It is estimated that we in Sonoma County need 30,000 housing units in the next 10 years or so to make up for decades of slow growth. Many of you probably are feeling the housing shortage and cost of living “pinch” when you try to retain your young talent or attract new talent to grow your operation. It is tough because it is costly to live around here.
Having enough housing units are important to the ECA member firms partly because our livelihood is linked to the infrastructure that supplies those housing units, and partly because our employees, our children, and ourselves need a variety of housing units across the spectrum from low cost housing to luxury housing. We need housing that is simply not available right now. As ECA members feel this lack of housing, so do the larger employers.
Many of the large employers like Medtronic, Kaiser, Kendall Jackson and others have formed the Employer Housing Council to deal with the acute housing shortage we face. Those firms, and others, are seeing employees reject their offers and positions are going unfilled because of the lack of housing and the high cost of housing.
Let me give you a short list of why housing starts have been lagging for decades around here:
1. Cities and Counties have not done their best at approving housing starts for decades because they have added lots of cost to the permitting and entitlement process
2. Environmentalists have succeeded in putting regulatory permitting requirements in place that arguably “protect the environment”, and without question, substantially raise the price of local housing.
3. Businesses have not done a great job of dealing with the shortage of housing units. They hire and expand, yet do not turn out to support new housing projects nor build housing for their own workers. This puts a strain on exiting housing stock and makes living costs more expensive then if we just built more housing.
4. Folks that already have their houses have done a great job at protesting projects that would bring others into their neighborhood partly because their home values go up if less housing units are built, and partly because they play on the fears of others that new housing units will deteriorate their area and their neighborhoods.
In summary-that short list #’s 1-5 describe our very expensive “neighbors”. We need to make them less expensive.
Substantial progress towards that end has been made in a very short time. Ironically, the fires of 2017 have put a renewed focus on our housing issues and we should never “waste a good disaster” right? Cities, Counties, and employers all realize we need housing. There is energy behind this movement. There is experience behind this movement. And there is substantial money already being put into this movement.
The Employer Housing Council will soon be making some major announcements as to the funding I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the meantime, they are setting up shop to do some very necessary work in the short term:
A. Addressing the accountability issue of Cities in our area building enough housing within their jurisdictions. The number of units, the cost of permits, and the time of gaining entitlements for those housing units all need to be monitored and these Cities that are not doing their fair share, will have some problems (hey Marin County, can you hear me?).
B. Hiring a full-time person to advocate for projects that are in, or going into, Planning, and helping to mobilize emails, phone calls, and in person public comment supporting those projects. We as an industry have been terrible at this, so we recognize the need to put some resources to the task so we can have YIMBYs at the meetings instead of NIMBYs.
C. Financial assistance for funding affordable housing. There is some big money coming in locally and from nearby that will “move the needle” on helping employees get into housing they can afford.
All this is happening fast. On Tuesday, May 21, 2019, I will be asking our Exec and our Board of Directors to make a contribution to a group that is doing a study of the California Tiger Salamander and other endangered species in order to come up with better and more workable solutions than the existing $1 Million per acre that is keeping about 50% of the approved housing starts from moving forward right now. The system is broken, and the ECA will be asked to join forces with some powerful allies very soon to make a difference. We need to so something about our very expensive “neighbors” like the salamanders and wetlands and NIMBYs.
We can do this. We cannot do this alone. For many years, I have been explaining that one of the main benefits in keeping the ECA healthy and viable, is to strengthen our relationships with other like-minded organizations.
We have done so.
The payoff is happening now. Thanks for your support in the past, and your continued support into the very bright future!
That’s All Folks!