Here’s what home buyers in California face today: High housing prices. High interest rates. High property taxes.
In other words, good luck trying to buy a house, especially if you’re just starting out.
Statistics tell the frustrating story: Today, only 15.5% of 25- to 35-year-olds own a home. In 1980, that figure was 39.4%, according to a UC Berkeley housing study.
In the 35-to-45 age group, 39.7% own a home now, compared to 64.4% in 1980.
Lack of desire to own a home accounts for part of that. But according to the study, “most of the gap follows from residents’ financial (inability) to afford a home in the state.”
Millennials and Gen Zs have every right to be angry, or at least resentful.
Instead, they’re doing something far more constructive: They’re organizing.
A CLASSIC BATTLE IN NIPOMO
Unfortunately, NIMBYism doomed many housing projects in the past. The California Legislature has since passed several laws meant to make it less cumbersome to build housing in California, yet there continues to be pushback, especially over large developments.
One such planning battle is playing out in the semi-rural community of Nipomo, located in southern San Luis Obispo County. Developer Nick Tompkins, a Central Coast native, is proposing one of the largest projects ever seen in San Luis Obispo County.
Called the Dana Reserve, it would include 1,318 housing units, from multi-family housing to high-end, single-family homes. There also would be parks and trails, a commercial center, a daycare facility, a site reserved for a satellite community college campus and another parcel set aside for a fire station.
Tompkins was given provisional approval to move forward with the project on Jan. 26, 2021, when the Board of Supervisors accepted the application for processing on a 5-0 vote. The project includes some subsidized housing to be built by a nonprofit developer, and Tompkins is offering a down-payment assistance program to help middle-income buyers who don’t qualify for affordable housing.
CONSERVATIONIST: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AN EITHER/OR SITUATION
Opponents say it’s the wrong location for a variety of reasons: It would destroy too much natural habitat, including 3,000 mature oak trees, increase traffic and put a strain on local schools. And while it would include some affordable units, there also would be 417 houses for 55+ buyers priced in the $1 million-and-up range.
Conservationists would prefer a smaller project — say 600-700 units — that would avoid nearly all the impacts on the oak woodlands, according to Neil Havlik, the retired natural resource manager for the city of San Luis Obispo. “Making housing versus environment an either/or proposition is a false choice,” he wrote in an email. “That is a choice that has led, for example, to filling in much of San Francisco Bay, or the clearing of many a forest. We can have housing AND environmental protection.”
Tompkins said such a significant reduction would not pencil out, since there would still be a need for major improvements such as streets, water and sewer lines, no matter the size of the project.
“Much of the infrastructure needs in Nipomo are fixed costs due to planned-but-delayed capital expenditures by multiple agencies,” he said. “These have to be met whether the number of homes is a few, or many.”
Opponents of the proposed Dana Reserve project in Nipomo object to cutting down 3,000 oak trees to make way for housing. PHOTO: David Middlecamp firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ‘HAVES’ VERSUS THE ‘HAVE-NOTS’
Opponents have passed around petitions, planted yard signs and at a town hall meeting, they showed up en masse wearing green T-shirts. That drew a reaction from 26-year-old Michael Massey, who supports the project: “The green shirts — meant to be a symbol for the opposition’s love of nature — quickly turned into a badge for the haves fighting against the interests of the have-nots,” he wrote in an email to The Tribune.
Massey is a Realtor, but he says his support for the project has nothing to do with his career. Rather, it’s about solving a “generational challenge.”
He’s forming an organization open to all ages, Generation Build, which he describes as a “pro-housing group that pledges to support pro-housing politicians and oppose anti-housing politicians, regardless of party affiliation.”
“I would love to see my generation continue to live here, raise families here … just like our parents did,” he said. “There just aren’t enough places for us.”
Michael Massey, 26, of Paso Robles has organized a group called Generation Build to support housing construction in San Luis Obispo County. PHOTO: The Tribune
YES IN MY BACKYARD
San Luis Obispo County — which is one of the most expensive housing markets in the state — also has a chapter of YIMBY Action, a national organization that lobbies for policies that will increase the housing supply.
SLO YIMBY has taken a keen interest in Dana Reserve. In a survey that drew 22 responses from members, 86% supported the project. The organization prioritizes infill projects, but it notes that Dana Reserve will provide community benefits that include water infrastructure, emergency services and daycare — in addition to housing. “The delivery method isn’t ideal,” the group wrote, “but under current circumstances, this is about as good as it gets.”
WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE MESS WE’RE IN?
The project is not ideal — no project ever is. Would it be better if it weren’t quite so large, were located in a less environmentally sensitive area, and included fewer high-end homes and more lower-priced units?
Absolutely, and there may still be room to negotiate for some changes. But the time to issue an outright denial was back in 2021, before the Board of Supervisors authorized moving forward with the project.
To backtrack now and say, “Oops, on second thought, we should never have encouraged this,” would be a travesty, and yet another example of the haphazard planning that got us into this mess in the first place.
Think about it.
How many acres of sensitive habitat have already been bulldozed in California? How many sprawling developments of luxury homes have been built without a thought given to affordability? How much time passed before we realized the path we were on was unsustainable? Had we been more judicious in the past, we would have more room for growth today. We all share in the blame. After all, we elected leaders at all levels of government who got us into this — and then failed to hold them accountable for not fulfilling their housing promises. It’s time to reverse course. We can start by paying attention to what YIMBYs have to say.