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Another View: Affordable housing: Time to team-up and keep building for our workforce

By: Veronica Blake
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Whether you see it or not, the housing crisis in Placer County is a high stakes game in which we all either win or lose together. We’re on one team, and the reality of our demographic and economic outlook is on the other. Our team has potential. We have all the players needed to make our field of dreams, a community with adequate and accessible housing for a range of income levels. If we build it, prosperity will come. Increasing our workforce housing supply leads to increased employment and economic mobility. More prosperous communities have improved health and better education outcomes. An educated and healthy workforce has greater purchasing power and stronger ability to support a burgeoning economy.
But our team is fragile. Complex policy barriers and divergent ideologies mire our efforts to problem solve and work together, despite urgent and sobering numbers. 42 percent of Placer County residents pay more than 30 percent of their earnings on housing. Twenty percent of households are severely burdened, meaning they face overcrowding, housing costs that amount to more than 50 percent of income, or lack complete kitchen/plumbing facilities. That’s more than 57,000 and 27,000 households respectively.
Thankfully, the City of Roseville has been leading the way with proactive solutions and housing programs that work. Their inclusionary policy sets a stalwart and consistent requirement that 10 percent of all new housing developments are constructed and affordable. As a result, over 3,000 affordable housing units have been built in Roseville since 1989. Bravo to them for leading the way and showing that we can do this.
In Roseville, a 58-unit apartment development is currently under construction, which will cater to low-income residents in the heart of downtown.
However, Roseville can’t do it alone. They are averaging 108 affordable units a year, but this is only meeting a fraction of the need. The cities of Lincoln, Rocklin, Auburn, Colfax and the Town of Loomis need to make increased workforce housing a top priority as well. Unincorporated communities in Placer County should also be gearing-up since they have sites and acres of vacant land zoned for residential development. Solving this crisis calls on all of us to get engaged.
Boomers, you may feel like you’re watching the housing problem from the stands. Most of you are not first-time homebuyers, struggling to get on base. However, reality is you’re an outfielder with a big field of exposure to cover. It is today’s retirees who are in a position to benefit — or suffer — most from the outcome of this crisis. Placer County is less than 20 years away from a tipping point of where there will be more retirees than working-age residents to support them (see chart below). If 42 percent of Placer County residents are struggling to find and afford housing today, who is going to be able to buy your house when the time comes? When you need a caregiver, will your children or nurse-aid be able to live close by?
Business owners and entrepreneurs, the squeeze on accessible housing threatens our region’s ability to attract and retain a ready workforce. Homegrown college graduates and young families are increasingly moving out of county and state due to housing costs. Want your employees to be happier and healthier? Support housing that helps them live nearer to where they work.
Policy makers, either we set policy that is agreeable for Placer County now, or wait until the state and federal government set it for us. You understand that local solutions are usually the best solutions. Use your position, your connections, and your influence to bring collaborative solutions to the table.
Concerned citizens, if we want to preserve our rural environment we need to proactively plan and advocate for a range of housing types. Infill developments can both revitalize and seamlessly integrate into existing neighborhoods. Re-zoning proposals can open-up sites that are closer to job and transit hubs. Inclusionary policies can increase the number of accessible units in existing development plans. These are just a few ways that Placer County can increase the types of housing that is needed most. Investing in smart growth, rather than no-growth, means that Placer continues to be the place that welcomed you when you moved here. Inclusiveness will also work to prevent our region from falling the way of the Bay Area in terms of traffic congestion and sprawl.
Underdogs, you are on the front line of this crisis but are not invisible. We honor you, Ed, the youth pastor at a church in Rocklin who raised his three children as a single father in an affordable housing development. It’s time to build a housing option for your live-in adult children so they can stay local after graduating from Sierra College. And we fight for you, Aaron (Rea), the Auburn City Fire Department firefighter who rents a house with two roommates. It’s maddening that you can’t find a home in the $250,000 price range in the city you were born and raised in.
We all can agree that every hard-working person deserves access to a home they can afford in Placer County. We don’t want to be a place where more than half an average worker’s paycheck goes to rent, or where homeownership is a pipedream. Far too many young adults have careers, yet are living with their parents or commuting great distances. Far too many families are forced to compromise on food and health care.
Let’s advocate for the right kind of housing in the right place for the people who need it most. This means supporting development opportunities that offer walkable options to jobs, transportation and amenities; are higher density; and offer an opportunity to make the most efficient use of the land they sit on. 
The inclusion of up to 80 affordable units in the county’s DeWitt Government Center redevelopment master plan is proof that advocacy works. There’s no doubt that the persistent and concerted efforts from Placer Housing Matters advocates was clutch in influencing the county’s decision to amend the plans to specifically include affordable housing. It is anticipated that this project will go in front of the Board of Supervisors on June 26.
Your support and input is needed to keep advancing the cause for affordable workforce housing on a county-wide scale. 
 
Veronica Blake is the CEO at Placer Community Foundation. Visit PlacerHousingMatters.org to learn more.