Our Housing Shortage: Rearranging Deck Chairs While the Titanic Sinks

I recently attended several meetings that made me shake my head in disbelief. It was akin to watching people rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic while the ocean rushes in.

At these meetings, people discussed how to provide rental housing for displaced fire victims. Their recommendation was to put fire victims at the top of the list for newly available rentals. I have two problems with this. First, why should fire victims be put above others who need housing? Why, for example, should a doctor or teacher or other person coming to the area to help our community be put at the bottom of the list? Second, we have almost no rentals to offer these people, so no matter who gets priority, we simply don’t have enough housing to go around. Why are we talking about priority instead of how to increase the housing supply?

We have had a housing shortage in this valley for at least 15 years, and last fall’s wildfires made the shortage much worse. If we want to address housing, our local leaders need to recognize how supply and demand influence people’s behaviors and then make policy based on these well-established norms.

In the past 30 years, we’ve had no new market-rate apartment complexes of any consequence. Since 2010, only 92 residential building permits have been pulled in the greater Ukiah Valley. During that time, if we were simply to keep up with population growth, 420 new housing units should have been built, whether they were single family homes, duplexes or apartment buildings.

Clearly, we need more market-rate housing—housing that people who live and work in Ukiah can afford with salaries they earn from legitimate local employment. Although local government doesn’t have complete control over the housing market, they can influence the cost of development. Right now, their influence is going the wrong way.

In 2009, the county implemented an inclusionary housing ordinance. Inclusionary zoning requires real estate developers to give the county a certain percentage of the lots they develop or pay a fee in lieu of the “gift”. In our county, developers can either include low-income units as part of their development or build low-income housing in a different location as a condition of approval for their main development. This fee makes it prohibitively expensive to build market-rate housing in many cases. For the Lover’s Lane development in Ukiah, the inclusionary fee demanded by the county is $1.7 million, which makes any hope of a profit on the project pretty slim. If developers cannot make a profit, they will not build here. Would you go to work every day if your employer didn’t pay you? I didn’t think so.

In the meetings I attended, our county supervisors were getting bullied to make poor economic decisions. A lawyer associated with Legal Aid said the county could expect to be sued if the county removed the inclusionary housing ordinance. This is crazy.

If the only housing we build is subsidized for low-income residents, it will change our community. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have a mix of housing. We should. But the inclusionary housing ordinance is preventing market-rate housing from being built—housing for our fire victims, housing for incoming professionals who will enrich our community.

We have an opportunity to change course. We need to revoke the inclusionary housing ordinance and make it easier to build new subdivisions in the Ukiah Valley. If profit margins are thin in Ukiah and thick elsewhere, developers will go elsewhere. That’s just plain common sense. If you could do the same job in two equally great places and one place paid twice as much, where would you go?

If this matters to you, I strongly encourage you to call your county supervisor. Let him or her know you value market-rate housing and you hope they will stand up to the bullies.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Spring Cleaning and Home Maintenance

As flowers bloom and the weather warms, it’s time to think about spring cleaning and annual home maintenance. Whether you gather family members for a long work weekend or chip away a little at a time, maintaining your property protects your investment.

One of the smartest things you can do each spring is to plan ahead. For example, if you use wood to heat your home, you can have it delivered now, so by fall it is both stacked and seasoned when temperatures begin to drop. You can also test your air conditioner before the full heat of summer is upon us. If your air conditioner doesn’t work in April, I’m confident you’ll get a speedier response from the repairman than you will during the first blazing hot day when everyone is testing their air conditioners.

Next, take a walk around your property. Make sure you have 100 feet of defensible space; note any brush that needs clearing and identify any tree limbs that need removing, growing over your roof or fences. Remember, putting off tree trimming only makes matters worse—those limbs won’t get any smaller as time goes by.

Do a visual inspection of your roof to make sure you don’t have missing or worn shingles or other damage, especially around roof penetrations like vents or skylights.

If you have a propane tank and you want to check for leaks, you can mix up water with a little dish soap in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on gas line couplings. If you see bubbles emerge, call the gas company immediately.

As you walk around, check concrete walkways and patios for cracks, especially if it makes for uneven footing. Smooth concrete can prevent everything from stubbed toes to broken hips. Rather than simply grinding down the rough spot, see if you can take care of the root of the problem, literally or figuratively. I’m not sure why people always plant trees with shallow roots wherever there’s concrete, but they seem to.

To prevent shallow roots from ruining concrete, I just learned you can line the hole where you plant the shallow-root tree with special mesh to force roots to go a little deeper. Obviously, this is not useful if you have a 10-foot maple that’s already well established. But if you’re about to plant something, it could be helpful.

Once your walkways are smooth, take a look at the exterior paneling of your house. Is the paint in good condition? If not, don’t wait. Like those limbs hanging over your roof, peeling paint is a problem that only gets worse with time.

If you’re planning outdoor work (like roof repairs or exterior painting), don’t get lulled into a false sense of security if it hasn’t rained for a few weeks. As my mother and mothers everywhere have said since time immemorial, “April showers bring May flowers.” Be sure your project can be buttoned up to prevent water damage if need be.

Once you’ve taken care of outdoor maintenance, head inside and check the washing machine connection, continue to replace heating/air conditioning filters monthly, and consider getting your carpets cleaned.

Tim Cabral of Cabral Carpet Care recommends cleaning carpets once a year, unless you have a lot of traffic (kids, dogs, etc.); then every six months is a good idea. Tim said you can just get the high traffic paths cleaned, if need be.

