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.