COSTA MESA : Residents Seek Role in Housing Solutions

A small group of residents has been gathering for the past two months to decipher city codes, ordinances and the city's General Plan, all in the name of trying to solve the homeless problem and provide affordable housing.

The group includes advocates for the homeless, business people, housewives and others who want to have a role in the city's development of more affordable housing, said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, a Santa Ana homeless shelter.

Haynes, 27, represents the city on the Affordable Housing Committee of the Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force. The committee was formed to get each Orange County city discussing and finding solutions to the shortage of affordable housing.

"We are convinced of two things," Haynes said. "That is that there is a problem, not only nationally, at the county level and in the state, but in our city. Very few people would argue that most young people can't buy a home where they grew up. And we're convinced that we can do something, that this can be better."

But the process is much more complex than simply marching into City Hall and demanding that decent, low-cost housing be made available to all residents, he said. "Right now, the biggest thing we need to do in Costa Mesa is educate the people."

That includes reviewing city documents that explain the city's enforcement of the building code, how the city designates affordable housing and how much of a new development is set aside for low-cost houses and apartments. Group members do homework to contribute to the meetings, which are held at various houses throughout the city, said Tim Shaw, who also works with the homeless.

Shaw, 26, is the chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee.

Costa Mesa was the first city to start the group meetings. Since then, residents in San Juan Capistrano, Huntington Beach and Fullerton have begun similar meetings.

"The purpose is to build a countywide movement city by city," Shaw said. "The nice thing about this is that the committee recognizes that every city has a different complexion. We don't want to be just a group that reacts to everything. We want to be constantly visible and keep it on the minds of the city leadership."

Another task is to get people with different backgrounds and interests involved, he said. The committee has extended invitations to members of Latinos Costa Mesa, other community groups and residents of South Coast Interfaith Shelter.

Haynes said he recognizes that all of these forces must discuss the issue openly and come to some conclusions together. On an issue as important as this one, he said, there is no room for confrontation with neighborhoods or businesses that might object to having affordable housing located next door.

At its meetings, the committee has discussed homeless shelters as well as ways to provide housing for senior citizens, the handicapped and first-time home buyers.

"We're finding that the housing issue is extraordinarily complex," Haynes said. "We need to understand the problems, we need to understand the pressures that the planning department is under and problems of private business and the need for profit in figuring this out, and once we understand the situation, what we hope to come out of these meetings are creative ideas."

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