Das Replies to Sheila: We Need "Affordable," High-Density Housing in Car-Free Neighborhoods. Fast.
(Editor's note: Earlier this week, Newsmakers published an open letter from former Mayor SheiIa Lodge to Supervisor Das Williams, critiquing his recent public comments, lambasting the city of Santa Barbara's planning process as an obstacle to building new housing at the necessary speed and scope. He asked for equal space so today we're publishing his response).
By Das Williams
I wanted to take the time to respond to former Mayor Lodge's letter to me about the housing crisis. I am heartened that my comments have prompted a community discussion because it's clear to me that the housing crisis is one of the greatest threats our community faces today.
Let's start with the facts. The housing market in Santa Barbara, which saw a 34 percent increase in median apartment rent price in just one year, is eliminating the ability for young people, our children and grandparents, and people of color, like myself and many others who work here, to live here.
This crisis is also threatening our environment and accelerating climate change by forcing our workforce to leave our community and make super-commutes in gas-powered cars.
For the first time in decades, oil drilling is no longer the biggest source of pollution in our County – that dubious honor has been claimed by oil burning, in the form of gas-powered transportation.
Over the last 50 years, our community continued to grow more prosperous, as new forms of economic growth created more jobs. However, production of new homes all but stopped. Until recently, Santa Barbara did not approve a single new private apartment unit for 40 years.
But we all share the blame. SBCAG's analysis found that the County, as well as all South Coast cities, are far behind the curve when it comes to approving enough housing to meet the needs of our residents.
AUD program is not enough. Now today, more rental housing is being built across all cities and the unincorporated area on the South Coast, thanks to initiatives like Santa Barbara's AUD program, and new state legislation.
It may seem like the modest amount of new units aren’t making enough of a difference in prices. But it will take more than a few hundred units to correct the rental market after policymakers have starved the market of new housing for decades.
So we must make strides to meet our state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) housing goals, not try to thwart them.
Our best chance at meeting this need, and addressing the crisis of climate and affordability is high-density housing in downtowns and commercial areas near transit. We have the generational opportunity to create new neighborhoods that are car-free, and affordable to working people.
I understand the desire that Mayor Lodge expresses to bring opposing sides together in compromise. But the people who need our help most – young, working people, and seniors – are often not at the table for discussions about housing, and are left out of these community conversations and "compromises."
From canvassing thousands of people in our community, I have learned two truths: Our community cares deeply about protecting our environment and knows that climate science is real. And the vast majority of people know just how bad the housing crisis has gotten, and want their elected leaders to act – and fast.
That’s why I support actions that expedite the construction of affordable housing. I am also skeptical of well-intentioned efforts by government that may inadvertently slow down or block new housing – or worse, be hijacked by a small minority that says "Not In My Backyard."
A critical choice. As this crisis gets more intense each day, I believe our community and our government institutions face a crossroads.
Will we follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and stand up for our environment, as they did in the aftermath of the 1969 oil spill?
Will we give our kids and grandkids a fighting chance to continue living in this special community?
Or will we ignore this crisis, and carry on business as usual?
The choice is ours.
Das Williams is the First District representative on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Images: A tenants' protest rally at the Santa Barbara Courthouse last fall (Ryan P. Cruz for the SB Independent); Das Williams (Central Coast Community Energy).