In the 2017/2018 school year, 269 children in our community qualified as homeless under the McKinney-Vento guidelines. This is not to say that they are sleeping on the streets, but that they are in a motel, living with an extended relative, or sharing one home for multiple families. This can have a devastating effect upon a child’s mental and physical health and academic success. How can you get your homework done if you have no-where to work? How can you eat a healthy dinner if you have no access to a kitchen?
Such frightening data would suggest that we need a drastic change to improve the housing situation on the South Shore, and that is true, however I do not believe that Measure T is the answer. Because for every B&G Club family living in a motel, there are more who are directly or indirectly employed by our tourism economy, including our VHRs. Our parents are realtors, they are landscapers, they are house cleaners and grocery store clerks. They are restaurant owners, chefs and bartenders. They are teachers and small business owners. And all will be affected by a decrease in our tourism – including those in temporary housing. Even a small decline in income would place many more of our Club families below the CA poverty line and that is too big a risk to take.
Instead, I advocate for our City Council, our County, and our State to start prioritizing the needs of families in their policies and decision making. When over 50% of Club families are making less than $40,000 a year, it is unlikely that they can afford to buy a home at the current market rates. They also couldn’t afford the rent on a 5 bedroom house in the Keys. A suggested solution is not giving VHR permits to 2 or 3 bedroom houses that could be affordable to families, and instead permitting the mega homes or small condos that are less suitable as family housing. We need to enable developers to build high density housing and decrease the permitting costs so that projects pencil. The recent decision by STUPD to provide free sewer hook ups for affordable housing is a great example of a step in the right direction and the STPUD Board are to be commended.
Neighborhoods are very important to families. They need quiet streets and helpful neighbors and it is right that the City and the County need to think carefully about where new VHR permits are located. But it is not realistic to assume that all houses currently operating as VHRs will suddenly become available as long term rentals. Instead, they may sit vacant and that too can have a devastating effect upon a neighborhood, attracting squatting, vandalism and illegal activities.
The City has estimated that if Measure T passes it will lose $3 million in revenue from Tourist Occupancy Taxes. Already we are suffering from a declining infrastructure, with poor roads and decreased public transit. Back in 2016 the Club supported Measure P as we believed that our children and our community deserved a new Rec. Center. At the time it also offered a lifeline for the Club and we still hope to provide enhanced teen programs in that new Center. But with $3 million less in revenue each year, it is unlikely that we will get a new Rec. Center on the scale that we all voted for back in 2016; if we get one at all. It also means that fantastic recreational initiatives like the Bijou Bike Park or the Lakeview Commons would not be repeated elsewhere as the City simply won’t have the funding.
A good house in a safe neighborhood, a park or swimming pool to take your kids to at the weekend, and the ability to pay your rent and still have money left for food, clothes and bills. That is what our local families want and it is what they deserve. Let’s start working with the City and the County on policies that will help our families and not risk a Measure that may cause our families and our children even greater hardship.
Jude Wood, Executive Director, Boys and Girls Club