|Census 1990||Census 2000|
(22) Census 2000 P1
Population growth, then, is not the most pressing issue on the Coast, at least not in the unincorporated areas. Indeed, some communities seem to be in decline.
Poverty, however, persists in the County, including on the Mendocino Coast. The median family income in California is $60,800. The median family income in Mendocino County is $42.168. The median family income in Fort Bragg is $36,000. (23) In Fort Bragg, approximately 29% of households are very low income and approximately 14% are low income. (24) This contrasts with Mendocino’s (95460) $60,000 median income. (25)
These contrasts are not new. Mendocino County has been, and remains a poor county, similar to other rural counties in California. The economy is of course changing. There is no point in romanticizing the past, however. Whatever the benefits of the traditional industries, fishing and timber in this case, communities in the West based on these industries have always been poor. The work was seasonal and dangerous; unemployment was always widespread. Anyway, there is no going back.
What is new is the growth of tourism and the influx of wealth. Jobs in the tourist and related industries replaced traditional employment, and these new jobs – in accommodation and retail sales - overwhelmingly pay low wages. They will not alleviate poverty; in fact, they may contribute to it. They certainly will be a factor in the widening gap between rich and poor on the Coast.
A footnote here: housing construction brings economic benefits. The construction of 1,000 single-family homes generates 2448 full-time jobs in construction and construction related industries; 79.4 million in wages and $42.5 million in combined federal, state and local revenues and fees. The construction of 1000 multifamily units generates 1,030 full-time jobs in construction and construction related industries, $33.5 million in wages, and $17.8 million in combined federal, state and local revenues and fees. (26)
Two other developments help explain the background to our housing crisis. The first is that a high percentage of our housing stock is owned by people who live elsewhere, that is, these homes are second, or vacation homes. Then, there are the large numbers of houses that are vacation rentals. These categories sometimes overlap and are difficult to disentangle. Real estate agents report that as much as 30% of the housing stock in the coastal area is used for vacation rentals; in some areas, Cypress Drive in Point Cabrillo, for example, the figure is over 50%.
A quick visit
to the offices of the specialists in vacation rentals is revealing.
Between them, Shoreline Vacation Rentals, Coast Getaways, Mendocino
Coast Reservations, Seacrest Properties, and Century 21 manage hundreds
of such properties. Most often, they rent for $300 per night, more
in the peak seasons. (27) The economics here are clear enough – $300
a night equals $2100 in a week, a high income, probably more than a
month’s rent from a steady tenant. Of course, there are expenses,
but there are also tax breaks and other incentives for landlords.
The title companies and the realtors also list the addresses of property owners. I looked at addresses for Mendocino and Caspar, 1603 in all. 584 – more than a third - of these were owned by absentee landlords, people and companies found elsewhere, often in the Bay Area but also throughout the country and a few places beyond. Once again, there will be an overlap with vacation rentals. Still, it is clear that a considerable portion of the housing stock is not available to those who would like to live and work on the Mendocino Coast.s
The second important local development is the changing demographic composition of the Coast, in particular the unincorporated areas. First, of course, is the natural aging process in the resident population, accompanied by falling birthrates and complicated by the fact that for younger people both jobs and housing are scare. But second, the Mendocino Coast has become a popular place to retire, particularly for well-to-do couples and individuals. This, again, helps to consume the existing housing stock and means that when new retirement homes are built, they are built at the high end of the scale, also driving housing prices upward.
The median age in the United States is 35.3. In Mendocino County it is 38.9 years. In Fort Bragg the median age is 40.9 years. In Mendocino (zip code 95460), it is 50.0 years. (28)
These figures relate to more than housing. Gary Evans, a member of the Mendocino United School District’s Board, found that in the School District, 81% of the residents were over the age of 45. 73% of the people had no children under the age of 18. Moreover, the results of his study revealed that the number of children in the District was in rapid decline. Comparing the 1990 and 2000 Census results, Evans found that in the Census tract 110 (the coast from just south of Fort Bragg to Elk), the decline in the age group 5 year olds was down 37.71%; the age group 5-9 year olds down 37.29%; the age group 10-14 year olds down 3.73%. The age group 65 and up increased by 19.05%. (29)
Thus, we see how housing relates to broader issues, and, in turn, how our housing crisis is also a crisis in education – there are rapidly declining enrollments in both the Fort Bragg and the Mendocino districts. In fact it is a community crisis.
