“There’s Nowhere to Live Here”
SEIU 1021 Mendocino County chapters release report addressing Mendocino County’s housing crisis causes, offering recommendations
Dec. 20, 2021: “I can think of a half a dozen employees that the County has offered jobs to here on the coast, but they had to turn down the offer, because they couldn’t find anywhere to live,” reported one Mendocino County employee in a survey. “The average apartment rents for about $1200 to $1300 per month. The rental agency requires your income to be three times the rent. I make around $35 per hour, and I can’t even afford that. How is someone who makes minimum wage or is a single parent supposed to find a place to live?” laments another survey respondent.
Those responses—and many more—paint a grim picture of a housing crisis that extends far beyond the very poor in a report released by SEIU 1021 last week based on a housing survey of our membership here in Mendocino County conducted in May 2021. Among the key takeaways in the report: Even County employees earning reasonably good wages have found themselves homeless, unable to move out of their families’ homes, or forced to relocate to other counties due to a lack of available, affordable housing. The survey uncovered many stories of new employees living for months in motels or campgrounds while they searched unsuccessfully for a home to rent or buy.
“I had to find a place in Lake County,” said Jamie Pritchard, an employee with Social Services at the County. “There just wasn’t anything available here in Mendocino.”
The housing shortage is also causing strain on the County–which has trouble filling vacant positions, leading to short-staffing–and other local employers, whose ability to recruit candidates is severely hampered by the housing shortage.
The report, aptly called “There’s Nowhere to Live Here,” enumerates both causes of the housing crunch and recommendations for the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to begin to ease the pain.
SEIU Local 1021 represents over 1,000 public employees in Mendocino County–workers at the County, the Superior Court, Mendocino College, and the City of Ft. Bragg. A concern brought up repeatedly at union chapter meetings has been the lack of affordable housing in the County. As the chapters’ leadership heard more and more stories of employers struggling to find qualified candidates because of the lack of housing and members facing hardships and long commutes due to the inability to secure housing in the County, they established a working group to investigate the issue and determine what the union could do to help the Board of Supervisors address this problem.
Mendocino County, like much of the state of California, is experiencing a housing availability and affordability crisis. The housing shortage is driving up house prices and rents. It is impacting employers who are unable to recruit workers because of the historically low vacancy rates and slow pace of new construction. It is also making it harder for young people who have grown up here to find a place of their own. The reasons for the housing crisis are varied and complex: a construction worker shortage; burdensome and expensive permitting and development fees; housing being converted to short term vacation rentals; water and sewer hookup limitations; housing stock loss due to wildfires; and limited sites available for development because of zoning, fire danger, coastal restrictions etc.
Twenty-three percent of employees reported spending between 40% and 50% of their income on housing, and 32% report paying 50% or more. A shocking finding in the survey was the high number of respondents, many with stable, full-time employment, who find themselves living on the edge and unable to find stable living arrangements. Of the survey respondents, 22% have experienced homelessness with 3% currently homeless while working.
As one member who responded to the survey put it, “Someone who works for the County should be able to afford to live in the County.”
“There are many local organizations like the Housing Action Teams-North Coast and Inland that have been working on this issue,” said SEIU 1021 Mendocino County Chapter President Julie Beardsley. “They have helped raise awareness about the problem and have made progress in crafting solutions to address it. Now the County needs to move forward to implement these solutions to make sure all residents have access to stable housing.”