Low Income Housing for the $160,000 a Year Set
The Santa Barbara, California city council is considering building affordable housing for families making under $160,000 a year.
Now, “it’s hard to get sympathy for people making $160,000 a year if you’re down in Texas or something,” said Bill Watkins, head of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Economic Forecast Project. Any household with that kind of money is in the nosebleed section of American earners, and “most of the country would think, ‘You’re going to subsidize that person’s house? You’re kidding me.’” But in this city — where the median home price is around $1.2 million — that person needs help. And the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara is about to become the rare public housing agency to assist the well-heeled along with the poor, to build shelter for those whose business cards come in designer leather cases.
So, what does it mean when a city is down to its last vacant lot and must help build housing for some of the most financially comfortable people in America? Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino can’t decide which part surprises him more, the last lot or the helping hand. His working-class city is home to a chunk of its ritzy neighbor’s displaced workforce, men and women who have been priced out of the market 75 miles south. “I can hear the water swirling” down the drain, he said of Santa Barbara’s situation. “How do you retain or recruit policemen or firemen when the median home price is $1.2 million?”
In the DC area, it’s hard to find a decent single family home under $600,000 and a nice one runs upwards of $900,000. And that’s in the exurbs. In DC proper, McLean, Bethesda, Old Town Alexandria, and Chevy Chase, they’re much higher.
Still, cops and firefighters seem to manage to find domiciles. People either move into condos or townhouses or they commute from further out. When I was trying to find statistical data for median home prices here, I found a Realtor.com national survey. This area is listed as “Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.” West Virginia. That’s a 90 minute commute, minimum, each way to DC during off-peak times. Others drive out to Woodbridge or Stafford, Virginia or into the further reaches of Maryland, well outside of what would be considered reasonable commuting distance in most of the country.
That’s, as they say, life in the big city.
OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner contributed to this report.