The report of the Mendocino Coast Habitat for Humanity Conference summarized the situation this way: “The 90s brought great prosperity to enough people to put tremendous pressure on prices: remaining parcels and limber costs, driven by scarcity and demand, rose sharply. Tighter code enforcement, larger homes, more second homes and retirees in a global economy spiraled housing costs far beyond the means of those earning wages eroded by the replacement of well-paying jobs with service scales.” (30.)
Linda Ruffing, the Community Development Manager for Fort Bragg, speaking at the Supervisor’s Conference in Ukiah, explained what needed to be done. She reported that the state Department of Financing estimated that the population of Mendocino County would increase by 33,000 people in the next twenty years. She estimated that this would require 15,000 new housing units. Perhaps a third of this total would need to be built on the Coast. The Fort Bragg Housing element reported 54.5 acres of residentially zoned vacant land, which could accommodate approximately 555 dwelling units. Real Estate agents report that of these only a few parcels are actually for sale. In addition, the Fort Bragg housing element notes that there are significant housing needs still unmet from the 1993 Housing element. (31)
Yet the County’s coastal planning office shows fewer than five hundred new housing starts on the Coast since 1997 – and this includes mobile homes and the area all the way to the Sonoma County line. There were no permits issued for multi-family units on the North Coast, and the planner I spoke to said he knew of no affordable units built in his tenure of five years on the job. And, again, the new houses were overwhelmingly on the high end. I saw none smaller than 1000 square feet. (Habitat’s single-family homes in Fort Bragg are typically 800 to 900 square feet). Few were smaller than 2000 square feet and a significant number were over 3,000 square feet. In addition, there were several “trophy” homes, 5000 plus square feet. One bluff top resident received a permit to build a 1,000 square foot “accessory building” – a guest cottage and a three-car garage. (32)
Here we can consider the extent of affordable housing, that is, housing created specifically for low income and working class people.
There is a tradition of developing and maintaining decent, affordable housing on the Mendocino Coast. The Community Development Commission (CDC) manages 43 units of public housing in Fort Bragg – at Glass Beach, Sanderson Way and Sea cliff. The CDC also offers rental assistance, Section 8 vouchers, to eligible people. About 250 people use these vouchers on the coast, despite the fact that many landlords will not accept tenants with vouchers. CDC also owns subsidized rental units at Holly Ranch, 28 dilapidated apartments and family units North of Fort Bragg. The Rural Communities Housing Development Corporation (RCHDC) owns and manages Cypress Ridge, 48 units of senior housing in Fort Bragg. It also developed 27 self-help houses at Glass Beach and is attempting to purchase and renovate River Gardens, low income housing at 421 South Street. (34)
Habitat for Humanity
of the Mendocino Coast, Inc., has built ten “basic” homes
(in ten years) for low-income families in Fort Bragg. It has land for
an additional 5 or 6 homes, though a conflict with the city concerning
zoning has slowed plans. (35)
The Moura homes, also on South Street in Fort Bragg, offer affordable housing for seniors. These are now for sale. In addition, there are also subsidized housing units on Walnut Street. The Woods is the only facility for seniors in the unincorporated area, though it can not be considered affordable senior housing.
CDC and RCHDC have space for “in-fill” in Fort Bragg but there are no current plans to begin construction.
These organizations have the potential to take the lead in developing significant new affordable housing on the Coast, They can also partner with both non-profit and for profit organizations in the County and beyond – for example, Burbank Housing in Santa Rosa and Danco Builders in Arcata are both experienced builders with relevant experience for the North Coast – both sent representatives to the MC4 Housing Conference. However, as of now, there are no specific plans for future construction that I know of.
(It should be noted that the tradition of public housing and support for affordable housing – in particular HUD - has been undermined by years of federal and state policy favoring private development and home ownership. There is little sign of change coming in Washington, D.C., though Senator Burton’s housing bill, SB1227; a $2.1 billion affordable housing bond is very promising.)
Across the country, the initiative for affordable housing development
seems to be developing in the localities. This has been the case on
the Mendocino Coast.
