BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County has failed to meet state requirements in its proposed plan to cover housing needs in the area. In a letter obtained by 23ABC, the State Department of Housing and Community Development is ordering the county to revise the plan.
Earlier this year we reported on Kern County having some of the lowest vacancy rates seen in years and heard countless stories of people not being able to find a home or if they do, it is simply not affordable.
This is backed up by data. A graph from the California Housing Partnership shows the latest figures from 2019. It found that more than 25,000 low-income renters in Kern County did not have access to buy affordable homes.
In that same study, the non-profit found that 75-percent of extremely low-income households in Kern County are paying more than half of their income on housing costs, compared to the one percent that moderate-income households spend.
“The county is not really paying attention to the fact that we are having a huge need for affordable housing and a huge need for multi-family housing and the county’s inaction to follow the law is causing an issue. So, the county needs to follow the law, plain and simple, follow the law,” said Emma De La Rosa, Policy Advocate for Kern County Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability.
De La Rosa explained the issue at heart is that the county is required to set aside a certain amount of land that will be used for affordable housing and currently they’re about 200 acres short of meeting that.
County Not Meeting Housing Requirements
According to the letter sent by the state, the county had met requirements in 2016 but in 2021 the county amended its initial proposal which means Kern County is out of compliance.
The state is now giving the county two options.
“Which is to implement programs 2.2.2. and 2.2.3 of the housing elements which requires them to rezone land to R3 which is multifamily housing. Or they also have the option of revising the amended inventory that they sent this past year and do the necessary analysis,” said De La Rosa.
23ABC did reach out to the county for an on-camera interview. They responded that at this time they could only provide a statement while they work on a new proposal.
“The Planning Department has been working with HCD to resolve this concern for a number of years. Unfortunately, the State disagrees with the approach and manner in which Staff interoperates land use and our zoning ordinance as it relates to the implementation of our housing element. After additional discussions with HCD, we are clear on the direction moving forward to resolve this issue. We are in the process of working with stakeholders to bring forward to the Board of Supervisors a number of proposals to further the implementation of our housing element and facilitate affordable housing that meets the State requirements.”
Meanwhile, De La Rosa argued, this is just too little too late.
“Had they followed the programs that they said they were going to do, I think efforts and funding could have been directed for housing and to address other issues where now the county is way behind on rezoning the land and identifying the land for affordable housing.”
Lack of Affordable Housing in Kern County
If you're looking for a rental home in Kern County - one that's affordable - chances are you won't find one. Now in an effort to find a solution to this the City of Bakersfield is working to expedite its affordable housing strategy. But some community organizations say this strategy doesn't solve all the problems.
Bakersfield's website states as of 2019, 89-percent of renting households were considered cost-burdened by their housing cost. Since then, the city has been working on a new strategy (see and download the complete plan below). Now the latest phase is set to go in front of the city council next month. If passed, the goal is to ease the strain on low-income renters.
What is Cost Burdened Mean?
Households paying more than 30% of income toward housing are considered housing “cost-burdened,” and those with housing costs that exceed half of their income are considered “severely cost-burdened.” By these standards, more than 4 in 10 households statewide had unaffordable housing costs in 2017.
"We have a consultant team working on building tools that the city can use to evaluate the zoning policies, ability analysis, doing research to look at things like affordable housing trust funds, and how we can try to bring in more money to help support the affordable housing development," explained Jason Cater, principal planner for Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Vitality with the city of Bakersfield.
While the city continues to find more solutions for affordable housing, Cater said the city does have affordable housing projects closer to the end stages.
"Actively right now we have six or seven projects that are under construction or are going through the tax credit finance process. With these tools and strategies, the goal would be to definitely continue to just move that work forward to see more units in production going on."
There Needs to be More Immediate Action
However, Emma de la Rosa with the Kern County Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability said there needs to be more immediate action.
"The city has not implemented a policy or some type of support for residents to ensure that rents will stay the same, at least for a time when people are still trying to recover from the pandemic right. So rent control would be one type of policy that the City of Bakersfield can look into."
Another concern she has for the strategy the city is working on is that it is mainly getting its community input through an online questionnaire.
Scan the QR Code Below to See the City's Online Questionnaire
"We are concerned about the fact that the survey is only happening online. There are staff going out to events and they are helping folks with the survey but again we are always limited to only those who are connected to an organization and I think there needs to be additional community engagement that is more hands-on with folks."
The city said they are aware some do not have access to the internet which is why they are continuing to send staff out to community events to help people with the questionnaire. They also added there may be opportunities, later on, to work on other ways of receiving input.