Commentary: Homeownership should be the goal

Re. "Harlan: Stop focusing on boosting homeownership," April 14:

At first glance, I thought the title of Jeffrey Harlan's latest column was an editing error.

I thought the headline would be, "We need to focus on boosting homeownership."

As an urban planner, I'm surprised that Harlan opposes efforts to increase homeownership in our city. While I appreciate his perspective, I couldn't disagree with him more.

Costa Mesa consistently ranks dead last in percentage of ownership-to-rental units. Out of 34 Orange County cities, we are No. 34 when it comes to homeownership.

For years, our city focused on building high-density rental units with insufficient parking, particularly on our Westside. Our residents are paying the price now for poor planning back then. Now, as the housing industry starts to recover, we are trying to blame the "market" for the lack of ownership opportunities for residents and nonresidents. Our blame is misguided.

So why does a city's homeownership percentage matter? Of course, there's the obvious. A home is the single-largest investment a person will make. If we fail to provide those opportunities for people, we are hurting our ability to attract and retain long-term residents.

A city is only as good as the people it attracts. If we do not provide a decent stock of quality homes, why would people want to move here? Would Coca-Cola, Walmart or another large employer consider relocating their corporate headquarters to Costa Mesa if they saw how few opportunities exist for their employers to live where they work?

Increasing homeownership opportunities in our city would also offer environmental benefits. Shouldn't we encourage workers to walk or ride their bikes to their jobs to reduce our carbon footprint? If rental units are the only option available, why relocate to Costa Mesa? People who work in Costa Mesa would continue to live outside of our city and drive their cars to work.

In fact, Assembly Bill 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act, mandates that we find ways to get more cars off the road and focus on alternative transportation options. Let's keep our business employees here by providing a wide range of housing opportunities.

Fortunately, the city of Costa Mesa has finally recognized this problem and begun addressing the issue of homeownership. The city has begun a candid and long-overdue discussion about increasing our affordable housing. City staff is crafting a "small lot ordinance," which would make it easier to develop smaller, more environmentally friendly homes in some of the best parts of our city.

Because Costa Mesa is 98% built-out, there are limited opportunities to create new permanent housing. We need to think smarter about what the homes of the future will provide and how they can be intelligently built, given the size and price of existing land in Orange County.

If Costa Mesa is to remain "diverse, eclectic and special," to quote Harlan, it needs a healthy balance of rental-to-owned units. Yet, we are significantly out of balance and efforts to downplay the problem do not help.

Removing the barriers to home building and leveling the playing field for Costa Mesa to improve its housing stock is a critically important city goal — a goal that the City Council, city staff and I strongly support.

COLIN MCCARTHY is a member of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World