County officials want to spend $150 million on revamping office buildings. We should spend that money on affordable housing instead.

107929-fullCredit: SCPR

The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced a proposal last week to renovate and replace a set of aging county office buildings in Santa Ana’s Civic Center. The price? $150 million…and that’s just for the first phase of construction.

But if you walked outside one of those old office buildings, you’d see a bigger problem: homelessness.

Santa Ana’s Civic Center is home to one of the largest homeless encampments in the county, a place that an estimated 500 people call “home.” According to the Orange County Community Foundation, more than 12,000 homeless men, women and children live in OC.

I understand the conditions county employees deal with by working in old, dilapidated office buildings. But I think the right thing to do would be to invest those $150 million into constructing and maintaining affordable housing. Not only would we be helping thousands of people, but we’d be improving our economy by doing so.

The “Backbone” of The Luxury Economy

DSC00700-1024x575Source: PRI

Orange County is a land of abundance and wealth, with scenic coastlines and million-dollar homes. A 2014 CNBC report listed two Newport Beach communities, Pelican Hill and Cameo Shores, in the top 10 richest neighborhoods in the United States. Figures show that Orange County, as a whole, does better economically than the rest of the country.

For this reason, the county ranked among the nation’s 10 most expensive counties for renters, according to a Kennedy Commission report. Not just in the area’s coastal regions, but throughout the county.

Low-paid service workers are the backbone of the luxury economy that allows the area to thrive. They’re the cooks in the kitchen, they’re the construction workers, they’re the gardeners.

And they’re having trouble paying rent.

Why we need more affordable housing.

homeless-motel-kids-spSource: PopMatters

According to research from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 58.5 percent of renters in L.A./OC metro area spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2014. That’s not a good thing, considering that most financial experts advise that your rent should generally be no more than 25 percent of your gross monthly salary.

A Kennedy Commission report also found that you would have to make $31.62 an hour in order to live comfortably and afford a two-bedroom unit that costs $1,664 a month.

Are most service workers making $31.62 an hour? Probably not. So families will live together to survive. It is common in Santa Ana to see 5 to 7 people sharing a one bedroom apartment.

Because of these high rent costs, low income families who fall into hard times can face food insecurity and homelessness.

Lack of affordable housing drags down the economy.

la-fi-report-orange-county-housing-shortage-co-001Source: Los Angeles Times

According to Mike Balsamo of the Building Industry Association of Orange County, nearly 120,000 more affordable rentals are needed to house families in Orange County.

“Failing to act means more crowded housing, longer commutes to jobs, and makes California a less-desirable place to live,” said Balsamo. “That, in turn, makes it more difficult for companies to hire and retain qualified employees, and ultimately drags down California’s economic potential.”

In addition to building and maintaining affordable housing, the county could invest money into helping the county’s homeless population get back on their feet, with education and job placement programs, rental subsidies and programs to help families find housing.

I think it’s time we step back and see the lack of affordable housing as a critical issue, not just for the county’s low income residents, but for the community as a whole.

More investment into affordable housing can help fix these housing crunches and enable more working families to thrive in Orange County.

Originally posted 2016-04-12 21:57:55.

Join the Conversation!