Parents’ concern for their children is deep and compelling. Of course, parents always want what is best for their kids, not just in infancy, but throughout childhood and into adulthood. They often hope their offspring will remain nearby… just not in the same bedroom they grew up in.
The plaintive cry frequently heard is: “My kids won’t be able to afford to live here.”
That is, indeed, often the case. The media generally reports the median prices of homes, currently around $895,000 in the Carpinteria Valley. But more important is the price of the lowest-cost homes available (two-bedroom condos here start around $500,000), or the rent for a small one-bedroom apartment (at least $2,000 a month – that is, if you can find anything available).
The result is that some parents who expected to be “empty nesters” find their progeny continue to live with them well past expectations, while other parents find their loved ones moving away to places that require a plane ticket to visit.
This situation is not unique to Carpinteria, but is common throughout California, as well as across the United States and even in other countries. The common theme is that after growing up in a desirable place to live, children often find themselves unable to begin adult life in that same community.
In some cases, this is less of a financial constraint than it is a natural outcome of the young adult’s chosen profession. The South Coast is not an ideal place to try to kick off a stage acting career. A medical school graduate is likely to have their residency someplace else. There may not be any local openings that match a newly graduated engineer or lawyer’s specific field of expertise.
But if someone’s profession does not require a change in geography, why is it they often find themselves unable to find a place locally that they can afford to buy or even rent?
The short answer is… well, there is no short answer.
This issue involves aspects of supply and demand economics, land use planning, income inequality, consumer debt – and even the psychology of unrealistic expectations. Basically, it is a multi-armed beast that can grab a community and try to convince us that there is an easy fix when there just isn’t one.
More than once, I have heard parents bemoan that their kids won’t be able to afford to live here, and then immediately state confidently that the fix is to build more housing in Carpinteria.
At first blush, this seems logical. However, the Carpinteria Valley already has more working people living here than there are jobs here. What would happen if we built more housing? Would this make more space for local kids? Not necessarily. More people living in Ventura, Oxnard and even further south who work in Santa Barbara and Goleta would move here to reduce their commute. On top of that, with more people working from home post-Covid, housing here can be occupied by people working anywhere. The end result of building more housing on housing and rental prices? Pretty much nothing. Many local young adults still would not be able to afford to live here. The issue is more complex than just a one-dimensional fix.
One thing helping feed the multi-armed beast is the expectation summarized in this statement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of Policy Development and Research:
“For many Americans, owning a home is an essential part of the American Dream that conveys a number of economic benefits, such as the ability to accumulate wealth and access credit by building home equity, reduce housing costs through the mortgage interest deduction, and gain long-term savings over the cost of renting.”
It is often assumed (generally by parents) that this dream will be met for their own children in the local community where the children grew up.
In this column over the coming months, I will analyze the various aspects of this issue. This multi-armed beast is complex, and each different piece deserves a full discussion so we can understand how it fits with the others, and what actions we can take as individuals and as a community to improve things moving forward.
A few of the topics I will explore include how the American Dream has evolved over time, the factors that affect local housing availability, how local planning decisions affect local incomes, what “affordability” really means to any given person and how a family can change what may seem like an inevitable outcome.
The future of our community is in our hands. But we need to be informed and make good decisions, not just jump to the quick fixes offered by the multi-armed beast.