The challenges to building and offering affordable housing in the county was among the core issues discussed in BenitoLink’s Community Vision San Benito County Listening Session on housing.
Participants said at the Sept. 28 listening session that it’s common for families to crowd together in one unit in order to afford to pay rent.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are 21,437 housing units in the county; the median gross rent is $1,703; and the median homeowner costs (with mortgage) is $2,788.
San Benito County Planning Commissioner Robert Gibson said one of the problems is the definition of affordable housing, which isn’t really affordable for members of the community.
Affordable housing is based on an area’s median income (AMI), which in San Benito County is $101,923. The income categories vary depending on the size of a household, but the formula for affordability provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is as follows:
- Acutely low income: 0%-15% of AMI
- Extremely low income: 15%-30% of AMI
- Very low income: 30% to 50% of AMI
- Lower income: 50% to 80% of AMI; this designation may also be used to mean 0% to 80% of AMI
- Moderate income: 80% to 120% of AMI
Given this formula, a household in the county making $122,307 is considered moderate income.
Listening session participants—planners, for-profit and nonprofit developers, planning commissioners, a former homeless resident and housing program representatives—said current challenges for municipalities to attract affordable housing include the cost of building, inflation and the lack of incentives to provide a variety of housing. On the other hand, participants mentioned both the county and Hollister are working on inclusionary ordinances to require developers to build affordable housing in projects that have more than 10 units.
In terms of government helping with housing, participants said there is a lack of funding for housing programs such as vouchers or housing for migrant workers.
The participants’ consensus was that if nothing was done to solve this issue, it would lead to an increase in poverty, overcrowded living conditions, homelessness, crime, drug use and mental health issues, and missed opportunities to attract industrial jobs.
“The worst possible thing we can do is nothing,” said Dave Wright, Community Service Development Corporation board member. “We can become Tres Pinos. Tres Pinos used to have a railroad and hotels. It had a bullring in the ’20s where people would come down from the city for entertainment. You can see what it is now because they did nothing.”
Among the best case scenarios, participants said governments would find a way to streamline the process to approve and build housing, and have a long-term plan that considers all infrastructure. In addition, there would be more funding for nonprofit development and diverse types of housing.
“If we have a long-term plan, although it might be a headache for a short amount of time, long-term it will resolve a lot of issues permanently,” Erika Temores with Anderson Homes said.
In order to achieve the best-case scenario, Wright cited the Riverview Estates II, a self-housing project, as an example of what is possible.
“There were probably about 10 agencies involved in getting that project done,” Wright said. “It takes a lot of networking in trying to streamline things and it still took us five years to do this.”
Other solutions mentioned included creating a tiny homes area with mental health resources offered on site, and changing government policies and processes to streamline affordable housing and advocating at the state level.
BenitoLink’s listening sessions are a continuation of those done by the Community Foundation for San Benito County. Several notable results followed the foundation’s 2011-12 listening sessions.
- The founding of BenitoLink, a nonprofit news organization serving the residents of San Benito County with local and regional news and information
- The REACH Parks Foundation, which has been central to the development of parks and walking trails in San Benito County
- The Community Foundation Women’s Fund, which has helped women with financial support and educational programs
- Local nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau identified the need for leaders with a better understanding of agriculture, and worked to bring qualified team members into leadership positions
RSVPs to attend the listening sessions are required.
To RSVP, please fill out this form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2023 Vision San Benito County listening sessions are supported by the Calhoun/Christiano Family Fund and the Community Foundation for San Benito County. There are approximately 20 listening sessions scheduled throughout September and October on issues and solutions from many small segments of the community. BenitoLink is reporting back the results in articles about each session.