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Ask the Expert

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Many can’t afford to live here

Panel examines affordable housing in Santa Clarita

Posted: September 16, 2008 9:23 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.
 

More than half the people who work in the valley can't afford to live here.

That's the challenge facing local civic leaders who want to keep Santa Clarita Valley's economy stable.

"Over 50 percent of the 40,000 employees employed in the Valencia Industrial Center don't live in Santa Clarita," said Julie Weith, Valley Industrial Association chairwoman.

Her figures do not include the number of retail workers, teachers and skilled laborers who don't live locally because they are hard to count.

Charlie Gill, Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce chairman, said the lack of affordable housing could one day deter major companies and corporations from relocating to the Santa Clarita Valley.

"This workforce is the backbone of our community," he said.

Weith and Gill were part of a five-person affordable housing panel that addressed civic leaders at the VIA's luncheon Tuesday at the Hyatt Valencia.

As complicated as the issue can be, the challenge of creating affordable housing in Santa Clarita is as old as capitalism.

"The cost of housing is driven by supply and demand," said Paul Brotzman, director of community development for the city of Santa Clarita.

While much of the discussion focused on the logistics of affordable housing, Brotzman offered a snapshot of affordable housing units in the city, which account for 6.5 percent of all housing.

Last week, the Santa Clarita City Council voted to loan $2.7 million to Mercy Housing, a nonprofit group, for their efforts in buying and rehabilitating the Hidaway Apartments in Canyon Country. Mercy will convert 66 of 67 units to affordable housing, Brotzman said.

Two other projects, including one "Meta Senior Mixed Use Project" for seniors in downtown Newhall, are also in the works.

Regardless of state guidelines and requirements for affordable housing, Holly Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association, said the cost of housing is still market driven.
Yet people often discuss a home in personal terms.

"They lose sight of the reality that we are operating in a business environment," she said.

Schroeder said the demand is currently outpacing the supply of homes at an affordable price. "Even in the current downturn, there is a fundamental under supply in our region," she said.

Nevertheless, housing is an "extraordinarily regulated enterprise," Schroeder said.

With that, making a housing project a reality can take up to 10 years and involves many types of hurdles, ranging from land use regulation to fees.

Jack Shine, chairman of the board for Habitat for Humanity in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, said it is going into escrow on two Lyons Avenue properties in Newhall. The organization's hope is to create a "mini-neighborhood" of more than a dozen homes that would qualify as affordable housing.

Fred Arnold, president of the California Mortgage Brokers Association and American Family Funding, said workers should understand home buying options to avoid another mortgage meltdown.

"Number one, we need to educate employees," he said.

Another solution is moving people into foreclosed homes, he said.

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