Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Housing Horrors

A small house went up for sale in Seaside last week, just two doors down from ours. It is about the same square footage (800 square feet), and on the same size lot as our own. Less than a year ago our place was appraised at $325,000, which just happens to be in the price range my boss has been looking for. He and his wife want to get out of the rental rat race.

The For Sale sign went up on Monday. On Wednesday I called the real estate agent to inquire further, so I could pass the information on to my boss. I was shocked when the agent said they were asking $475,000. And that was "as is" for a "fixer-upper." On Saturday there was a red SOLD sign on it.

You'd think I'd be happy to hear that news, for it means that we are sitting on our own little gold mine. But rather, I'm frustrated. Housing is not just unaffordable for low income people. It is now out of reach for the middle class, my friends, my co-workers, the people who make everything around here go.

Back in 1956 my parents looked at a two story stone house on Carmel Point, overlooking the south end of Carmel Beach. It was priced at $55,000. That was a lot of money then, to be sure, but in today's dollars that would be about $382,000. Houses on Carmel Point now sell for about fifteen times that.

This all means that a tiny cottage in the cheap seats of Seaside now costs substantially more than a luxury home in a prestigious neighborhood did 50 years ago. Knowing that, I can't understand how some people fail to grasp the seriousness of the affordable housing problem.

Developers argue that they can't build houses any cheaper. However, the cost of building houses has not gone up nearly as much as the value of the land. Our insurance agent says that our house, now allegedly worth nearly half a million dollars, could easily be rebuilt for less than $100,000 if it were lost in a fire.

But elsewere in Seaside, on the former Fort Ord, the government sold surplus land to a developer for far less than market value, where new houses are now being sold at market prices. Someone has made a killing at taxpayer expense.

In the face of this information, the Seaside City Council has rolled over and played dead. They argue that Seaside is tired of being dumped on for the low-income housing and that other peninsula cities need to "share the burden." The flaw in that argument is that those cities are built-out, while Seaside is getting dirt cheap land (with water, yet) where lots and lots of affordable houses could be built. About the only politician standing up to Seaside is Congressman Sam Farr, yet his solo efforts are resisted at every turn.

In short, Seaside isn't helping. Seaside is contributing to the problem.

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