By Dale Tyler
On Friday, Oct. 21, the Saddleback Valley News / Orange County Register held an open community forum at a coffee shop located at Oso and Marguerite. The announced topic was “Affordable Housing in Mission Viejo.” Approximately 20 people attended, including Councilmembers J.P. Ledesma and Lance MacLean and Chuck Wilson, who is in charge of Community Development for the City of Mission Viejo. Five people represented the newspapers sponsoring the forum, including two editors and three reporters. Two people represented the low-income housing lobby, and a couple of local Realtors attended. Others were mostly Mission Viejo residents, past or current.
The forum started with self-introductions. The forum moderator asked each person in attendance to define what affordable means and what the role of government should be in providing affordable housing in Mission Viejo. Councilman Ledesma gave a summary of affordable housing in Mission Viejo and talked briefly about the free market being the best way to manage housing prices. He also discussed current projects (Steadfast and UDR/Pacific), which may provide affordable housing. Councilman MacLean said he feels the city needs to change zoning and work with developers to build more housing in the city. Others volunteered their views on how the city should provide affordable housing to the poor.
When it was my turn to speak, I suggested that affordability is truly driven by the free market, and that the government should not interfere in setting housing prices. Further, no one has a right to live in any particular place. People should buy where they can afford, and the city shouldn’t change our Master Plan to fit the financial needs of the developers and poor people in our city. Finally, the Regional Needs Assessment low-income housing numbers are just advisory, with no significant penalty for failing to accept the numbers, which are unrealistic for a built-out community. I reiterated the idea of taking an innovative approach to providing housing to low-income people: use the redevelopment funds set aside for low-income housing to assist in the purchase of existing condos and single-family residences. I also expressed concern about the lack of balanced coverage in the Saddleback Valley News on the UDR/Pacific and Steadfast projects and the removal of such terms as “high-density housing” from letters to the editor. Note: after the meeting, I spoke at length with SVN reporter Maria Hsin about balanced reporting, and while she did not accept my claim of imbalance, she is planning more in-depth articles in the Saddleback Valley News.
A number of residents had ideas about the city’s role in housing affordability, and the discussion continued for some time. The relative values of residential and commercial development were discussed, including the claim that residential development costs the city actual cash over the long term, compared to commercial development.
About 10 minutes before the hour allotted to the discussion was up, the moderator asked us to change our focus to what “affordability” in housing means to us. We were asked if we considered housing in Mission Viejo to be affordable, and if would we buy here at today’s prices. Almost everyone said they either could not afford to buy or would not buy their current residence because the value was not there. The gap between wages and housing costs has been increasing and is at historically high levels.
Overall, I think the participants liked the forum and look forward to others in the future. I would like to thank the local newspapers for their work in putting citizens together to share ideas and solve problems, because that is the only way problems really get solved.