Half Moon Bay Review - Editorial by Supervisor Warren Slocum - 11/30/16.
The housing crisis currently facing San Mateo County and the region is often positioned as a series of alarming numbers. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the county welcomed 54,600 new jobs but developers built a mere 2,100 housing units. The median household income in the county is $108,088, but affording a median-priced home requires $205,965. A county renter needs to earn at least $88,903 to afford an average two-bedroom apartment.
What this adds up to is a situation reflected by numbers that affect more than just those families and individuals trying to find and maintain a place to call home. A 2016 poll found that 34 percent of those surveyed are likely to leave the Bay Area in the next few years and only 38 percent of our residents actually work here, too. The same poll also noted that 62 percent of existing jobs in the county are filled by non-county residents, which means heavier congestion on our roadways and a greater impact on the longevity of this vital infrastructure.
As we work to put our arms around the growing chasm between jobs and housing, the task can feel daunting. Or worse, the laundry list of frightening numbers can be numbing. It can feel like yet another median house price hike or just the last swelling in percentage points on an affordability index. Yes, we all recognize there’s a crisis at hand, but we don’t necessarily feel firsthand its human ramifications.
And yet, we do. How many of you recently sent your children to the beginning of another new school year and noted that some familiar faces on the staff are now gone, as teachers move to new locations where their salary isn’t stretched so thin? The Loma Fire hit close to home and the Bay Area has recently seen a spate of small temblors. How long are you willing to wait for our first responders to travel over the highways and bridges from their out-of-county homes to help protect yours here?
The county, its cities, housing advocates and other stakeholders speak in numbers because that helps us quantify the scope of this mountain we must conquer. But we also understand that the faces and stories of the individuals affected help us to qualify it. These are the stories of those teachers and firefighters who might not be “us” but certainly improve the quality of our lives and community by virtue of who they are and the services they contribute. These are the front-page articles about highly paid workers and public servants who feel forced out. These are the seniors who deserve the dignity of remaining in their homes rather than living each day in fear of the next rent increase or eviction.
There is not just one solution. This expansive view is what steered the countywide Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Taskforce to develop a menu of options for individual cities and jurisdictions to consider. Under the new umbrella of Home For All San Mateo County, the effort is now focused on cutting through the mounds of data to the heart of the problem and providing online tools to help visitors grasp the magnitude of the problem. We also continue to hold important events like Housing Leadership Day where thinkers and policy makers come together to brainstorm solutions and share best practices.
But the bottom line is you, your willingness to be compassionate and your motivation to participate in the discussion and resolution. All the data in the world won’t mean a thing without the public’s collective will to bridge the current divide. If we don’t work together now and in the future, our days as a livable, sustainable and welcoming community are numbered.
Warren Slocum is a San Mateo County supervisor.