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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 15, 2004 15 years ago

10 Difficult Steps to More Housing

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Sarasota and Monterey County, Calif., face similar affordable housing problems and solutions.

10 Difficult Steps to More Housing

Monterey County, Calif., is a lot like Sarasota County. South of the San Francisco Bay area, what was once an agriculture-dominated area is becoming increasingly urbanized and growing. Monterey County's total population is about 415,000. Sarasota County's population by contrast is about 350,000. The median price of a home in Monterey is $265,800. And like Sarasota, Monterey County has an increasing housing affordability problem.

Not only is there this fact - 85% of workers in Monterey County need housing priced at $376,000, but 50% of the homes there sell for nearly $400,000. All you have to do to understand Monterey's affordable housing problem is to read the principles enumerated in its comprehensive plan. It's like reading Sarasota County's comp plan.

Worried about the shortage of affordable housing and growth, Monterey's elected supervisors, like Sarasota County's, hired some consultants to help the county update its 1979 comprehensive plan. The consultants said Monterey County should:

× Ensure development pays its way for public services;

× Control the phasing of development to maintain a balance of housing and jobs;

× Offer incentives to encourage below-market rate housing;

× Invest in economic development to attract higher-paying jobs

× Support basic education and workforce training.

Sound familiar?

Once these recommendations became public, Monterey County's version of Dan Lobeck protested. He said the county should address growth and housing as follows:

× Slow down growth;

× Stop low-density suburban development and focus growth in existing urban areas;

× Disallow development before infrastructure is available.

× Require affordable housing.

Blah, blah, blah. Same stuff we hear in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

To bring some sanity to this madness, four economists from San Jose State University analyzed Monterey County's land-use laws and the recommendations of the county's consultant. Their conclusion: The county supervisors and consultant have it all wrong. In a paper released this summer, they wrote:

"The 'solution' of limiting development directly contradicts the housing affordability goal. Land-use regulations that limit development drive up housing costs and hurt the poor. Affordable housing mandates are incapable of solving the housing affordability problem and actually make it worse for the vast majority of home buyers."

When will this sink in?

More important, when, in Sarasota County, will business leaders and business owners - including homebuilders, Realtors, chambers of commerce and Argus Foundation leaders (Kerry Kirschner can't do it alone!) - ever rise up and take a stand against the big-government, anti-property rights agenda that is dominating our local governments?

It may not seem like a crisis, but it's quickly moving toward one - a crisis of Sarasota County earning the distinction of becoming the USSRS, the United Soviet Socialist Republic of Sarasota.

Last week, we wrote how Sarasota County's current supposed affordable housing problem - yes, "supposed" - is a result of Milton Friedman's law of unintended government consequences: One law designed to fix a problem begets another law, etc., etc. And we said this week we'd follow up with 10 steps to help resolve Sarasota County's affordable housing issue. Here goes:

1. The business community must rise to the forefront with a sustained media campaign that promotes the social and economic benefits of population and economic growth. The benefits far, far outweigh the negatives. This would include reminding all of the anti-growth troglydytes of the negatives of restricting growth, including how that will increasingly drive away business and increase the tax burden on homeowners. This is happening now.

2. The business community's proxies - chambers of commerce, Boards of Realtors, and associations - should quit waffling and educate voters in all local, county and legislative elections the positions of candidates on growth and property rights. Voters should be informed of which candidates favor increased centralized government and controls on property rights. If there is a dearth of discourse in this area, it's a dearth of hearing about the benefits of development and growth. Again, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. And the rank and file voters need to hear that again and again.

3. Allow all development that is willing to provide its own infrastructure and services. "The private provision of infrastructure and services through homeowners' associations and other private arrangements has a long and successful history," the San Jose professors wrote. "Allowing all development that will provide its own services will increase the stock of housing and improve home affordability without negatively affecting government finances." All you have to do is look at Lakewood Ranch. There's proof.

4. Go east. Eliminate the farcical boundary of development. Let development go as far east as it wants to go. A boundary makes no sense if a property owner is willing to pay what it takes to provide services. If you read the San Jose State economists' analysis, they show how rural development is less costly to local governments than infill!

Most people would gasp at the idea of opening the entire county to development, but why? The environment? That's a canard.

5. Quit buying public land. The largest landowner in Sarasota County is the public/government. This is contributing to the affordable housing problem. We hear from county commissioners and county staffers about the horribly high costs of land. Duh? If county taxpayers are buying the largest amounts of acreage and restricting developable land, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude what will happen to the price of land and housing.

6. Reject all government initiated affordable housing schemes - inclusionary zoning, affordable housing trust funds, etc. They don't work. The San Jose study notes: "Approximately 50 Bay Area jurisdictions currently have affordable housing mandates, yet, the average Bay Area city produces only 15 affordable units per year after adopting an ordinance."

7. Ask the business community to fund and appoint a blue-ribbon committee of free-market economists to analyze Sarasota County's land-use laws and recommend which ones should be trashed and how the laws should be reformed.

8. Remove height restrictions. They make no sense, especially when there's all this squawking about a shortage of affordable housing. Here's the irony: Out of one side of their mouths, so many of our elected officials campaign for stopping sprawl. Out of the other side, they want restrictions on building heights. You can't have it both ways.

9. Quit talking about "controlled" and "managed" growth. The minute we turn to government to manage growth, we end up where we are, tangled in a web of special-interest-driven public policies that make things worse than they otherwise would be. Sarasota County commissioners and County Administrator Jim Ley believe governments exist to balance everyone's interests. But we know how that works. The guy with the loudest mouth or most money gets most of the balance. Which leads us to step 10:

10. Trust the market place. It's smarter, more compassionate and more efficient than any of us.

MONTEREY COUNTY'S COMP PLAN SOUNDS FAMILIAR

Here are some of the key principles enumerated in Monterey, Calif.'s 1979 land-use plan. They have a familiar sound to policies here.

Managed growth and orderly development are essential to proper utilization of land in Monterey County.

Growth must be planned only where there is provision for adequate public services and infrastructure.

Urban growth should occur within cities and city growth areas, except where new areas of development concentration are designated by the county.

Premature and unnecessary conversion of areas outside cities and city growth areas should be discouraged and densities should be low.

A goal of the county is to develop a proportionate share of affordable housing for low and moderate income families. To achieve this, higher residential densities in urban areas are needed.

Development applications should receive careful review to ensure general plan consistency.

Agriculture continues to be the basis of the county's economy, and productive farmland must be preserved due to its extraordinary high resource value.

The first priority for accommodating growth will be to infill within existing urban areas, then to develop areas immediately adjacent to urban areas¦

Source: www.rppi.org/index.shtml; 21st Century Monterey County General Plan Public Review Draft, January 2004

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