By Tim Whyte
There’s a bit of a contradiction circulating among candidates for local and regional office, and it goes something like this:
We have a housing crisis. There’s not enough affordable housing! We need to build more affordable housing! And this traffic is insane! We have to do something about the traffic. There’s too much growth going on!
To recap: It seems a lot of our candidates are saying, all at once, that we need to build more affordable housing, we have a housing shortage, and we have too much growth and traffic.
Yeah. That math doesn’t add up.
First things first: I agree that we need more affordable housing in our neck of the woods. I’ve got one kid in college (our boy Luc is a junior and playing hockey for the University of Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner!) and our daughter Brooke is a senior at Saugus High School and just this week committed to Washington State University. Go Wazoo! #FutureCoug
That mini-brag aside, like many other parents, I would love it if my kids could afford to come back “home” to Santa Clarita — and have homes of their own here. But looking around at rents and real estate values, I’m coming to the same conclusion many before me have reached:
Who can afford it?
Especially if you’re young, just out of college or even a couple years removed from graduation. Finding an affordable place can be an equally daunting task for young singles, married DINKs (dual income, no kids) or, even tougher, young families.
So, I think we can all agree, we’d like to see more affordable housing in northern Los Angeles County.
Who’s going to build it?
The obvious answer would be, as my dad jokingly calls them, “Those damn developers.” (It’s OK. My dad is allowed — he’s retired but his career was spent as an engineer in the development industry.)
So, let’s say we want the developers to build affordable housing so our young people and our seniors can have places to live. Now factor in all the fees, environmental requirements, flaming governmental hoops to jump through and the legal hostility that seems to crop up from the environmentalists whenever anyone proposes to build anything more ambitious than a single log cabin with no running water.
Building homes is expensive enough. California makes it insane.
So, we want to get the developers to build “affordable” housing, which, by the way, has its own legal definition tied into a buyer or renter’s income level. The formulas can be complicated, kind of like keeping score in bowling.
The developers’ margins on “affordable” units are paper-thin. They need to make that up somewhere because, after all, being a damn developer is a business and they’ve got fancy cars and mistresses to pay for.
So, up go the “non-affordable” units that bring in the revenue to make a project profitable and allow the “affordable” part of a project to basically serve as a loss leader.
All of this equates to growth and, if you’ll follow the daisy chain of actions and consequences, will generate more traffic.
Obviously, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the traffic impacts of a development, and if you look around Santa Clarita’s road network today and compare it to what we had 30 years ago, it’s like night and day. Yes, we still have traffic. But we have traffic on a lot more roads now!
It’s quite the conundrum. Now, as we always have, we have a crop of “new” residents, all of whom want to be the last ones in. It always cracks me up when you talk to someone who says, “I can’t believe they’re allowing all this new growth,” and then you find out they moved here five years ago.
“I’m in! Pull up the drawbridge!”
The point: Yes, we have real issues to solve when it comes to affordable housing, traffic and growth. But the cold, hard fact remains: If we’re going to have the first thing, we’ll have the second and third things, too.
Affordable housing: If you build it, growth and traffic will come. My 2 cents? I think it’ll be worth it, if we manage it well.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TimWhyte.