Nevada County’s Habitat for Humanity organized a town hall Thursday to discuss ways to provide safe, decent and affordable housing to those in need — namely women and children.
State Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, Nevada County District 4 Supervisor Sue Hoek, Grass Valley Council member Hilary Hodge, Nevada City Council Member Daniela Fernandez and Habitat’s Executive Director Lorraine Larson discussed potential projects and those already underway during the meeting.
“I can’t tell you how many calls we get here at Habitat every day from primarily women saying, ’I don’t know what to do, I can’t afford this home, I’ve got my children and I’m chasing rent,’” Larson said.
Larson said 60% of the people who occupy the homes constructed by Habitat for Humanity in the area are single mothers.
Larson said the inflated price of homes for sale in the area combined with the limited number of available rental units are why the rural region’s leaders need to take action.
“In a rural county where you would expect (living) to be less expensive, the median home price is $567,000, but homes are selling at close to $600,000,” Larson said.
The low rental inventory is an issue for all in the region, Larson said, but poses specific challenges to women who face economic and gendered discrimination as single mothers.
“Some of our working moms have expressed that even though there are rentals out there, they feel they’re not considered as a primary renter or may be chosen because of having children, so that’s a big concern,” Larson said.
Larson said the historically male politicians who attempted to tackle the housing crises through policy were unable to understand the particular experience of women, specifically single mothers.
Dahle, whose district includes Nevada County, said she believes construction needs to be deregulated altogether to give developers the freedom to build as many units as needed.
“We would need to build 3.5 million units by 2025, just to meet the current demand,” Dahle explained, adding that the goal feels particularly lofty because of the downward trend in issued building permits since spring 2019 was exacerbated by the pandemic.
“In 2020, construction of single-family residences are down 24% from the year before, and multi-family unit construction was down 41% from the year before,” Dahle said. “We were in a housing crisis before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated things significantly.”
Dahle said that local-driven, commonsense regulations are necessary to speed up the process and reduce the price of construction of new living units.
“I had a bill to remove the solar mandate in areas with high snow loads, because if your roof is covered in snow, it’s not working,” Dahle said. “If it doesn’t work in your area, it doesn’t work.”
Dahle also mentioned that a portion of her district is required to include sprinklers in the design of new homes even though the region’s pipes freeze.
Hoek, a Nevada County supervisor, said the discussion around commonsense regulations needs to be nuanced because of how fire prone the Sierra Foothills are.
Dahle said the the cost of living was high in California and attributed that to high taxes and cost of utilities.
“California has the highest state sales tax, second highest gas tax and the highest top rate for personal income tax,” Dahle said.
Dahle said her connections at private construction companies believe the region needs to fortify the knowledge and size of its current workforce.
Hodge, a Grass Valley councilwoman, said there are three different populations affected by different facets of the California housing crises — the 150,000 homeless, the 7.1 million in poverty and the younger, middle class most poised to purchase a home if not for out-of-reach prices.
“In the late 1960s the average California home cost about three times the average household income,” Hodge said. “Now, it costs more than seven times what the average household makes. While lower income Californians have struggled to afford the state for decades, the term ”housing crisis“ and its attendant publicity really only came into vogue after richer Californians started considering moving to Austin or Portland or Las Vegas.”
Hodge said considering all dimensions of the crises is important, so appropriate outreach to communities also struggling with addiction and mental illness can be addressed.
Hoek and Dahle agreed that the regulations imposed by the California Environmental Quality Act can be cost prohibitive.
Nevada City Council member Daniela Fernandez said she was excited for the projects already underway in the region, including the 28 units set to be built off Brunswick Road, and the Cashin’s Field Project — 51 apartment units on a four-acre lot in the Seven Hills District.
“We do collaborations with the Regional Housing Authority. I’m super excited,“ Fernandez said. ”Construction is expected to be completed in summer 2022.“
Larson said she is looking forward to creating a group of activated advocates for housing on a systemic and personal level to offer support those in need in the region.
By Rebecca O’Neil @ The Union