Notes from the Chico Affordable Housing Conference, September 2019

Notes from the City of Chico Affordable Housing Conference

Saturday Sept 28, 2019  8am – 4pm

The day-long conference included 3 speakers and 4 panels.  Panels covered the facts and policies about housing construction, housing rentals and subsidized housing.

The message of high cost, lack of land and regulatory overload was repeated by big, small, new, forward-thinking and low income housing builders/developers.

The belief that affordable-housing solutions could be "found" if we put all the right people in the room proved to be misguided. Affordable building solutions aren’t lost.  Affordable building is lost, replaced by high costs that have reduced the number of housing units we can build.  Households kept growing while house building didn’t.


Between the 3 speakers and the 4 panels here are the key messages:

  • The problem is basic supply and demand.  We’ve not built enough housing units to match the increased number of households that need housing.
  • The fundamental reason we’ve not built enough housing is because the cost of every component of building has increased and new costs have piled on. These higher costs make financing developments and getting construction loans harder.
  • The lack of land, appropriately zoned with adequate infrastructure in place, is the major reason land prices are high, reducing the number of housing units built in Chico.
  • There are no “creative solutions” or “out of the box thinking” that will undo most of the regulations, or take us back to the costs of 1999. Between 2000 and 2010 the cost to build rose 100%.  Then rose another $100,000 between 2010 and now.
  • Builders explained their costs, showing how simplistic “affordable housing solutions” don’t address our specific roadblocks.  Inclusionary zoning hurts middle income families and raises overall housing prices.  What may work in dense or high-income urban areas can't get financing in Chico.
  • Ideas and potential solutions that did address our roadblocks included
    • Allowing duplexes and fourplexes on R1 zoned land.
    • Affordable housing organizations build where land is cheaper, outside Chico.
    • Pursuing ways to deliver housing that requires fewer construction workers. This means high-quality manufactured homes and factory-built / panelized housing.
    • Combine resources with the rest of the region using the money coming to each city to plan and build housing. Use money for infrastructure.

Astute leaders should have come away from the conference with a commitment to  grapple with the reality in which we exist.  After 15 hours of task force meetings and this conference, there has been enough information presented that everyone can understand what goes in to housing cost, and why there is a shortage of all types of housing.

It’s time to make tough, realistic decisions that address the high cost of regulation, lack of land and workforce, and the need for infrastructure in order to get more housing units built.