‘Affordable housing’? Just smoke | TheUnion.com
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‘Affordable housing’? Just smoke

As the campaign season ratchets up, the candidates appear to have one common plank in their platforms: “Preserving the rural quality of life in Nevada County.” And nowhere does this get more lip service than in discussions on growth, development and, specifically, affordable housing.

Historically, affordable housing was a small miner’s shack – a 1930s one-bedroom, one-bath (if that miner was lucky) shack on a postage-stamp-sized lot.

Those miners must be rolling over in their graves today to see those same houses, gussied up with new paint and plaster, selling for a quarter of a million dollars as “starter” homes for young couples. Little did they realize that the “gold” they were digging for was actually over their heads.



If this is a “starter home” in today’s market, then a growing family’s goal must be a trophy house that weighs in at half- or three-quarter-million when the kids start coming.

But who can afford this? The mean annual wage for a law enforcement officer in this county is $56,648 – not bad, at first glance. But if 30 percent of his or her income goes toward a mortgage, which is what banks look for, that means an officer can only afford to carry a $215,000 mortgage. It’s hard to find a decent, safe place to live for that price.




The county does have a first-time-buyers’ down payment assistance program, and that officer would qualify if he or she were supporting a family of five, but the house must cost less than $237,500 – that “charming miner’s cottage” outside the city limits.

On the surface, it appears local governments are trying to face up to the challenge. The language in the county’s general plan conveys a lot of “encouragement” for developers, language the state is holding the county up to writing before releasing money for infrastructure expenses, such as sewers and roads.

But the recent Wolf Creek Estates project mirrors what really happens. While true to the county’s affordable housing goals and density requirements, the 55 condominiums in the Wolf Creek plan were “discouraged,” because nearby neighbors were fired up about traffic, density and fire danger. The county evidently was overcome by all that heat and smoke.

Growth is going to occur. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in Sacramento or Sierraville. County government needs to rise above the fears of urban refugees and do what is best for the whole county. One supervisor says the county’s government isn’t very good at building houses, but government has the largest workforce of any other industry here. That fact alone makes it responsible for facilitating affordable housing for its workforce.

Preserving the “rural quality of life” in Nevada County means more than country roads, stands of trees and open space to play in. It means lending a helping hand to our neighbor next door – those teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses – because there will come a time when we will need their help.


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