There is considerable agreement that we have a housing crisis and the demand for affordable housing is growing. This was shown at MC4’s community meetings in Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Three major affordable housing conferences in the past two years have underscored the extent of the crisis. The League of Women Voters on the Mendocino Coast has decided to make affordable housing a priority in its work.
Here, we can summarize the key recommendations of these conferences. On March 1 and 2, 2001, Habitat for Humanity convened a meeting at Preston Hall in Mendocino. This well-attended conference brought housing advocates together for two days of discussion.
The Habitat conference recommended:
On October 18, 2002, the Mendocino Supervisors (along with other County agencies) convened a countywide housing forum at the Conference Center in Ukiah. One hundred and seven people participated. The conference consisted of two main panel discussions. The morning panel focused on problems related to the dearth of affordable housing, and the afternoon panel focused on solutions to this problem. Marc Brown, Co-Director, California Housing Law Project, Sacramento, and John Lowery, Executive Director, Burbank Housing, Santa Rosa, were keynote speakers.
The conference steering committee made the following recommendations:
The third conference was sponsored by MC4 and organized by the Mendocino Institute. Its goals were to build on the preceding conferences, to focus on the Mendocino Coast and to develop action plans.
Fifty people participated in the daylong conference at the College of the Redwoods, Mendocino Coast Campus. Local activisists were joined by Dianne Spaulding, Director of Non-Profit Housing of Northern California; Betty Pagett, Education Director of EAH Housing in Marin County; Rob Weiner, Director California Rural Housing Coalition, and John Lowry of Burbank Housing.
The Conference was organized as a roundtable discussion. In addition, there were two workshops: one on affordable senior housing, the other on the affordable housing in Caspar community.
began the conference with the statement, “Communities
that have done best have focused on production – increasing housing
The discussions that followed concerned how to initiate housing production and how to make new affordable housing units on the Coast a reality.
Conference recommendations included:
The Conference also stressed the importance of involvement in the development of the County Housing Element, the importance of encouraging the City of Fort Bragg and the County Supervisors to identify suitable land for affordable housing and to look into the possibility of rezoning timber land for affordable housing, as the timber companies begin to divest themselves of exhausted forests. One provocative idea was to approach Jackson Demonstration State Forest and CDF with the suggestion that heavily logged areas adjacent to coastal neighborhoods be converted to affordable housing developments. (38)
In addition, there were two proposals for immediate action: 1) find a buyer for the Moura property (senior housing) in Fort Bragg; 2) work with the Caspar Community to help develop plans for affordable housing in Caspar.
conferences all stressed the need for local action. Again, Dianne Spaulding
put it this way, “Engage local citizens. Take back local control.
wait for the government.”
The three conferences all stressed the need for organization and “political” action. We need to change the climate and make the production of affordable housing a priority – for the citizens of the Coast, for the County agencies, for community and business leaders, and for the elected representatives. We need to create the political will necessary for the production of affordable housing.
I want to suggest a perspective for doing this. But first there are several issues that need, briefly, to be clarified.
We need a definition of affordable housing; we need an understanding of the importance of rental housing; we need to know what housing trusts are; and, finally, we need to emphasize that affordable housing is a community issue - an indispensable foundation for sustainability in any community.
What is affordable housing? Policymakers say that housing is affordable when a family pays no more than 30% of its total income on rent and utilities, or if they own their own home, 30% on their mortgage payment, utilities, insurance and taxes.
This definition is widely used by local state and federal governments and recognizes that households must use their incomes to pay for other expenses such as food, clothing, health care, childcare and transportation.
When we use the term affordable housing we also mean housing that is affordable to people with low or moderate incomes. The definition of “low income” is established by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as a percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and varies region by region and by household size. (39)
Why rental housing? There is wider support for the development of single-family homes today than there is for the development of rental units. For a start, the federal government and federal housing funding prioritizes home ownership. This fits, of course, with our national culture; it is part, for better or worse, of the “American Dream.”
On the Mendocino Coast, many residents want places where their children – and all the young people who have grown up here - can live. They want affordable homes for teachers, artists, and “middle” class people. Others are worried about the impact of temporary neighbors on communities.
Home ownership has many advantages. But it also has risks. Today’s homeowners need to provide smaller down payments than people did as recently as the 1980s. Today’s buyers are often deeper in debt and susceptible to downturns in the economy. The loss of a house due to mortgage foreclosure creates a serious obstacle to obtaining credit subsequently and can cause a downward spiral for families on the financial edge.
