The trap of 'affordable housing'

Our Opinion


It makes no sense, but under the banner of "affordable housing," the county's top housing officer wants to jack up taxes paid by home buyers.

Increasing the "documentary transfer tax" will drive up home prices for everyone and make the entire housing market an even more high-priced one.

Such repercussions don't matter to government leaders who have their eyes on more tax money to use on pet programs.

Unrelated to the documentary transfer tax, county housing officials also went before the Board of Supervisors this month to ask for an extra $37,000 during these leaner budget times. For what?

They want the money to pay for 70 random visits a year to residents living in below-market-rate housing created through government regulations.

County workers, with the help of sheriff's deputies, would determine if the residents actually are entitled to be in those units.

One of the many unintended consequences of inclusionary housing and other so-called affordable housing ordinances is the enforcement.

The $37,000 to pay for a year's worth of random visits would be just the beginning. Residences designated as affordable could have such restrictions for 45 or 90 years. This means government workers might have to deploy their Big Brother tactics on any below-market unit created today until 2094.

On the flip side, all this leads to the question of how many unqualified people right now are living in units illegally throughout the county. How many units are owners quietly renting out because they no longer want to live in them?

The enforcement matter comes up because recipients of inclusionary units often become trapped in their condominiums and town homes as they outgrow them. It's also difficult for them to move up in the housing market because of resale restrictions. When this happens, those who need housing the most then can't move in because current "owners" can't move up.

As local executive Pam Lopker recently wrote on these pages about employer-built below-market housing: "Is an employer providing workforce housing really doing his or her employees a favor by providing housing that does not appreciate at market-rate and requires you to move when you are no longer an employee? Is it fair that workforce affordable housing should be able to burden the community with below-market property taxes?"

All South Coast employers want affordable housing for their employees. Decades of local "no growth" government policies have denied countless residents home ownership and put South Coast employers at a competitive disadvantage. Some businesses have to move out or shut down. The burdens placed on the community by inclusionary zoning ordinances -- whether they be Big Brother checks intruding into the private lives of residents or the impact of changes on neighborhoods -- haven't been the subject of enough public discussion. Whether these regulations and controls really work to help those who need housing hasn't been the subject of enough analysis.

The Santa Barbara City Council, for example, has yet to give proper attention to what adding density and packing more housing in would mean for the character of our historic neighborhood around the old St. Francis Medical Center. The big development plan by Cottage Health System needs more scrutiny for the neighbors' sake.

The phrase "affordable housing" sounds great politically -- but what are the real costs to our community? Do the complex rules and regulations do more harm than good in helping meet our housing needs?

The burdens placed on the community by inclusionary zoning ordinances haven't been the subject of nearly enough public discussion.