BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A lack of affordable housing continues to be an issue around California and in Kern County. And there isn't a solution to the problem either. 23ABC's Keeley Van Middendorp took an in-depth look at what progress developers in Kern County have made despite a number of difficulties.
In 1974 Cesar Chavez dedicated the Paulo Agbayani Village to Filipino farmworkers who were the first to join his fight for better working and living conditions. It was there at the Agbayani Village that Chavez ensured the Monongs lived out the rest of their days with the dignity they had fought tirelessly for over the years.
While the original tenants of Agbayani Village have passed, Chavez’s mission to create quality, affordable housing continues with places like Casa de Eva. Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son says rent ranges from $22 to $300 a month.
Residents like Martha Mendoza say she’s able to remain active and independent Casa de Eva and says it's not only a home but also a haven.
"We are very blessed. We're safe. How is the world now? For us seniors if Casa de Eva, if Cesar wouldn’t have built this, where would we be?"
But other seniors aren’t finding themselves in low-cost amenity-packed facilities like Casa de Eva. The California Housing Partnership, an organization created by the state legislature found from 2020 to 2021 rent increased by 12 percent in Kern and the lowest-earning residents spent more than half of their income on rent each month.
Heather Kimmel with the Housing Authority of Kern believes not addressing that disparity creates a negative ripple effect.
“There's this huge correlation between being overly rent-burdened, and negative impacts to the family and the community as a whole.”
President and CEO of the Housing Partnership Matt Schwartz says the need for low-income homes isn’t keeping up with demand and believes a big part of the problem is the fact that affordable housing isn't considered essential to California’s infrastructure. The lack of recognition means long-term funding solutions from the state don't exist. That’s something Schwartz says needs to change.
“We don't treat it at a state level the way we treat transportation, and education resources and healthcare and we have to it's related. It’s a huge oversight. We have to correct it.”
He says it's up to California, not Congress to find financial solutions to the housing crisis following drastic federal spending cuts in the 1980s that barred Congress from significantly increasing money the federal government could award to states for low-income housing.
“The state has been left to really pick up the pieces. It makes the state's job and the government's job very, very difficult. Really impossible.”
Developers looking for funds to build low-income housing must oftentimes work with more than a half dozen sources just to complete one project.
California currently has five state agencies that award housing subsidies and grants but Chavez and the Housing Partnership believe having a single source that disperses funds would save time and money.
"That would cut a lot of red tape making it easier making it more affordable," said Chavez.
"We found that each time a housing provider has to apply to a different state agency, it adds $15,000 per door to the cost of producing a new affordable home," explained Schwartz.
Some progress has been made, a one-cent sales tax passed in 2018 known as Measure N enabled the City of Bakersfield to pool more money toward issues like housing which has helped the area’s largest developer, pick up production. The Housing Partnership also found in 2020 state and federal funding for housing production and preservation in Kern County increased 24 percent from 2019.
While an improvement, Schwartz believes there is a way to completely eliminate the shortage in California.
"There are 57 policy solutions, some of which are federal, but most of which are state and under state control."
In the meantime, developers like the Cesar Chavez Foundation continue work to house working families and seniors but say conversations around solutions must continue.
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