Affordable housing solutions needed, panel says

DEBRA GRUSZECKI
STAFF WRITER

Steve PonTell, chief executive of National Community Renaissance, predicted that Inland Southern California will be in crisis mode if it fails to come to grips with affordable housing for working-class people.

The

view was shared by PonTell as he led a discussion with San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford and planning consultant Ken Gutierrez at UC Riverside’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development last week. The panelists for the Randall Lewis Seminar, “Affordable Housing: A Shortage Crisis,” spoke frankly about some of the hurdles developers, renters and homebuyers face in this market, primarily: Rising costs to build, buy or rent homes. Stagnant wage growth. High development impact fees for developers. Not in my backyard – describing opposition to certain types of projects by people who don’t want them near their homes. Public image of affordable housing. “It’s been since World War II that we adequately housed people,” PonTell said, adding that California is already 1 million housing units short of handling its current population, and saying it is “patently not true” that people will stop coming to the region if building stops.

A serious housing strategy is needed nationally and statewide, PonTell said, as education, health, quality of life, social services and neighborhoods suffer when a disproportionate number of people cannot afford to pay rent or buy an affordable home.

Rutherford said she has yet to see a study that says housing does not pay for itself, even though that misconception is widely held. But even as PonTell said development fees are pushing the needle up on affordability, Rutherford said new housing has to pay its way.

“You can’t put fees of new housing on the backs of people who are already there,” she said.

The mantra has always been to have development pay its own way, but impact fees really add up, Gutierrez said. If we’re in a crisis, maybe we need to find other ways to trim costs, he said.

One solution would be to streamline the approval process for developers or create a zone to set the stage for mixed-use development that includes affordable housing, Gutierrez said, noting: “We need to get over the stigma of affordable housing.”

“Density is not a four-letter word,” Rutherford added.

Much can be done to change the mind-set about the middle class and working class candidates for homes who pay more than 50 percent of their wages on a mortgage or rent, she said.

One of the biggest challenges in the Inland region is to create a higher wage economy, PonTell said.