Low-income home owners (80% or less of area median income) face substantial challenges. The upkeep and maintenance of the homes can easily surpass their financial capacity. Low-income owners tend to live in older houses that have more physical problems than other homes. Fifty-five percentof low-income homeowners have housing problems, including cost burdens, substandard housing, overcrowding, or some combination of these.
In addition, there are many people who prefer apartments, who want
rental housing: young people, students, seniors, individuals and families
who are living in our community temporarily.
While home ownership is an important opportunity for stability and wealth creation, policy development must also take into consideration the segment of the population for whom home ownership is not desirable. Policy proposals must recognize this and not come at the expense of rental housing. (40)
What are housing trust funds? There are now more than 250 housing trust funds in cities, counties ands states throughout the country. These funds secure a dedicated source of public revenue to support critical housing needs. They add a way to fund affordable housing by providing a continuing stream of funding that is not dependent on political tides and annual budget battles. Housing is so basic to the health of every American community that it deserves the kind of funding commitment a housing trust fund can provide.
Most housing trust funds are administered by a public or quasi-public agency because trust funds involve public funds. Local boards oversee this – representative boards of the housing community, including bankers, realtors, developers, non-profit organizations, housing advocates, environmentalists, service providers and low-income residents.
Created locally to address most critical housing needs – housing trusts decide what activities can be funded, what are the requirements and regulations, applicant eligibility – they provide loans and grants to eligible applicants. These typically include non-profit and for-profit developers, government entities, Native American tribes, and housing authorities. Some housing trusts provide rental assistance.
Housing trusts develop funding in varying situations – in Vermont affordable housing advocates joined with conservationists and created a housing/land trust. Sources of revenue include – tax credits, linkage programs, impact fees on non-residential developers, inclusionary zoning in lieu of fees, property taxes, real estate excise taxes hotel/motel taxes, document recording fees, sales taxes, developer fees, and real estate transfer taxes (41)
Finally, we need
to be clear why housing is “a community issue.” What
does this mean?
As an example, consider how housing affects our children. Children who live in substandard housing are more likely to suffer from debilitating conditions such as asthma and lead poisoning that can lead to learning and behavioral problems.
Children who live in poor housing conditions are also at greater risk for injuries and infectious diseases. Homelessness can be devastating on the mental and physical well being of a child. Frequent moves in search of stable, affordable housing also can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school.
And schools? The shortage of affordable housing is putting our schools in peril. It is already a factor in declining enrollments in both the Fort Bragg and Mendocino school districts. At the same time, it is difficult to recruit teachers and school staff to work in a place where there is a severe shortage of affordable housing.
But what kind of a community will we have without healthy children and quality schools? On the contrary affordable housing is a central part of any program to counteract poverty, maintain healthy families and create dynamic public schools. Along with rewarding employment, a good environment, proper health care, and fostering youth development, quality affordable housing plays an indispensable role in making any community truly healthy and sustainable.
There are other reasons. People on the Mendocino Coast value diversity, tolerance and independence. Some would prefer more of each. The threat to the people of the Mendocino Coast and their way of life comes not from the modest development of the affordable housing we need, but from developments already well underway – the development of a society without economic and ethnic diversity, a society with wide gaps between rich and poor, a society dominated by absentee owners and occasional residents, a society without the energy and creativity of children and young people.
To summarize, we need quality affordable housing that fits with and compliments our environment and our communities. We need temporary housing for the homeless and people in crisis. We need affordable multi-family housing and rentals. We need affordable senior housing. We need affordable homes for working families. And we need these throughout the Coast so that people can live where they work, where their children go to school and close to the health and social services on which they depend.
Cal Winslow for the Mendocino Institute
A Note on the Report
This report itself is a part of MC4’s project on affordable housing, a project that developed out of community forums held in Fort Bragg and Mendocino in 2001, where coastal citizens identified the crisis in affordable housing as one of their major concerns. As a result of these community forums, MC4, as one of its activities, began a project on affordable housing. The first step was to identify the key individuals and organizations on the Coast working in the area of affordable housing and then to gather information concerning the nature and scope of their activities (see Cal Winslow, “Affordable Housing on the North Coast: Advocates and Organizations,” MC4, November 2001) Second, MC4 organized a conference, inviting representatives of these organizations, plus local officials, representatives of the affordable housing movement in Northern California, and concerned citizens, with the purpose of sharing ideas and information and comparing problems and practice. The Conference also narrowed the focus of affordable housing to the Mendocino Coast – from Elk to Westport. This conference was held February 23, 2002 at the College of the Redwoods, Mendocino Coast Campus, in Fort Bragg.
