Darrell Berkheimer: ‘Whether we like it or not, we’ve got to do it’
October 12, 2018
This headline emphasizes the comment by Nevada County Supervisor Richard Anderson earlier this week when the supervisors voted to meet a state requirement to increase zoning for high-density housing.
And whether the citizens of Nevada County like it or not, high-density housing is the wave of the future.
It will be the only way to provide the affordable housing needed to attract younger people to the Grass Valley-Nevada City area.
The current situation is not sustainable — because only coastal-area retirees and high-income workers are able to afford the homes that become available here. For a community to remain vibrant in its future, it must be able to attract young workers, young families and young entrepreneurs.
It should be obvious to all who live here that this area faces becoming mostly an elderly community unless major changes occur. That means changes in attitudes, revisions to out-of-date planning and zoning restrictions, plus some reductions in fees and permits that now impede the development of affordable housing.
New and innovative approaches are needed!
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But too many developers continue to place emphasis on the building of single-family homes for what has been termed the "nuclear family" — a husband and wife with one, two or three children. Changing demographics throughout the nation show that the population ratios of nuclear families have declined considerably.
An article this past December published by The Washington Post reported that nuclear families now account for only 20 percent of our population. That's only one out of every five households.
The Post story noted the other 80 percent included single people living alone at 28 percent; couples: 25 percent; adults sharing with other adults: 20 percent, and single-parent families: 7 percent.
Those statistics should 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.
Other revealing statistics in The Washington Post story listed "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 over 65 in 2050."
Those statistics raise the question: How many people in those categories can afford housing expenses of $1,500 or more per month?
They are people who really can't afford the homes recently built along western Ridge Road in Grass Valley, with prices starting at $420,000.
And who will buy the $400,000 to $700,000 houses planned in the proposed 30-unit Gilded Springs development off West Main and Alta streets? More retirees?
These are not examples of the types of housing that's needed.
I spent time recently chatting with Brendan Phillips, the county's housing coordinator hired just last year. A significant part of our conversation involved the local homeless situation and the need for more shelters to get homeless people out of tents in the woods — especially during winter.
I specifically asked why the cities and county aren't helping to identify and perhaps lease one or more small tracts of land that might be used to provide tiny homes and temporary individual shelters for the homeless. (Homeless issues will be the subject of a later column.)
Phillips explained the county and cities do not want to become involved in the housing business. He said they wait for entities in the community to take the lead in developing housing and shelter plans. Those plans then must go before the cities and county for approval and decisions on what will and won't be allowed.
I advised Phillips that is a reactive approach — when more proactive approaches are needed. Homeless people need shelters; and paths to affordable housing must be provided them as well as others wishing to live here. Proactive communities should be acting to assist and entice such developments rather than waiting for them to fall into their laps.
Resistance to needed changes by governments and local residents won't stop the changes from coming. At best they will only delay such changes and in the end make them more costly.
When affordable housing is a dire need, communities should not be waiting for developers to submit proposals. Appropriate tracts of land need to be identified and invitations should be sent to builders, architects and engineers who specialize in affordable housing developments.
The most positive actions we see locally are: the county's hiring of Phillips; Nevada City's action toward drafting an ordinance to accommodate cottage homes with a maximum of 800 square feet, Sierra Roots movement toward providing tiny houses for the homeless, and discussions about approving accessory dwelling units.
But much of the discussions on accessory dwelling units have been limited to free-standing units built in a single-family home's back yard. Those discussions should be expanded to include separately accessible basement units and home additions, plus apartment dwellings atop a detached garage.
Isn't it better for local communities to take the lead in providing the atmosphere for needed developments rather than have such actions forced upon them by the state and federal governments?
Aren't these examples of what must be accomplished — "whether we like it or not?"
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.