October 1, 2020 - CREW Orange County Sponsors Webinar on Housing Affordability Crisis 

October 6, 2020
Written by: CREW Orange County

October 1, 2020 - CREW Orange County Sponsors Webinar on Housing Affordability Crisis

59 percent of Americans are a paycheck away from being homeless, based on a survey by Charles Schwab  
Affordable housing is not only a challenge for residents in Orange County, one of the wealthiest areas in the nation, but in other sections of the country as well.  With the onset of the pandemic and millions of people losing their jobs and who may be at risk of losing their income, this is a situation that has become a reality for many of the homeless.

Addressing this situation and to educate their members and the public, the local chapter of CREWOrange County recently hosted a webinar, “Perspectives on Housing Affordability”.  Moderated by CREW Board member Pauline Hale, Altus Group Senior Manager and candidate for Mission Viejo City Council, the session included experts from non-profit groups, city councils and housing developers:   Brateil Aghasi, CEO of WISEPlace; Helen Cameron, Jamboree Housing Director of Community Outreach; Lisa Dulyea, Chrysalis Director of Development, Orange County; Melissa Fox, City of Irvine Council member and candidate for State Assembly District 68; Elizabeth Hansburg, Founder, People for Housing OC;  Sara Kilburn, Design Line Interiors Chief Design & Marketing Officer and Jennifer Litwak, Housing on Merit Executive Director.

Although there were different solutions offered by the speakers on the current actions being taken to provide affordable housing,  all agreed that the complexities of financing for affordable housing is complicated and not an “easy fix”.   Developers are often challenged by financial constraints to provide lower cost housing in spite of higher fees and restrictive zoning and regulations.  A solution that has worked well for developers is the use of tax credits to reduce their corporate tax liability, according to Litwak.  

The public may object to affordable housing and identify as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) advocates. However, the majority have no idea what affordable housing looks like.  Cameron shared a story about   a local radio station that featured a well-maintained property built 10 years ago for the mentally challenged and homeless which the local neighbors knew nothing about.  Some strangers had actually come up to the property asking if there were available units.  There has also been pushback about these properties built near schools but the families living in these properties have children that attend those schools, and become part of an intergenerational society with the seniors and other neighborhood residents.  

The city of Irvine, through the Irvine Community Land Trust, chaired by Fox,  has been successful with offering land trusts, a concept started for sharecroppers in Georgia 50 years ago.  In this model, low income residents have the opportunity to purchase homes and build equity,  then sell to another buyer at a subsidized or market rate when they’re ready to move. These trusts have become especially popular in cities with high land and rental costs.  

Kilburn’s viewpoint is that although everyone is aware of the housing crisis, but the left and right can’t agree on how to solve the issue.  As she sees more large companies leaving Southern California, the  residents who stay will need to make up for additional revenue.   She sees the major cause of homelessness as job loss, which is leading to another up and coming crisis:  homeless kids.   Hansburg believes that you need to move the decision maker and find the people who will say yes to affordable housing.  People who are working in the housing industry should advocate for solving the housing shortage problem.   And the middle class is being squeezed out of the affordable options, and this is only becoming worse  as many people are losing their jobs during the pandemic.  Even before the pandemic hit and with the rising costs of housing and rents, Litvak noted that if people are spending more than 30% of their income on housing, they are considered “cost burdened”.

Dulyea added that for the homeless who don’t have jobs, 45%  don’t have access to the Internet and thus have limited accessibility for finding work.  “It’s a common perception that homeless people are all crazy”, she said.  “But they’ve experienced trauma and we want to provide more than shelter but a sense of purpose and a sense of community.  We’ve found that 89% of homeless people in Orange County were born and raised here.”  An underrepresented category of those experiencing homelessness  are unaccompanied women over the age of 62, which account for 1 out of 3 adults according to statistics from WISEPlace.  

Proceeds from the event were distributed between WISEPlace and Chrysalis, both non-profit organizations committed to ending homelessness and providing support for women and low-income individuals through jobs and housing. Commercial Real Estate Women of Orange County is a local chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Women Network and has been serving Orange County real estate professionals since 1988.  CREW Orange County is a non-profit organization established to advance the success of women in commercial real estate through networking education, leadership development and philanthropic involvement.  Further information on the organization is available at www.crew-oc.org.