The MC4 conference was charged with developing an action plan (see attached “Action Plan”), part of which involved the production of this report and a perspective for action. The MC4 Conference followed – and built on – two other important housing conferences. I have also attached the reports of these conferences: Habitat for Humanity’s “Working Together for affordable Housing,” (Preston Hall, Mendocino, March 1-2, 2001); The County of Mendocino’s Conference: “Housing in Mendocino County: The Next Endangered Species?” (Ukiah Conference Center, October 18 2001). In addition, I have attached a directory of housing organizations and advocates in Mendocino County and Northern California, as well as a list of websites that feature information on affordable housing.
A note on sources. The US Census 2000 includes considerable information concerning population, housing, incomes, family size, etc., all relevant to this discussion. There exists, however, considerable distrust concerning the accuracy of this information; in fact we are in the midst of a national debate on the purpose and future of the Census. This distrust is found among the census takers themselves, including those who worked in this area. They frequently report that their findings are unrepresentative of the communities they investigated. In addition, I have found that the statistics that appear concerning local communities are sometimes contradictory or at least inconsistent. Still, statistics quoted can be taken as estimates and used for comparative purposes as well as to help us establish trends. Moreover, a report from the Mendocino Council of Government is expected by the end of the summer, as is a draft of the County’s updated Housing Element. There will be no shortage of evidence. In any event, the suggestions in the conclusion of this report are not dependent on the absolute accuracy of the 2000 Census.
1. MC4 Conference Minutes
2. Mendocino County Continuing Care
3. Mendocino County Continuing Care
4. CDC Annual Report
5. Joe Curren, Senior Housing Market Report
6. MC4 Conference Minutes
7. US Census 2000
8. California Department of Finance
9. Mendocino Coast Association of Realtors
10. Mendocino Coast Association of Realtors
11. CDC Minutes, January 2002
12. National Low Income Housing Coalition, “Out of Reach”
13. California Department of Finance
14. National Low Income Housing Coalition
15. National Low Income Housing Coalition
16. National Low Income Housing Coalition
17. National Low Income Housing Coalition
18. National Low Income Housing Coalition
19. California Department of Finance
20. Mendocino County Housing Conference Report
21. US Census 2000, US Census 1990
22. US Census 2000
23. US Census 2000
24. Fort Bragg Housing Element
25. US Census 2000
26. National Low Income Housing Coalition
27. Realtors brochures and websites
28. US Census 2000
29. Gary Evans, “Demographics” (report in author’spossession)
30. Habitat for Humanity Conference Report
31. Mendocino County Conference Report. Fort Bragg Housing Element.
32. Mendocino County Coastal Planning files
33. CDC Annual Report
34. RCHDC Annual Report
35. Habitat for Humanity, information from Pat Dunbar
36. Habitat for Humanity Conference Report
37. Mendocino County Conference Report
38. MC4 Conference Minutes
39. National Low Income Housing Coalition
40. National Low Income Housing Coalition
41. National Low Income Housing Coalition
Community Development Commission of Mendocino County
Rural Communities Housing Development Commission
Habitat for Humanity of the Mendocino Coast
Ford Street Project
National Low Income Housing Coalition
Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California
California Coalition for Rural Housing
Rural Communities Assistance Corporation
EAH (Ecumenical Housing, San Raphael, Marin County)
Department of Housing and Community Development).
http://urbanpolicy.berkeley.edu/main.htm (Berkeley Center on Housing and Urban Policy)
http://www.dof.ca.gov (California Department of Finance)
http://www.hcd.ca.gov/ (Demographic Research Dept. HCD)
http://knowledgeplex.org (Fannie Mae knowledge base)
http://www.nlihc.org (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
http://www.realto.com (Realtor, MLS and Houses for sale info)
http://www.huduser.or (HUD databases)