I want a home for my fam­ily, but it’s out of reach in SLO

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MELISSA GODSEY

One morn­ing a cou­ple of weeks back, a Real­tor knocked on my front door to tell me about a home she had just sold in my neigh­bor­hood, how highly de­sired our neigh­bor­hood is, and to ask if we might be in­ter­ested in sell­ing our home.

“We’re rent­ing, ac­tu­ally,” I replied, swal­low­ing the lit­tle bit of shame that bub­bles up when I con­sider our decade-long fail­ure to buy a home.

The Real­tor meant well. She asked whether we’ve ever con­sid­ered buy­ing a house, and sud­denly there I was, un­cork­ing the de­tails of our an­guish with try­ing to find a home for our­selves in San Luis Obispo. Tears welling up, I apol­o­gized (how em­bar­rass­ing!), and she kindly handed me her card. I don’t think ei­ther of us ex­pected such an emo­tion­ally fraught en­counter at 9:15 in the morn­ing.

At 35 years old, I’m con­sid­ered an el­der within the “mil­len­nial” gen­er­a­tion. I was the first of my friend-group to marry, the first to have chil­dren, and the first to re­ally face the de­mor­al­iz­ing re­al­ity of our lo­cal hous­ing mar­ket.

The sin­gle ma­te­rial thing I want in this life is a home of my own in which to raise my fam­ily, prefer­ably in the city that I de­vote so much of my time to serv­ing, where my chil­dren at­tend school, and my hus­band and I work. A small par­cel of prop­erty that will play set­ting to the story of our fam­ily as it un­folds. A place where my chil- dren can learn to wash neigh­bors’ cars for spend­ing money, and where I can in­vite folks on our block over for cof­fee.

Just to be clear: I don’t want to turn around and flip the home for a profit. I don’t want to rent it to stu­dents at $1,000+ per bed­room. I don’t want to turn it into a va­ca­tion rental, or keep it as a pri­vate va­ca­tion home.

More than just the home it­self, I want my chil­dren to have the op­por­tu­nity and priv­i­lege to feel a sense of place — a sense of be­long­ing to some­thing big­ger than our fam­ily unit. But as I look closely at the de­ci­sions that were made in the past, and in­deed at the de­ci­sions be­ing made presently, I see that — un­con­sciously or de­lib­er­ately — our com­mu­nity is push­ing fam­i­lies like mine to the fur­thest edges of the county, if not outof-the-area en­tirely.

First-time home buy­ers in San Luis Obispo are strug­gling un­der the bur­den of years of wellintended yet short-sighted de­ci­sions, the ef­fect of which has been to drive the mid­dle class out of San Luis Obispo in record num­bers.

Meat­head Movers re­ports that out-of-state moves have in­creased 91 per­cent since 2016, and a closer look at Cal­i­for­nia’s mi­gra­tion data re­veals that young fam­i­lies lead the way in out-mi­gra­tion to Texas, Ari­zona and Ne­vada.

De­ci­sions, though widely framed as bi­nary, al­ways in­volve both gains and losses. Our “yeses” carry in­side them hid­den “nos,” and the in­verse is also true. Left uniden­ti­fied, these hid­den yeses and nos be­come un­in­tended con­se­quences, the ef­fects of which rip­ple out­ward for gen­er­a­tions. Proac­tively iden­ti­fy­ing the un­in­tended con­se­quences of our choices is a mark not only of wis­dom, but of coura­geous lead­er­ship.

Passed in 1978, Cal­i­for­nia’s Propo­si­tion 13 is one such ex­am­ple of well-in­tended, yet short-sighted de­ci­sion mak­ing. While suc­cess­ful in its de­sign to pro­tect home­own­ers from un­ex­pected in­creases in prop­erty

taxes, it has placed a dis­pro­por­tion­ately heavy tax bur­den on younger gen­er­a­tions, and en­ables older (typ­i­cally wealth­ier) home­own­ers to avoid con­tribut­ing their fair share.

Cal­i­for­nia’s re­cent in­crease in fuel taxes is a con­tem­po­rary ex­am­ple. Faced with some of the na­tion’s worst in­fra­struc­ture (and also among the na­tion’s high­est taxes — go fig­ure), the state of Cal­i­for­nia has opted to levy yet an­other re­gres­sive fuel tax on its res­i­dents. No one doubts that our roads are in dis­re­pair, but is it wise to fur­ther pe­nal­ize those who can’t af­ford to live where they work, and out of ne­ces­sity must drive into and out of our com­mu­ni­ties on a daily ba­sis?

The work­ing poor are most af­fected by ris­ing fuel taxes, but this move to­ward re­gional sprawl hurts ev­ery­one. For a com­mu­nity that prides it­self on its green­belt, and en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious im­age, I would ex­pect long­time res­i­dents of San Luis Obispo to balk at the num­ber of miles driven into and out of SLO by ev­ery­one who has been squeezed to the fur­thest edges of the county (or all the way into Santa Bar­bara County). The traf­fic alone should be enough to trig­ger some in­tro­spec­tion.

All of our yeses and nos con­tain some de­gree of sac­ri­fice in them. As a city, if we elect to say “no” to sprawl within the city, the hid­den “yes” is build­ing taller, more dense hous­ing in the core of town. If we de­sire to say “no” to the nasty traf­fic into and out of SLO dur­ing rush hours, the hid­den “yes” is to build more hous­ing within SLO it­self. If we wish to say “yes” to ac­ces­si­ble park­ing in our neigh­bor­hoods, the silent “no” is not cram­ming as many driv­ers as pos­si­ble into a rental.

In or­der to course-cor­rect, each of us is go­ing to have to bear some bur­den or in­con­ve­nience. Prop­erty own­ers might con­sider oc­cu­pancy lim­its on their ren­tals, in or­der to free-up street park­ing, and re­tain the fam­ily-friendly qual­ity of their neigh­bor­hood. Av­er­age in­come fam­i­lies like mine won’t have a back­yard big enough for a tree, let alone a tree­house. All of us, when walk­ing through down­town, will lose some view­ing an­gles of Cerro San Luis.

No­body gets ev­ery­thing they want all of the time. But there’s unity, even in that. My fam­ily is more than happy to bear our share of bur­dens and in­con­ve­niences, and look for­ward to one day find­ing a neigh­bor­hood full of peo­ple uni­fied in the spirit of leav­ing our com­mu­nity bet­ter off for the peo­ple who will in­herit it when we’re gone.

A com­mu­nity that drives out its young fam­i­lies — un­in­ten­tion­ally or not — is a com­mu­nity that is at­ro­phy­ing. All of us to­gether as a com­mu­nity must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for cir­cum­stances we’ve in­her­ited, and look wisely and care­fully at how to rec­on­cile them. We have an op­por­tu­nity to shape the kind of com­mu­nity we want San Luis Obispo to be for our chil­dren, and their chil­dren.

Let’s make choices that, though per­haps dif­fi­cult or in­con­ve­nient for us to­day, will en­able us to look our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren in the eyes know­ing that we made de­ci­sions with their best in­ter­est in mind, not our own.

Melissa Godsey is a writer, speaker and cur­ricu­lum de­signer in San Luis Obispo. She serves on the city of San Luis Obispo’s Pro­mo­tional Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the steer­ing com­mit­tee for SLO U40, the lead­er­ship team for MOPS San Luis Obispo, and co-ed­u­cates her chil­dren in part­ner­ship with San Luis Obispo Clas­si­cal Acad­emy.

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