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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 5:14 pm | Fair with Haze 64º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: Low-income Housing Crisis in Lompoc; It’s Not What You Think

For several years, community leaders in Lompoc have wondered why they can’t attract more market-rate housing for medium- to upper-end home buyers; some of them have blamed it on “the market.”

The Santa Barbara County Housing Authority and nonprofit developers have consistently advocated for more low-income housing units claiming there is an “unfilled need” in the city.

I often wondered about these claims; why would Lompoc, a city of about 35,000 residents, need so much low-income housing?

Others have claimed that “the South Coast is exporting all of its problems to Lompoc.” They may be right.

Currently, seven projects (730 housing units) have been approved for development in Lompoc but are in limbo.

Developers have had a habit of promising “big tax revenue” and suggesting to willing council members that they will “build soon” if they will provide them with incentives.

By state mandate, 10 percent of these projects must be low-income units or the developer can contribute the construction cost to a fund to build the units elsewhere.

Any knowledgeable politician should be cautious concerning developers’ promises.

Mayoral candidate Jim Mosby thinks annexing Bailey Avenue to the west of Lompoc will fix the housing problem.

First, with more than 700 units in limbo, there isn’t a problem. Second, in my 15-plus years of experience as a planning commissioner, developers seem to want to get a project approved to raise the value of their land and then they sell it to someone else.
 
Besides, history shows the annexation of Bailey Avenue parcels has been controversial for decades and will face stiff opposition as it moves forward.

Let’s examine the claim that “the South Coast is exporting all of its problems to Lompoc.”

Recently, a developer of an approved project proposed converting nearly all of a 44-unit project to low-income units. He envisioned 39 low-income units instead of the 10 percent he is normally obligated to provide, and was applying for tax credits.

This conversion, if approved, would provide a substantial profit to the developer because even though the residents wouldn’t be paying market rate, he would be collecting it via taxpayer subsidies.

In the meantime, the city wouldn’t get any property tax benefit from the project for 55 years unless it was converted back to market rate units.
 
In a letter to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee opposing the proposed action, the city revealed some interesting facts.
 
Lompoc has a population of around 35,000 people after you subtract the federal prison population from the census figures; both Santa Maria and Santa Barbara have more than 100,000 people.

Currently in Lompoc, 76 percent of the multi-family units — that’s 76 of every 100 units — are characterized as affordable, while Santa Maria has only 6 percent and Santa Barbara 5 percent. Other communities are also in the 2-5 percent range.

According to the city, many of the tax-credit projects in the city “have a history of high code enforcement cases” and “fall into disrepair between financing infusions. As of Aug. 13, 2018, there are 73 active code compliance cases in an apartment complex with 124 units.”

The same community leaders who strongly support more low-income housing projects also think higher density development is a must. This means they want to cram more people into smaller spaces.

This often creates friction between neighbors who simply don’t have enough space to live wholesome lives.

Of course, some of these advocates are in the real estate business and could stand to profit if more units are built per acre.

The General Fund has a revenue problem; calls for service to public safety services are increasing every year. One low-income project has had several attempted murders and other violent assaults on the last few years, many more than the rest of the city combined.

I think it’s reasonable to say that before another low-income, tax-credit project is approved in our city that other communities need to step up to the plate and level the playing field. But, if history is any indicator, the state will ignore these figures and approve this project.

When the City Council recently disapproved the conversion of a 200-plus unit project to low-income status, the appointed California Tax Credit Allocation Committee overruled the decision claiming “there is a low-income housing crisis in California.”

That may be true, but the only “low-income housing crisis” in Lompoc is a glut of these units that is strangling our city while other communities aren’t sharing the load.

— 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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