When I was 11 and my sister was 4, my grandma would drive us to the coast to care for and ride horses. Now, we call those weekends “the golden days,” but back then, it was a common occurrence for us to be on horses, side by side, riding through a park.
When we got older, we were offered jobs as barn hands. We learned everything from the physical labor of cleaning the paddocks to the more nuanced skills of caring for large animals. We learned what to do when a horse has a limp, a large, open wound, or is acting erratically. There are a thousand different illnesses that horses can contract, and it takes a skilled eye to determine what is an emergency and what is simply a sign that a horse needs to drink more water.
Although good barn hands have these skills, they are not paid enough to live in market-rate housing on the coast. While we both loved this job, neither of us could afford to continue working for the ranch. Given the high cost of living in the Bay Area, it has become harder and harder for farmers and ranchers to find people to do this kind of work. And it’s not just farmhands; people who work in health care and education are also priced out of the coast.
In most seaside communities, workers drive inland to find cheaper housing. In San Mateo County, that release valve is not available. If anything, housing is even more expensive on the bayside.
While many of the jobs on the coast are in the lower-paying agriculture and hospitality industries, there is a severe shortage of housing for these workers. It is imperative that we address the need for affordable homes in our rural and coastal areas, which are a vital part of our county’s diversity and economy.
The most effective solution to the lack of housing for local workers is to build deed-restricted affordable homes in the communities that are feeling the crunch. As 2020 unfolds, we urge the county, each of the 20 cities and all residents to support and advocate for more affordable housing to keep our county diverse and inclusive.
This month, for example, a 71-unit proposal for affordable housing in Moss Beach called Cypress Point goes to the county Planning Commission. The site is designated in the Local Coastal Program as a priority development site and allows for a portion of affordable units. The proposal includes a preference for those living or working in the local area, and MidPen Housing is seeking 100 percent affordable units. We urge the Planning Commission to say “yes” to affordable housing on the coast and to maximize the number of affordable units on this 11-acre site.
While 71 units will help tremendously, many more are needed on the coast. Opportunities for additional sites and projects are few and far between. Seventy-one units equates to a very low density of less than seven units an acre. We understand that this proposed low density is in response to concerns over traffic and community character. We applaud the developer, MidPen Housing, for being sensitive to these concerns. We also encourage the county to consider the extreme need and the lack of available sites for affordable housing in the coastal area as they make their decision on this proposal.
Let’s set the tone for 2020 by saying “yes” to much-needed affordable housing in our coastal region and throughout San Mateo County. We have done a great job of creating a beautiful, natural, coastal experience, but, if we want to maintain it, we need to create equity for the workers who make this experience possible.
Leora Tanjuatco Ross is an organizing director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.