Darrell Berkheimer: Missing the targets on needed housing | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Missing the targets on needed housing

Darrell Berkheimer
Columnist

It seems as if the right housing message still has not penetrated into the minds of local developers and our local officials.

And I am wondering what it will take for all to realize that the continuing emphasis on single-family homes does not provide the mix that is needed.

In just a one-week period – Nov. 23-30 – I read in The Union two stories about housing plans for 11 and 50 single-family homes – ranging in size from 1,100 to 2,500 square feet with prices beginning in the low $300,000s.

Other local housing developments are building single-family homes priced at $400,000 to $600,000 and higher.

Local officials and developers need to be thinking in terms of households – and not families of four.

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Who can afford homes like that? More empty-nesters and retirees from the coast?

If local officials and developers are thinking that these are the types of units that will help solve the housing problems here, they're mighty mistaken.

Yes, the one story does point out that the medium income for a family of four in Nevada County is $73,500. It adds that "Real estate calculators show that a family with that income, no debt and excellent credit can afford a home topping out at just over $350,000."

First, how many families of four don't have any debt?

Next, why the concentration on building for families of four when, at most, that involves only about one out of every five households?

Local officials and developers need to be thinking in terms of households – and not families of four.

It was only two months ago when Terry Lamphier noted in an Other Voices that "Median Grass Valley household incomes are about $35,524 annually, which will only buy a house in the $129,000 to $134,000 range."

Obviously, $300,000 homes are still out of range for the huge majority of Grass Valley households, when the real need is many smaller units at lower costs – whether for purchase or rent.

Lamphier's op-ed was published only one day after I cited a Washington Post story that reported nuclear families — a couple with one to three children — account for only 20 percent of our population nationwide.

The Post noted the other 80 percent included households of single people living alone at 28 percent; couples: 25 percent; adults sharing with other adults: 20 percent, and single-parent families: 7 percent.

So I must repeat what I wrote two months ago: "Those statistics tell us that four out of five new housing construction should be apartments, duplexes and other types of multi-unit dwellings – many of which would need to be 1,000 square feet or less to be affordable."

That Washington Post story also reported that "48 percent of U.S. adults are single; 32 percent of young adults live at home; 27 percent of children live with a single parent, and 22 percent of Americans will be 65 or over in 2050."

Don't those statistics tell us that this area of Nevada County should immediately concentrate on higher density housing to attract young workers, young beginning families and young entrepreneurs?

And don't those statistics indicate that affordable rentals are needed as much or more than houses?

We already have a high percentage of retired couples living here in single-family homes. And those homes will go back on the market as a result of deaths and down-sizing – lowering the need for construction of single-family homes to even less than 20 percent.

And the developer of the 11-unit single-family homes proposal at Town Talk Road should be sent back to the drawing board to design a higher density plan that includes duplexes, condos and apartments — to meet the real needs of this community.

The 11-unit plan barely meets the minimum R-3 density requirement, when higher density is what's needed.

Must we wait for the state, and perhaps the federal government, to slowly force higher densities with future "carrots and sticks" — grants and restrictions — when the need is immediate?

When the market or local officials fail to provide what citizens need, voters clamor for states and the federal government to force what's needed. Eventually, that's what happens.

Isn't that what spawns complaints about governments growing too big and wasteful while taking away our freedoms?

And isn't that what spawns statements like the one issued two months ago by Nevada County Supervisor Richard Anderson, when he said, "whether we like it or not, we've got to do it"?

He was referring to the state mandate to increase zoning for high-density housing.

On homeless shelter

The failure of the Nevada City homeless shelter to open over Thanksgiving Day reminded me of an old TV commercial of some years ago. In the commercial, an auto repair man advised preventive maintenance, and his punch line was: "You can pay me now, or pay me later."

For those who may not remember the commercial, the point was that preventive maintenance is a whole lot cheaper than the much higher costs of repairs. And that situation applies to having a homeless shelter open when it's needed.

Our twin cities, Nevada County and our hospital should be financing a permanent bad-weather homeless shelter. Because when they fail to provide that need, they face spending considerably higher amounts of money on treatment services for the homeless.

So they can pay now, or pay more later.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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