County real estate prices outpacing local jobs’ pay
Nevada County’s economy creates plenty of low-wage jobs, but those jobs can’t finance the purchase of single-family homes that have a median price of about a third of a million dollars.
That was the picture of Nevada County housing painted Monday by Julie Bornstein, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, who spoke on California’s continuing housing challenges.
“The chronic problem of housing shortages in California has really gotten critical,” said Bornstein.
Rising rents, traffic congestion, and young people and minorities who can’t afford homes are some of the problems caused by the housing shortage.
Bornstein spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Nevada County Business Association, the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber of Commerce, and the Nevada County Contractors Association.
One of California’s housing problems stems from communities that have worked to create more jobs but not more housing. “Where will people sleep at night who have these jobs?” asked Bornstein.
In Nevada County, employment has increased over the last decade by 21 percent.
But many of those jobs can’t finance the purchase of a house here – not at a median price of $334,000 in October, according to figures from the California Association of Realtors. That represents a 28 percent increase from a year ago.
The strongest job growth has been in the service sector, with an average salary of $22,000. Retail, with an average salary of $18,000, has been the second strongest.
Nevada County’s home ownership rate is 76 percent – still pretty high, said Bornstein.
In an interview after the luncheon, Bornstein said land costs are one of the biggest problems rural counties like Nevada County face in building work-force housing.
The costs of complying with planning agencies are another challenge, said Bornstein. Fees and design constraints can make housing unaffordable.
Bornstein agreed with contractors’ claims that high fees can make affordable housing unaffordable to build.
The average per-unit-fee for residential building permits in California was $24,325 in 1999, according to a Housing and Community Development study.
Bornstein said Nevada County has taken a step in the right direction by emphasizing the need for work force housing – terminology that avoids the affordable housing stereotype of high-rise, urban housing projects.
“Emphasizing that this is housing for working people, I think, is a major move in the right direction,” said Bornstein.
Ed Sylvester, a Grass Valley engineer, said Bornstein mentioned the importance of forming coalitions with business group support – one thing that Nevada County has.
Sylvester and others started the Work Force Housing Task Force to try and jump start new housing.
Bornstein said her agency can provide financial incentives for private-sector builders to make work force housing more economical.
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