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Kudos to VIA on Workforce Housing Symposium

Posted: May 14, 2008 3:30 a.m.
Updated: July 15, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Responding to an increasingly acute shortage of affordable housing for employees in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Valley Industrial Association gathered about 40 local builders, developers, manufacturers, political leaders, nonprofit sector representatives, transportation experts, utility representatives, educators and city officials last week to take part in what the VIA called a Workforce Housing Symposium.

The symposium was called to brainstorm ways to make sure people who work in the SCV can afford to live closer to their jobs.

While civic and business groups like VIA and the SCV Chamber of Commerce continue efforts to bring higher-paying, skilled jobs to the valley, employers already operating here are having trouble finding and retaining skilled workers who can afford to live in market-value housing.

Even with the recent downturn, housing prices are still outpacing wage increases, noted by Bill Kennedy, planning commissioner for the city of Santa Clarita and principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, during his introductory remarks.

According to VIA, 15 percent of the people who work in the SCV can't afford to live here; they commute from more affordable areas, mostly the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. The rise in gasoline prices is putting additional pressure on these commuters.

The shortage of affordable housing for employees in the SCV is hardly a new issue; balancing the area's residential and business growth has long been a challenge.

We applaud VIA's concerted effort to create a path, and eventually an organized task force, to address the issue.

It's not like we need to reinvent the wheel. Guest speaker and symposium participant Rodney Fernandez, executive director of the for-profit Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation based in Ventura, outlined a number of public-private partnerships already working in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and larger California cities, including San Jose and Santa Monica.

Once launched, the task force would fashion a model that's tailored to our local situation, including factors in the area's anticipated population growth.

As far as who may lead the local charge, one idea that received support from several sides at one table - including manufacturer/employer, housing developer, college educator, local Realtor, financial expert and media - was the combination of a nonprofit community development corporation with a for-profit organization of financial stakeholders, including banks and investors.

Such a coalition would combine the transparency and accountability of a nonprofit with the bottom-line business sense of a profit-making venture.

As Fernandez noted, development of affordable housing can be a profitable investment opportunity; it just takes a more creative approach to partnerships and financing.

This kind of development also needs support from the public, some of whom may still perceive such housing as rows of shacks used by migrant workers. It's not like that today, and updating public perception is one of the keys to countering NIMBY-ism and winning community support.

The models Fernandez outlined show it's indeed possible to develop workforce housing that is as attractive as market-value housing, especially when an area has a balanced mix of both housing types.

We laud VIA and the symposium participants, and encourage the community to support this effort as well.


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