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Monterey County housing: the good, bad and indifferent

Monterey Herald logo Monterey Herald 11/30/2021 Dennis L. Taylor
Housing advocates point to what they see as the majority of homes being built are detached single-family homes when more affordable multi-family units are needed. (Tom Wright – Monterey Herald) © Provided by Monterey Herald Housing advocates point to what they see as the majority of homes being built are detached single-family homes when more affordable multi-family units are needed. (Tom Wright – Monterey Herald)

MONTEREY — Monterey County received mixed grades on meeting housing goals based on the number of building permits pulled across a swath of income levels, while home prices and rent are outstripping a significant section of the labor force.

In a story published Sunday, the Orange County Register looked at building permit data for every county in the state and compared them with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which determines how many housing units are needed.

Local governments within each region then divvy up the total number among all of the cities and unincorporated county areas. The Register then assigned letter grades to each county or city.

Monterey County excelled in two areas: low-income and above moderate-income housing, both scoring an “A.” But in meeting moderate-income housing the county as a whole dropped to a “D.” The grading does not take into consideration where housing is being built. Most of the affordable housing being constructed is in the Salinas Valley, but the need is for the workforce serving the Monterey Peninsula hospitality industry.

Most of the Peninsula is facing a crisis in affordable housing made worse by its inability to provide new water hookups because of a state order restricting water that has been over-pumped from the Carmel River and Seaside basin. And it’s finding itself pinched between two state agencies.

On one hand, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which establishes the goals set down in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers, is telling Peninsula cities to build more housing, particularly affordable housing. Another state agency, the California State Water Resources Control Board, is prohibiting water hookups for new housing of any kind.

Tyller Williamson, the founder of the Monterey Housing Coalition, which takes a regional approach to the Peninsula’s water woes, said on Tuesday that the coalition is working with state Sen. John Laird to try and work out a compromise between the two agencies.

For example, through various water conservation efforts, the Peninsula is using far less water now than it was when the water board slapped the cease-and-desist order on it for excess pumping. Those savings, Williamson believes, should be opened up to provide new hookups for the Peninsula to develop affordable housing.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board of directors agree, having asked the state to allow additional hookups based on the increased water efficiencies the Peninsula has instituted. But the state water board won’t budge. Compounding that is the fact that the cease-and-desist order will require California American Water Co. to severely curtail pumping by the first of the year.

Pure Water Monterey, a project of Monterey One Water, is processing wastewater into potable water, and with its planned expansion believes it can provide enough water to meet the Peninsula demand. But the expansion is still a couple of years out.

Government officials and housing advocates generally agree that all kinds of housing construction are needed but that the emphasis should be on affordable housing since prices have far outstripped the income of the average wage earner along the Peninsula. The Peninsula is and always will be a desirable place to live, Williamson said, so there will never be a shortage of market-rate homes.

The numbers bear out that jurisdictions are bowing to developers of those more expensive market-rate houses at the expense of low- and moderate-income housing.

Jurisdictions had permitted only 18% of the very low-income units they’d need to be on track to meet the Regional Housing Needs Assessment goals, 26% of the low-income units and 56% of the moderate-income units. It’s only the above-moderate-income housing where things are going well — jurisdictions have permitted 43% more units than they’d need to be on track and 16% more than they’ll need to meet their final goals, according to the Orange County Register’s research.

And in the words of columnist Dan Walters, writing for the nonprofit CalMatters, the political jousting between local jurisdictions and the state — like how the Monterey Peninsula is being pinched between two agencies — is turning into “a political war.”

Citing the shortage of housing that drives up housing prices and rents, the state has been pressing local governments, particularly cities, to encourage construction through zoning and pro-development policies. To make their point, legislators and governors have enacted new laws aimed at overcoming local not-in-my-backyard resistance to affordable housing projects.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta during the summer stepped up the pressure by creating a new 12-member Department of Justice task force that will, he said, more strictly enforce pro-housing laws.

In the CalMatters report, Bonta hinted at more lawsuits against cities that fail to meet state-imposed quotas for zoning land for housing, a strategy that has been used occasionally in the past, which is naturally not sitting well with cities.

“The comments made during the attorney general’s press conference, demonizing all cities for things they do not control, will not put roofs over the heads of Californians,” the League of California Cities’ executive director, Carolyn Coleman, said to CalMatters. “Cities do not build homes, and for years have endured whiplash from the state’s scattershot approach to passing housing laws that are often in direct conflict with each other and counterproductive to our shared goals to increase housing supply.”


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