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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 1:22 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: County Action Network Cries Affordable-Housing Shortage in Lompoc

During a recent public hearing concerning the annexation of two parcels in what is known locally as the Bailey Avenue Corridor, Ken Hough, the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, spoke against market rate developments and annexation.

According to a Noozhawk report, he said that SBCAN opposes the Bailey Avenue expansion, and noted the city’s lack of affordable housing.

“Market-rate housing developments should be questioned as a matter of course,” Hough said. “New housing developments can only be justified if it helps low-income and working people live in our communities.”

Apparently Hough had not taken the time to familiarize himself with the housing situation in Lompoc. He was probably too busy opposing every development in the county, which is what SBCAN is noted for, to review a few simple facts.

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are about 14,500 housing units in the City of Lompoc, 44.7 percent of which are owner occupied. Their median value is $227,500 and rents average about $1,000 a month.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments sets the goals for affordable housing for the entire county and has determined that Lompoc should have a total of 525 very-low- to above-moderate-income-level units planned for construction between 2014 and 2022, an increase of 10 from the earlier goal established by SBCAG.

To accomplish this goal, the city has a policy in place that 10 percent of all new projects that exceed 10 units must be set aside for low- and moderate-rate units.

This requirement can be met by either constructing the houses within the project or paying a substantial “in lieu of” fee, which is then used to fund low- and moderate-rate units in other locations.

The city added 58 low- and moderate-income units in 2014 and another 62 in 2015 — this is 23 percent of the goal in just the first two years of the current planning period. The construction of market rate housing units versus low/moderate income units has been out of balance favoring low income properties for a couple of years.

An unintended consequence of an overabundance of low- and moderate-income housing is the impact on the local economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the median income in Lompoc is $47,000, which is about $6,000 less than the United States average, and 22 percent of the population are at the poverty level versus about 15 percent nationally.

Do we wonder why developers aren’t building market rate housing when they see numbers like these?

Continuing to attract low- to moderate-income families to the area will only exacerbate the problem.

When you consider that all of the units built in 2015 were either low- or moderate-income, you could say that Lompoc is more than meeting the low-income housing need, and if you took into consideration all of the projects that have been approved but not constructed yet, the low to moderate housing planning goal has also been met.

So this leads us to whether the annexation of these two parcels has a sense of urgency. Former mayor John Linn spoke in favor of the project during the public comment period, and council member Jim Mosby echoed his concern that there isn’t enough housing available.

I don’t dispute the statistics they cited regarding the number of market rate units that have been constructed over the last few years, but do we really need another project?

According to the city’s planning manager there are about 1,500 units that have been approved but not yet constructed within the City of Lompoc — 150 of those must be low- and moderate-rate units. As Linn and Mosby pointed out, these developers didn’t believe that their projects were financially viable; once again I can’t dispute their argument.

In my nearly 15 years as a planning commissioner I have seen many large and small projects that were proposed but haven’t been built yet. It frequently takes several years from the time a project is approved until the developer actually builds them, and often the projects are sold to new developers and changes are made to the original plan before construction begins.

Whether another project is needed is a political rather than a technical question. If the project arrives on the Planning Commission agenda, then it will be reviewed for compliance with all of the requirements the city has established, and then a recommendation for approval or denial will be provided to the City Council for their consideration.

There are a couple of points to be made here: first is that there isn’t an affordable housing shortage in Lompoc when you consider SBCAG goals, and second is that it’s questionable whether another large project is needed at this time.

Whether the project is needed or not is a matter for the City Council to decide.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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