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San Luis Obispo County officials adopt affordable housing plan

Courtesy of Dennis Eamon Young Photo
Peoples' Self-Help Housing, the Central Coast's largest nonprofit affordable housing developer, recently opened a new rental complex for farmworkers in Santa Maria.

The county board of supervisors have agreed on a plan to help build affordable homes for the county’s workforce. But while the move is being heralded for bipartisan—and multilateral—agreement, some say the real work is still to come.

The affordable housing plan was recommended by the Coalition of Housing Partners, which includes non-profits, county housing authorities and builders such as Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo and the Home Builders Association. Melissa James, with the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, is the spokesperson for the group.

“With three out of four people in our county not able to afford the median home,” James said at Tuesday's board meeting. “It’s certain that everyone in this room either personally suffers under these challenges or knows family, friends or coworkers that do.”

The organizations worked with Supervisors Bruce Gibson and John Peschong to create a plan the politically-divided board would accept. And while the plan was unanimously approved—with Supervisor Lynn Compton absent—Supervisor Adam Hill said all the parties will need to continue working together for the plan to work.

“Some of the things will be easy to kill off when they are no longer part of a larger package,” Hill said. “Some of the more controversial stuff.”

Controversial in that the plan has several components not everyone may agree as details take shape. The deal calls for construction fees on larger new homes, streamlining the administrative permitting process, as well as making—using Gibson's description—"procedural amendments" to the environmental review process.* Hill told KCBX that San Luis Obispo County voters may see new fees and taxes to support the effort on the 2020 ballot. Ultimately, the plan would set aside two to four million dollars annually in hopes of using that money for low-income housing.

While the plan was widely praised, some, like Amanda Rice, president of the Cambria Community Services District, said the board could do even more to help make the county more affordable.

“You could raise the minimum wage for this county.” Rice said. “That would close some of the gap, too. You could really put a dent in some of the problems.”

The county’s largest union of workers, who would reap some of the benefits of the a concerted effort to build affordable housing, is currently planning a strike next week, saying it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable to live and work in San Luis Obispo County.

[*Editor's note: Since publishing this story, KCBX News has been contacted by Andrew Hackleman of the the Coalition of Housing Partners, who disputed our use of the word "exceptions" in reference to the environmental review process. We have reviewed the board hearing and relevent documents and have edited that sentence to more accurately reflect what has been agreed upon at this early stage of the three-year affordable housing pilot program.]

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