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O.C. Faces Bifurcated Threat: Inequality And Insufficient Housing

By most accounts, Orange County’s economy has recovered from the Great Recession. Jobs are on the rise, and home prices have nearly returned to their pre-recession levels. However, as Margot Roosevelt so succinctly stated in the Register’s recent coverage of the 2015 Orange County Community Indicators Report, income inequality, homelessness and overcrowded housing are growing dramatically.

The report was produced jointly by CalOptima, the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, Orange County United Way and the Orange County Community Foundation.

It focuses on three “pivot points” to which the community must redirect its attention to ensure Orange County’s future well-being. Key among them are rising housing costs and a growing gap in skills, available jobs and wages – issues that are inextricably linked.

Specifically:

  • With new housing construction failing to keep pace with demand, less than half of Orange County households can afford an entry-level home. In addition, a minimum wage worker needs to work in excess of 110 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment, forcing families to share apartments with multiple families.
  • More than 32,000 children are homeless or housing-insecure, up 6 percent last year and an alarming 236 percent over the past 10 years. This means more kids are homeless or living unstably – in either motels or apartments with multiple families, all of which gravely affect their health and chances for educational success. This will affect the community as a whole down the line.

United Way’s 10-year FACE 2024 community-wide action plan is laser-focused on these issues, in addition to reducing the high school dropout rate and decreasing childhood obesity.

What is needed to truly pivot the trends to a more positive direction for local children and families?

First, these issues are everyone’s problem in Orange County. They are too large for nonprofits to address alone, and private industry has little incentive to increase affordable housing stock or embrace working families who may not look great on paper. Given the chance of stable housing for their families, paired with additional job training and supportive services, people can become successful long-term tenants and eventually enjoy home ownership.

Second, local governments need to become much more proactive in implementing policies and regulations that both incentivize private industry and help underwrite the creation and preservation of affordable housing in their communities. If every city takes action, the burden on all will be lessened, and we can turn this trend around. Anaheim and Irvine are already taking steps to proactively address housing.

Third, a number of local private apartment communities have been receptive to working with five United Way nonprofit partners to make units available to families with children who have been unstably housed. Their commitment is an example of forward-thinking private industry and nonprofit collaboration.

Now is the time for more cities and private industries to collaborate with non-profits to address these critical issues for our children and the future of our county.

To read the Community Indicators Report in its entirety join me at the upcoming OC Forum luncheon Sept. 2, when key findings will be discussed.

Max Gardner is president and CEO of Orange County United Way. He is former president of Irvine Company Apartment Communities.

Read the article on the OC Register’s website.

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