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OP-ED: Why we need more affordable housing in San Mateo County
May 03, 2014, 05:00 AM By Mark Moulton

Mark Moulton

Housing affordability. It’s a relative term that implies that you have money left over at the end of the month after you have paid your rent or mortgage to get down to the business of living. “Housing” includes utilities, so when you think about what jobs we have locally, think about incomes as three times housing costs to get an idea about what is needed in annual earnings for your housing budget. Since market rents are now about $2,200 per month for a one-bedroom apartment here, those homes are not “affordable” by definition, because they cannot be obtained by the average working families who we are talking about, who are also customers for housing here. When the supply of housing is chronically short and the demand is consistently high, our community is at risk of driving out the very people who make our community complete. “Affordable housing” differs slightly from “housing that’s affordable” in that it costs what renters and buyers can afford to pay per month. It is consciously built to remain that way. It is not “sub-standard” housing, or “cheaply-built” housing or “government” housing.

We need more housing in San Mateo County because our population in the Bay Area and in San Mateo County is growing and because we are creating jobs here. Our county needs more housing because people and families at all income levels are in the market for housing here. There is very little vacancy for new employees and we have built housing at a low rate for many years.

We care about housing availability here because we want our family members to have the choice to live where they work or grew up and living situations change over time. We need more housing opportunities at all income levels since we strive for a diverse and vibrant community that meets the needs of our high-profile tech community and the people who make our community work. We care because our long-term economic success as a county and as part of a nine-county region depends on creating opportunity for our businesses to grow from each city that hosts them.

Prospective voters in high school civics classes, those who live here, and those who work here need to learn about and deliberate this complex issue that affects virtually every facet of our community. Wide understanding will help the people who volunteer to make decisions on behalf of the community, such as members of city councils, commissioners and members of homeowner and neighborhood associations. Otherwise those volunteers are representing an uneducated public that does not recognize the issues, the possibilities for change and the potential unintended consequences. One voice silent in our deliberation is representing those who would like to live here but cannot. Our jurisdictions are in control of their land use decisions and here in San Mateo County. This means our voters will need to be deeply convinced that change and growth can bring more, rather than less, quality of life.

After all, with our terrific neighborhoods and valuable homes, who needs options to change and why would they want to change? As we suburbanites look at what defines our quality of life, we find it comes with auto dependence, privacy but sometimes isolation, consumption patterns that keep us hopping to cover our costs and the health consequences to both adults and children of busy lives — some of this is great, some not. Will more people living in San Mateo make our community better? Why not talk about it?

Since we need affordable housing here, can we as a community change our range of housing opportunities? With the economy driving job creation that will provide many jobs with low incomes for support service employees, it is not a question of “whether,” it is a question of “how?” So is this need for affordable housing a threat or an opportunity to San Mateo County? This need, if unmet, carries a threat of smothering our economy, with each high-paying job generating a need for one or two more jobs that will pay $25,000 to $50,000 per year. The need for affordable housing, like the need for market-rate housing, is our opportunity to get to work revitalizing our Main Street and sustaining our quality of life.

Mark Moulton is the executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.



Tags: housing, community, county, about, mateo, because,

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