There’s a reason homeownership is still considered the “American Dream.” A home is the best means for building wealth and a pathway to strength and stability in the communities we all call home.
Middle-class families have built wealth for centuries through homeownership and real estate investment. Homeownership allows families to protect themselves against rising rents and inflation, while offering an opportunity to build equity over time. Here in Kern County, things are no different.
For many California residents, homeownership is simply falling out of their reach. There is no denying that there is a housing crisis in California. It is difficult to turn on the television or open a paper without hearing about workers that are commuting farther and farther, contributing to traffic and pollution more than ever to have affordable housing. Many California households have no choice but to spend more than half of their incomes on housing costs. Employers have difficulty finding and keeping workers. It doesn’t appear that there is much relief in sight.
There have been more than 130 housing and real estate related bills that were introduced into the California legislature this year. Of those, Gov. Jerry Brown signed 15 bills that will become law. Certain legislation concentrates on making it easier for developers to build, such as Senate bill 35, which requires cities to streamline and approve projects in compliance with current zoning. Assembly bill 73 and Senate bill 540 will provide cities with an incentive to plan for new development. The intent of the signed legislation is to help provide relief to the housing crisis, but many speculate that the signed legislation may not even make a dent in reality. These are steps in the right direction, but there is much more work that needs to be done to reverse public policies that have compounded this crisis.
Here’s the good news. Bakersfield recently ranked as the No. 1 most affordable city in California on SmartAsset’s “Most Affordable Big Cities in America.” The list compared housing markets and their closing costs, taxes, insurance and mortgage payments. According to the California Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index, 29 percent of California households could afford to purchase the $553,260 median-priced home and that number continues to drop. In contrast, Kern County had 54 percent of households in Kern County able to purchase the $232,500 median priced home so far in 2017.
As mentioned in previous KBJ articles, Bakersfield is No. 5 in the nation for affordable home ownership for teachers, first responders and restaurant workers. Over 98 percent of our housing listings are affordable for doctors, over 76 percent for teachers, over 75 percent for first responders and over 9 percent for restaurant workers. In comparison, only 65 percent of teachers and first responders are able to afford a home in Fresno, 45 percent in Riverside, 22 percent in Los Angeles and 14 percent in San Diego.
According to the Housing Affordability Index, Kern County ranked No. 2 coming in just behind Tehama County. Kern County’s cost of living for the third quarter 2017 Cost of Living Index was 104.6, making it the least expensive urban area in the state of California. While homeownership is nearly impossible for families in other areas of the state, Kern County can thrive.
There is no doubt that we all need to pay attention to housing crisis in California to make sure smart large-term solutions are taking place that will allow for Californians to have access to affordable housing and a chance to build wealth with a purchase of a home. In the meanwhile, Kern County continues to embrace and welcome growth, and it just may be one of the last places in the Golden State that residents still have a chance at obtaining the American dream.
Kim Schaefer is a community liaison for Kern Economic Development Corporation.