Solutions for housing inequality?
Recently, two reports on Nevada County have been published that are both informative and disturbing.
One is the Nevada County Economic and Social Indicator Review 2004, the other is the Civil Grand Jury Report, 2003-2004.
The NCESI report generally uses March 2003 numbers. It tells us that of the 28,900 people living and working in Nevada County, 23,900 are “service providing.” (This includes teachers, waiters, retail clerks, entertainers, government employees, nurses and more.) That’s an astonishing 83 percent of Nevada County’s work force.
The average wage for “services” in 2002 (NCESIR’s latest number) was only $26,834. In contrast, the average price for a home in western Nevada County in March ’03 was $355,034.
The obvious conclusion is that 83 percent of our work force cannot afford an “average” home in western Nevada County. So, where are they living? Under rocks? With relatives? In unpermitted, homemade shanties? In government subsidized apartments?
The result is, we are losing young adults – and their children. The U.S. Census Bureau’s population by age shows Nevada County losing population heavily in the 20-to-44 age brackets and in the 20-to-24 age group.
The lack of housing for service-providing people – the overwhelming majority of the workers in our county – should be an embarrassment to those of us who own our own homes.
This leads me to the second report, published in The Union on July 21 – The Grand Jury Report of 2003-04.
In this report’s section on affordable housing, it gives, in essence, Grass Valley a pass, indicating the town was trying, but it was an uphill battle. The report notes that the median income of Grass Valley residents was only $28,182, while permit and mitigation fees for a modest 1200-square-foot house are $17,172.
Should Grass Valley insist that a substantial percentage of new homes in the four developments under consideration for incorporation into the city be truly affordable? Should it moderate its permit and mitigation costs for these?
The Grand Jury doesn’t let Nevada City off so easy. This little town of 3,000 people has actually decreased in population but can’t seem to build an affordable home. To quote the Grand Jury: “Nevada City has demonstrated their contempt for following (state) guidelines (which) clearly state that the Housing Element is required to be updated every 5 years. Nevada City had 18 years between updates.” “The ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY) school of thought appears to be the theme of the Nevada City Housing Element … There is no indication that any (of the proposed target of 200) units have been built.”
We need to come to grips with the inequality of this situation. Maybe we need to create another town in the south county – a town where no home can cost more than $200,000. And it would have to be subsidized, like our library and police department. Perhaps tax-free municipal bonds would be a way to do this. Who knows? I’d like to know what our Board of Supervisors and the mayors of Grass Valley and Nevada City suggest we do.
Dick Phillips is a resident of Alta Sierra
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