Thursday, December 15, 2005

Must a Housing Correction Reestablish Affordability?

Although this article focuses on Cape Cod and not Marin, it really strikes home for me as it sounds so much like what we've heard here in Marin. At present, talk of affordable housing in Marin is mostly lip service as there just isn't the will to meaningfully address the implications of diminishing affordability. Why is that? Don't we pride ourselves on our liberalism and social activism? Isn't that part of what makes us so much more "special" than our perpetual "nemesis", Southern California? Maybe most Marin residents are complacent because they "have theirs" and prefer the riches of the status quo. Do we really have to rely on a market correction to reestablish affordability? We passed Proposition 13 didn't we? Wasn't that a desperate act to forcefully control rising property taxes so that people wouldn't suddenly get hit with a larger property tax bill than they could afford? How about a Prop 13A where the "A" stands for affordability and is directed squarely on house prices?

Some choice quotes:
Ask anyone involved in tackling the issue of creating more affordable housing on the Cape and the general response is that not enough is being done on a scale and speed needed to permanently make a difference.

A report in the University of Massachusetts publication MassBenchmarks showed 18- to 34-year-olds are leaving the Cape in large numbers. The reason is their inability to find affordably priced homes and rental units...

"Increasing affordable housing is not just about compassion, but you need skilled and intelligent workers," says Rick Presbrey, executive director of the Housing Assistance Corporation...

"What stands in the way [of creating affordable housing] is the slow-footedness in communities in realizing these are regional issues."

While the focus of affordable housing is for people who earn 80 percent or less of the median income, people who earn an average wage and higher still can't afford to buy a home...

"It's no longer the population that falls into the categories the subsidies support," says Gwen Pelletier, executive director of the Lower Cape Cod Development Corporation, noting that within this population are police officers, firefighters, schoolteachers and other municipal employees.

Yet the challenges to creating affordable housing on the Cape are more than just monetary, infrastructure or zoning restraints. "A political will...Everyone is willing to say they want affordable housing, but there are people who do not want to see affordable housing."

"The single biggest problem the state has is the real estate prices...The biggest help would come with a correction in the real estate market."

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