners are elderly and do not have the financial resources required.

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 16, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The only way to increase low income housing is to build more
and the only way to build affordable low income housing is to increase density
and the only way to increase density is to allow much taller buildings.

We cannot have things stay the way that they are and also achieve important social objectives.

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