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Community: General plan must address affordable housing

September 09, 2013|By Ryan Esfahani

Anyone who pays attention to the doings of the Costa Mesa City Council knows that our city is busy updating its general plan.

The press has covered the many public meetings, creative outreach efforts and road shows aimed at getting Costa Mesa residents involved in this communal act of visioning future development in the city.

But, sadly, scant attention has been paid to a crucial part of the general plan update. With little press coverage or public input, the City Council is currently reviewing proposed revisions to the city's housing element, the road map for meeting the city's housing needs for the next seven years.

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Looking through the Draft 2014-2021 Housing Element, one thing is clear: The housing market is not meeting the needs of large numbers of Costa Mesans. Housing prices simply do not match most people's wages.

This is the result of the steep increase in home prices and rents over the past decade and the relatively modest growth in wages. Although the collapse of the housing market in 2008 caused a significant drop in home prices, from a median of $750,000 for a single family home in 2007 to $530,000 in 2012, that 2012 median price is still $300,000 higher than it was in 1997.

The housing element explains the affordability gap: "To afford a median priced single-family home in Costa Mesa, an annual salary of $107,360 would be needed, and a person has to make approximately $67,080 to afford a median-priced condominium. Most occupations in Orange County offer much lower salaries. Similarly, most occupations offer wages below what would be needed to afford an average-priced three-bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa."

Orange County is the fourth most expensive metropolitan area in the United States. In order to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment, an individual needs to earn an hourly wage of $31.17. But economists project that seven out of 10 job openings in Orange County this decade will be in jobs earning less than $12 an hour.

When the majority of jobs in a region do not pay enough for workers to afford housing, the problem is not a personal one but a challenge the community must tackle together.

What does it really mean to be unable to afford housing? Housing is not a luxury good. People need housing whether they can afford it or not. This fact forces thousands of Costa Mesans to live under great financial stress.

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