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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 5:31 pm | Fair 62º


Debbie Brasket: Working Families Deserve Affordable Homes — Near You

Neighborhood resistance to affordable housing is based on outmoded misconceptions

Santa Barbara County is losing the affordable housing battle. More than 5,000 families are still waiting for help from the county Housing Authority. With an annual turnaround of about 1,600 openings, most will not find relief anytime soon. And with more homes in foreclosure, and growing unemployment, this situation is bound to get worse before it gets better.

At the same time, the county has a higher percentage of nonprofit groups — organizations created to serve the common good — than most other counties in California, and perhaps the nation. People here care deeply about people in need, and our food banks, neighborhood clinics and Boys & Girls Clubs are widely and generously supported.

Almost everyone understands and supports the need for more affordable housing — in theory — but when it actually comes down to zoning for or building affordable housing, people in nearby neighborhoods tend to come out in droves to oppose it.

The mentality seems to be: build it anywhere, everywhere, but not near me, please.

Some of this resistance has to do with a misunderstanding about the sorts of people who need affordable housing. A 2006 national study by the Center for Housing Policy showed that to afford a $248,000 home, an income of $84,000 was needed. This excluded most elementary school teachers, police officers, nurses and firefighters. To afford a two-bedroom apartment at $821 per month, an hourly wage of $15.79 was needed. This excluded most child-care workers, bank tellers, retail clerks and hairdressers — people we count on in almost every capacity of our lives.

The fact is, the people who need affordable housing are people we trust to wash our carpets, serve us coffee, groom our dogs, pick our produce, mow our lawns, service our cars, cut our hair, and teach our children. You’ll find many of them working at the local food bank and Boys & Girls Club, delivering food to the elderly, and helping kids stay drug-free. They aren’t criminals just waiting to move in next door so they can rob us blind. They are people we know well — essential members of our community. There is no correlation between safe, decent, affordable housing and street crime.

Another misconception about affordable housing is that it is ugly and can lower property values. The fact is no one builds tenements anymore. Affordable housing designs in the 21st century are a lot more attractive than most tract homes or apartment complexes built in the 1970s or ‘80s. If you look at Casa de las Fuentes in Santa Barbara (density of 56 units per acre) or the Ted Zenich Gardens in Santa Maria, you will see beautifully designed housing that outclasses the surrounding neighborhood. Several studies that track neighborhood home values before and after affordable housing is built, including one by the Institute for Urban and Regional Development, show an insignificant or positive effect on property values.

Some people oppose affordable housing because they think it will add to traffic congestion and overburden infrastructure. Yet a National Personal Transportation Survey by the Federal Highway Administration shows that low-income families living in affordable housing near jobs and public transportation make 40 percent fewer private vehicle trips than nearby families with higher incomes. Single-family neighborhoods have two to three times more school-age children than families living in apartments. In fact, several studies, including one by the Urban Land Institute, conclude that infrastructure costs dramatically decline as density increases.

We need to outgrow our base fears and outdated misconceptions about affordable housing and embrace our higher values of fairness and opportunity for all. The next time an affordable housing project is proposed nearby, ask yourself if the woman caring for your mother, or the man you trust to clean your carpets deserves a decent home — perhaps near you.

— Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.722.5094 or at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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