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Affordable housing on the decline

Placer County’s shrinking inventory is driving up costs
By: Aurora Sain, Reporter
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Placer County is one of the fastest growing counties in California, but with the rising population, the amount of affordable housing is decreasing.

Policy makers define affordable housing as when a household pays no more than 30 percent of its total income on housing costs.

The housing for people in service industry jobs is lacking, causing people to live outside of the county who then drive in for work.

Real Estate Agent Sue Thompson said that there isn’t enough workforce housing, or anything under $500,000.

“There is a real shortage,” said Thompson.

She has seen two bedroom rentals raise from $800 to $1,200 in just a few years.

A lot of people are applying for housing that would require 50 percent of their income, said Thompson.

To help combat the problem, Placer Community Foundations’ CEO Veronica Blake helped to create placerhousingmatters. org. The website acts as a movement to draw attention to the need for housing in Placer County.

Blake said that the problem is both available housing and affordable housing, because there are less than 5 percent of rentals available in the county.

“A lot of people think the housing issue is connected to homelessness,” said Blake. “It’s much broader than that. It’s connected to the workforce.”

On the Placer housing website, they highlight stories from school teachers, seniors or firefighters who needed the opportunity for affordable housing.

Placer Housing Matters is working with the building industry and local government trying to find a solution to the housing crisis.

Blake said the process is complicated, but they are working to help change zoning, regulations or create different types of housing including multi-family duplexes.

Les Wells has been an Auburn resident for more than 30 years, and has had to stay in the Auburn shelter recently while figuring out where he is going to live.

“We’ve been looking for housing for over three months,” he said.

Placer County has about three dozen unused Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers that are available to veterans who served at least two years of active duty service.

If the military service happened before 1978, the veteran only needs one day of active duty service to qualify, said Jeff Cowen, the housing coordinator for the Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing, at a June Meddlers meeting.

The process to get the VASH voucher has to go through to Department of Veterans Affairs and the paperwork can get extensive, so Cowen and his team work to help fill out and turn in everything.

“There is a lot of reluctance to take help that is cheerfully offered,” said Cowen.

On Tuesday the Placer County Board of Supervisors came to agreements with two nonprofit organizations to provide housing coordination services to county residents who are at risk of becoming homeless or who have already become homeless.

Housing coordinators offer case management, budgeting and moving help, furnishings, deposits, credit checks, rental preparation classes and more.

“As we make broad efforts to expand affordable housing for Placer County residents, these positions will provide focused, strategic support to people most in need,” District 5 Supervisor and board chair Jennifer Montgomery said in a press release.

AMIH and Volunteers of America Northern California and Northern Nevada Inc. will provide housing coordinator services through at least June 2018 at a total cost of $140,000, of which $91,000 will come from the county general fund and the rest from federal or state funds.

The agreements can be renewed for an additional year.

Both AMIH and VOA began providing housing coordinator services in October 2016 on a trial basis, with promising results.

Between October and April 2017, two housing coordinators worked with 299 clients, 49 of whom secured permanent housing.

Eight moved into transitional housing and 83 received case managementservices. The coordinators also conducted outreach to landlords, securing new support from seven landlords and supporting existing partnerships with another 20.

A recent Harvard housing study said that in the last 16 years, 38 million American households can’t afford their housing, an increase of 146 percent.

“It’s really sad for us,” said Wells. “We are trying.”