SPECIAL REPORT: Lack of housing development on the Central Coast

Central Coast housing crisis

CENTRAL COAST, Calif. - It's on on-going issue on the Central Coast - housing. It's a complex problem and one that keeps resurfacing.

Not enough homes are being built to keep up with the demand.

Housing prices on the Central Coast are at an extreme high. Local developer William Silva noticed that and worked to bring affordable houses into Salinas.

"Small lots, single family homes in the low 300,000's," Silva said of the project. "That was the goal, that's what I was working towards."

It was a concept that the local developer worked to build on a vacant Salinas property.

"The affordable housing component was a significant obstacle," Silva said.

Monterey County requires home developers include a portion of affordable housing with each project but, Silva says that requirement is what put the brakes on his project.

"I was trying to create market rate units that were very near affordable on their own," Silva said. "There wasn't enough margin in those to take a loss on those and subsidize the other units."

Silva has developed many projects on the Central Coast and says he's used to the hurdles that come with developing a new one.

He was the first developer to work on Marina's East Garrison Project. Another company ended up finishing it.

"It took us 12 years to get our approvals by the time we got our approvals, we started construction," Silva said. "I had gone from having no kids to having four kids."

Santa Cruz County is also facing a housing crisis, the number of permits over the years has dropped from nearly 3,000 in 1991 to just over 200 last year.

One of the most recent housing developments to come out in Santa Cruz County is the St. Stephens Senior Housing Development. The planning department worked with a non-profit housing provider to finish this project. So aren't there more projects like it coming out of Santa Cruz County? The planning director says there just isn't enough land.

"There's not all that much literally just vacant land," said the Santa Cruz County Planning Director Kathleen Molloy Previsich. "We have some underutilized land."

Previsich says property owners will usually only sell land at high prices, not much of an incentive for developers.

"They still want to have a profit at the end of the day," Previsich said.

In Santa Cruz County, developers face a lot of paperwork and a series of steps involving the planning department. That review can be significant hurdle.

Some on the Central Coast are leery of new development.

Priscilla Walton is president of the Carmel Valley Association. A dispute over redevelopment in Carmel Valley played out involving a former golf course. Earlier this year, the Carmel Valley Association sued the County of Monterey. Affordable housing was front and center in that dispute.

"I certainly want to dispel the notion that the Carmel Valley Association is some kind of a 'Not in my backyard' organization," Walton said. "What we're really focused on is maintaining rural lifestyle and characteristics and the resources of this valley."

Despite the many challenges, Santa Cruz County welcomes new proposals.

"We're never going to have supply and demand meet but, we can continue to work to make sure that we've got places for employees and the workforce to live," Previsich said.

Though William Silva's project failed this time he too still has hope.

"The way to provide affordable housing is to allow development," Silva said. "But to direct it into the right places and the right type of development."

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