State, county should stop giving Lompoc more than its fair share of low-income housing

For many years I was a Planning Commissioner, and during several hearings nonprofits or the Santa Barbara County Housing Authority said that Lompoc needed more low-income housing.

The state and federal government have been trying to “fix” the affordable housing problem since the early 1960s when they started creating large high-density apartment buildings and crammed thousands of low-income residents into tight spaces. All they managed to do was create poorly managed and maintained crime-ridden ghettos.

For several decades Lompoc has somehow become a magnet for low-income housing. The results are the same: Some private and government subsidized projects are in very poor condition, others are in very good condition; gangs have “occupied” project areas and terrorize the occupants; and public safety service calls to these areas are escalating.

Currently there are 19 affordable housing projects in Lompoc, which add up to 29 percent of all the multi-family units available in our city. This compares to a high of only 6 percent in every other area of the county.

How did Lompoc become a magnet for low-income housing? The self-appointed elite of Santa Barbara needed service industry workers but didn’t want low-income housing to spoil their city even though they needed the workers who live in those units. Decades ago, the elected officials in Lompoc thought that all housing would help the general fund, no matter if it was market rate or subsidized low-income units. As time went on, they were proven wrong.

So, what is the result of having an overabundant supply of low-income housing? One is that Lompoc has an estimated median household income of $57,071, while the median household income of Santa Barbara County was $80,495, according to census data. Over 50 percent of the families in our city are in the low-to-medium income category.

What could be the cause of such a serious difference in median incomes? One might be that agriculture, not manufacturing, seems to dominate the private sector. Another might be that over the last few decades city leaders have made little effort to attract industries to the city, instead they opted for designer wines and cannabis processing and sales.

Yet another might be that, as the Planning Commission draft of the 2023-31 Lompoc Housing Element update report says, “Education outcomes varied throughout the county. Areas in the central and southeastern part of the county and in the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara had more positive education outcomes compared to western and northeastern parts of the county and the cities of Santa Maria and Lompoc. Lompoc Unified School District enrolls approximately 9,600 students throughout its 17 schools. Approximately 66 percent of enrolled students were low income and 15 percent were English learners. Lompoc had less positive education scores throughout the entire city.”

Then there is the “homeless issue.” The Housing Element report states that “according to the Santa Barbara County 2022 Point-In-Time Count, 290 persons experiencing homelessness were recorded in Lompoc, which is the third highest in the county.”

When you consider that, according to the same report, to rent a three-bedroom home these families would pay $2,800 per month, equaling $33,600 per year plus utilities; that is well over 50 percent of their after-tax income. The median home value in Lompoc is $539,760 as of September 2022. None of those families could qualify for a loan to buy a home and certainly couldn’t pay the monthly payment.

According to analysis reports accompanying the Housing Element update, there are 391 substandard low-income units as determined by using the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development checklist. And, even when projects are totally renovated and brought up to current standards, the crime-related problems return to the project.

If the politicians in Sacramento wanted to “fix the low-income housing problem” in this county, they would have stipulated that there be an even distribution of these units throughout the county instead of concentrating a large number in any one location. 

One-size-fits-all fixes never work.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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