BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — You hear it every time the issue of homelessness is discussed, one of the main causes is the lack of affordable housing.
Recently the Bakersfield City Council approved $5 million in Measure N funds to go towards building more affordable housing units. While there are some immediate plans for these dollars, one city councilman says he thinks they need to be smart about how they spend this funding.
"That’s really where the buck stops," said City Councilman Eric Arias. "If we don’t have enough homes for everybody this issue is only going to continue to grow.”
With $5 million in Measure N funds and $1 million in HOME funds now allocated to affordable housing, it seems like a start. But with a complicated issue like housing, Councilman Arias says they need to be smart about planning and development in order to get the best bang for their buck.
“It’s one way to spend the money really quickly, but it's another thing to make sure that those dollars are stretched to the best of our ability on behalf of the taxpayer to ensure that we’re building as many units as possible," Arias said.
When it comes to permanent housing units available to homeless individuals in Kern, there are two primary sources, according to the Housing Authority of Kern County. One is affordable housing properties that have dedicated units for the homeless, and the second is PSH rental assistance vouchers that are used in private market rentals. Anna Laven, Executive Director for the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative, says in order for these vouchers to be used, they need three things: a qualified candidate, a unit, and funding for case management for the individual.
Laven said many of those individuals who qualify for these vouchers are those who are elderly and need a place to age in peace, or someone who just needs some assistance for a few months to get back on their feet. These vouchers give them the chance to do that.
The affordable housing units operate with lengthy waiting lists and have limited turnover so the primary availability is when new units are completed and come online.
According to the Housing Authority, since 2019 there have been 208 existing units set aside for the homeless. Only this year were 154 new units set aside.
However, Laven said if the voucher does not meet all three of the components needed within a time period of around two weeks, the voucher goes back into circulation.
"Now we’re in the tricky position of where are the 234 units where we can place someone," Laven said.
The last Point in Time Count for Kern reported a total of 2,150 homeless individuals, 569 of whom were sleeping in shelters. Laven says when it comes to unhoused individuals, between code enforcement, hospitals, street outreach and more, it adds up for taxpayers.
"It’s incredibly expensive for the community when someone is unhoused, incredibly expensive,” she said.
The other hurdle to building more affordable housing, according to Laven, is getting developers on board to make the projects happen.
“For developers, they run a business and the challenging piece for affordable housing is how do they pencil it out," Laven said. "There’s the other component of how much regular income via rent do they need to maintain property managers and recoup the cost of that development.”
One way is to give developers incentives. Councilman Arias said that's one of the plans they're working out right now.
“We’re partnering with developers to incentivize them, we are going to continue to do that and we recognize that we need to continue to do more,” Arias said. "In ward 1 specifically, we see that there is a lot of vacant land. In fact, working with [Community Based Organiztions], it looks like there’s over 700 vacant properties in ward 1 alone.”
Arias said with developers on board, he hopes the city will begin more in-field development and be able to stretch those funds to provide the most affordable housing to our low-income and homeless residents.