More businesses are likely to be moving out of southern Santa Barbara County because many workers are unable to find affordable housing, according to a Coastal Housing Coalition study released Friday.
About 100 business leaders, public officials and community members attended a workshop on housing trends and their implications Friday morning at UCSB. One of the examples Mark Schniepp of the California Economic Forecast presented was that more people are commuting into Santa Barbara because of the widening gap between home prices and median household income as well as a low affordable housing supply.
Commuters from San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties have doubled during the past 20 years, according to the study.
“Household incomes have declined by more than the housing prices, it’s more difficult to obtain financing for a mortgage and there’s much less inventory that meets affordable housing standards,” Schniepp said.
There are hardly any vacancies in the rental market as well, he said, and the South Coast rental industry has the lowest vacancy rate in years and rents are rising again. People ages 25 to 44 own only 15 percent of the South Coast homes, which is partly because of the aging population staying in their homes for longer periods of time. Twenty-three percent of homeowners have lived in their homes since 1980, according to the study.
“The trend implies a continued increase in commuting and that a suitable workforce may not be available to fill needed positions within South Coast businesses as workers retire,” Schniepp said. “Consequently, firms will expand elsewhere or relocate outside the region.”
The responsibility lies on decision-makers to allow development of affordable housing, Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House said.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure there’s affordable housing for the workforce in Santa Barbara and the South Coast; it’s a regional issue,” he said. “We need to use our General Plan, which we just accomplished, and look at our housing policies to ensure that we’re working in partnership with the rest of the South Coast to be able to generate more housing for the workforce, especially for low-income families. That’s an area that’s so deficient that it’s incredible.”
Santa Barbara might need to concentrate on creating more affordable housing for the elderly to increase the housing supply, House added.
“We’ve been emphasizing homes for the workers in Santa Barbara, and we haven’t been providing them enough so people have been commuting and leaving the area; that’s harmful for the economy, the future and those families,” he said. “But if you look at it, we’re not providing enough smaller units for the aging population.”
In terms of the employment picture, the public sector employs the most people on the South Coast, followed by the hospitality industry. But the public sector is downsizing and the hospitality industry feature some of the lowest-paying jobs, Schniepp said.
Nationally, the federal government said Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent in May and employers created just 69,000 jobs — lower than analyst projections.
Workforce Investment Board executive director Ray McDonald said the key lies in the local technology and environmental industries.
“Those are the kind of jobs that will be new, that will be kicking,” he said. “We have to figure out how to keep the tech jobs here, too.
“Those types of jobs pay well and if we can get more people to bring those clean jobs into our county, that’s the way we can start keeping our young folks.”