Housing Benefits for City Workers

Home prices in Orange County's coastal communities are anything but affordable for many people, including employees on the public payroll in those seaside resorts. Laguna Beach, where the average home sells for $225,000, is a typical example.

Many workers who should live in the city or close to it, particularly police officers and firefighters, drive long distances to work each day from as far away as Riverside because that's as close as they can get to affordable housing on city pay. But now, thanks to some innovative thinking and action by the City Council, that may be changing.

Laguna Beach has become the first community in the state to make housing loans available to all employees, not just top management, as part of its recruiting efforts. Under the new approach the city will set aside $150,000 of its $10-million investment fund for second mortgage loans to employees. It will charge them the same rate of interest the city earns On its investments.

The special fund still will not enable employees to buy homes in Laguna Beach, but it will put within their reach the more-affordable housing being built in San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel and Laguna Hills at no cost to city taxpayers. The program will help preserve the county's stock of affordable housing by providing qualified, eligible buyers for the resale of the lower-priced units. Laguna Beach taxpayers will benefit by having police, fire and maintenance workers closer in case of emergency and should experience less employee lateness, absenteeism and turnover because of the employees' reduced commuting times.

The housing-loan program adopted by the City Council is a sound and innovative one. But it points out the need for an even better approach--one of encouraging the construction of affordable housing within Laguna Beach, so its employees could afford to live in the city, instead of just closer to it.

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