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Where can employees afford to live locally?

• SCV leaders tackle workforce housing issue

Posted: May 9, 2008 2:17 a.m.
Updated: July 10, 2008 5:02 a.m.

The Valley Industrial Association held a symposium Wednesday to address workforce housing in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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As transportation and housing concerns continue to be major issues in the Santa Clarita Valley, local leaders gathered to brainstorm ways to incorporate affordable housing to the local area during the Valley Industrial Association's symposium.

The Workforce Housing Symposium, held Wednesday at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Stevenson Ranch, brought together 40 builders, developers, political leaders, nonprofit sector representatives and city officials to take part in roundtable discussions.

Kathy Norris, CEO and president of VIA, said creating local workforce housing stems from the needs of local employers, who make up VIA's membership.

"It's a real need on the part of employers here," she said.

She believes that the lack of workforce housing has caused local employers to run into difficulties in finding and retaining a skilled workforce.

Norris wanted Wednesday's symposium to be a way for VIA to create a path, and eventually an organized task force, to establish workforce housing.

The 40 symposium participants, which she called "stakeholders," were invited to offer their opinions and thoughts on affordable housing.

At each of the five tables, an appointed facilitator guided the conversation between the seven or eight members who answered questions about what agencies should be involved in crafting a workforce housing plan, how the resources to establish affordable housing would be acquired and the necessary organizational structures.

After the hour of brainstorming, the groups broke up to discuss a plan of action for workforce housing.

One of the tables was led by Bill Kennedy, city planning commissioner and principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, who questioned his group on the topic of who would be involved with establishing a workforce housing plan.

Taking turns, Richard Galway of Magna Realtors and the SCV Committee for Habitat for Humanity, elaborated on the city, county and state agencies necessary, while later on Larry Rasmussen of Spirit Properties explained the needs of developers and builders when it comes to taking risks with workforce housing.

Navigating through the questions, one topic involved addressing the stereotypes and stigma associated with workforce housing and the people who would be against affordable housing.

During Kennedy's introduction to the crowd, he outlined the reasons why affordable housing is needed in the local area, especially as housing has "outpaced workers' salaries."

He saw the goal of the symposium as a way to bring the city's creative and strong leaders together to "build a model that fits us."

Also during introductions, Rodney Fernandez, executive director of Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, gave examples of other cities in California that have addressed the need of workforce housing.

"You are not alone," he said, later adding, "There are models out there."

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