We Need More Market-Rate Housing

I recently attended a meeting where the Adventist Health Ukiah Valley CEO, Jason Wells, announced his plan to recruit 30 new physician specialists as soon as possible. One of his biggest challenges is the lack of appropriate, market-rate housing for physicians and their families. He noted that when the fire in Paradise, California displaced many doctors, many of those doctors came to Ukiah looking for a new start. Even though the doctors liked our community, our hospital, and the professional opportunities here, they couldn’t find anywhere to live, so they left.

Something has to be done about our lack of housing—and not subsidized housing, but market-rate housing. In the past 15 years or so, we’ve probably built five subsidized housing units for every market-rate residence. We need housing at every price point, not just housing for low-income people.

As I am writing this column, I see that the City of Ukiah is hosting a meeting to ask for public input on long-term land use planning. I wish I could publish this column in time for everyone to attend.

While I appreciate the City’s interest in public opinion, the City has very little vacant land available for new housing. However, the City’s sphere of influence could change. Right now, it is from ridgetop to ridgetop (east to west) and from Highway 20 to just south of Hwy 253. If the city could expand its utility services outside the current city limits, it would be easier to build more houses. That would require the City to annex land from the County of Mendocino.

Annexation requires approval from the City, the County, and the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO). LAFCO says, and rightly so, that the City and County must have a tax-sharing agreement in place for the City to annex land. Unfortunately, as major retail development has occurred, the balance of power has shifted. When Costco was planning to build in the unincorporated part of Mendocino County, county officials had little incentive to share tax revenues with the City of Ukiah. When Costco ultimately landed within the city limits, the City of Ukiah wasn’t compelled to share its new windfall with the county. Candidly, I cannot imagine a situation that would bring both sides to the table on a tax-sharing plan.

But back to the overriding topic of our housing shortage: if we want to see more professional people like doctors move to Ukiah, there must be places for them to live.

All of us need to express our desire for market-rate housing to our elected officials in the strongest possible terms. There is an election for county supervisors this March. Let’s demand more than platitudes about how we need more housing. Let’s ask them specifically what they plan to do to create more market-rate housing in the near term.

Right now, we sure don’t make it easy for developers to build here, and waiting for individuals to build enough custom homes to meet market demand will ensure that we miss out on more opportunities to recruit the sorts of professional people we need in Ukiah.

I was talking with folks who want to build housing subdivisions in Ukiah, Vineyard Crossing on Lover’s Lane and Bella Vista (formerly called Garden’s Gate) south of town.  The process is painfully slow, and the slow nature of the process is an expense in itself. On Vineyard Crossing alone, the developers have spent approximately $700,000 so far in studies, zoning changes, and planning to get the project approved, and they don’t even own the property yet. On the $2 million invested where Bella Vista will eventually be built (hopefully), the developer incurs conservatively $10,000 every month in opportunity cost. Although subdivisions require some state-level approvals, local elected officials can help pave the way. Let’s demand that they do so.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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