Vacuum cleaners are great for top-level dust, but they cannot pull all the debris out of the bottom of the carpet fibers, debris from doggy paws, shoes, and those moments when you’re watching TV and your team scores and the salsa goes flying onto the carpet. So, while vacuuming is good, getting your carpet cleaned professionally will get rid of that deep dirt and revitalize the carpet.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

A Science-based Approach to Water, Wildlife and Our Economy

I recently attended a presentation by Janet Pauli, Ph.D., the preeminent expert on our local water supply. She made a compelling argument about why all of us should understand a little more about where our water comes from, so we can avoid running out in the future.

This is a complex issue to tackle in a column, but I want to share some key points and encourage folks to visit www.pottervalleywater.org to learn more.

Brief History

We have two main rivers in Mendocino County: the Eel and the Russian. In 1908, a mile-long, underground tunnel was built to connect them and divert less than 2 percent of the Eel River through what was named the Potter Valley Project.

We also have two dams in Mendocino County: Scott Dam, which was built in 1922 to form Lake Pillsbury, and Coyote Dam, which built in 1959 to form Lake Mendocino. Scott Dam was created primarily to provide hydroelectric power and Coyote Dam was created for flood control. Today, the value of the water supply they provide far outweighs the value of their original purposes.

When Coyote Dam was originally built, it was supposed to be a three-phase project: 1. Build the Coyote Dam north of Ukiah, 2. Build the Warm Springs Dam in Sonoma County, and 3. Increase the height of Coyote Dam by 36 vertical feet. Because this was the original plan, easements were put in place, the bridge on Highway 20 was elevated, and the dam was engineered to support the new height. However, the third and final phase was never implemented because the existing height of the dam protected the Ukiah Valley in subsequent floods.

Current Issues

Our biggest worries now are not related to floods or power, but to water supply and how to balance environmental concerns with economic ones. During recent droughts, Lake Mendocino hit dangerously low levels.

When the dams were originally built, people focused on economic progress and largely ignored the environmental impacts of their actions. Today, some people argue for removing all dams and allowing rivers to take their natural courses in hopes of returning to a bygone era, but this is impractical and unrealistic. We need to find a balance between protecting wildlife and addressing the needs of people who live in Mendocino County.

There is no turning back time. Removing existing dams doesn’t undo the decades of evolution caused by logging, commercial and recreational fishing, past droughts and floods, cannabis cultivation and the changing ocean currents of the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Removing existing dams would, however, require hundreds of thousands of people to find a new water source for drinking water, fire suppression, recreation, agriculture, and many commercial and industrial uses. A recent study by Dr. Robert Eyler calculated that $740 million of Mendocino County’s business revenue is directly dependent on irrigation water diverted from the Eel River through the Potter Valley Project and stored in Lake Mendocino. And the flow of water doesn’t stop at the county line. In the Alexander Valley where they use 11,000 acre-feet of water from the Russian River, the economic benefits have been estimated at $145 million.

More than 600,000 people in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin Counties depend on water from the Potter Valley Project’s Eel River diversion for their domestic and agricultural water supplies. This water also helps meet the instream flow requirements necessary for protection of the ecology and recreational value of the Russian River.

The lakes created by Scott Dam and Coyote Dam provide a haven for bald eagles, migrating waterfowl, elk, deer and many other species. Also, although the dams hurt the salmon migration when they were built; since then, the fish hatchery, fish ladders and strategic releases of water have helped migrating fish.

To protect the people and wildlife in our area against future droughts, we need to raise Coyote Dam.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

Smart Homes Keep You Connected 24/7 – Part II

 

Last week, I shared some of the smart-home innovations made possible by modern technology, things like thermostats you can adjust with your cell phone regardless of your location, and smart doors and doorbells that allow you to unlock your door automatically or respond to a visitor at your door without being home.

These are just a few of the conveniences modern families can enjoy. Here are more you may not have heard about yet.

AMAZON DASH BUTTON

Don’t you hate it when you get home from a long day at work and realize you forgot to pick up cat food (again)? Amazon.com knows we’re busy, so they’ve made it incredibly easy to purchase household items with their Dash buttons. At home, I have a Dash button affixed to the wall in the garage directly above the place where I store my cat food. When we’re running low, I hit the button and it flashes green. Two days later a 25lb bag of cat food is delivered to my front door.

It’s really quite brilliant. You simply affix an Amazon Dash button on the wall or on the inside of a cabinet door (near the place your store the item in question), and when you run low on whatever it is—pet food, dishwasher detergent, soap, toilet paper, or any other essentials—you simply press the button and your wi-fi sends a signal to Amazon.com to put your item in the mail to you. Each Dash Button costs about $5, but since Amazon discounts your first order by that amount, the button is, in essence, free.

SMART REFRIGERATOR

At this January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LG featured a new refrigerator that did everything except make dinner. You can look into the fridge without opening the doors, create notes and reminders, scroll through recipes, peer into your fridge remotely, and monitor the freshness of your groceries. Right now you have to manually enter expiration dates to get alerts as those dates approach. Eventually, you’ll be able to scan those expiration dates, removing the need for manual entry. Gone are the days when you have to call home to find out whether you have enough butter.

ROBOT VACUUMS

Probably one of my favorite inventions is the Roomba, in our house we call it “Robby the Robot.” Granted, this is not a smart-home innovation as far as its connection to the internet, but it sure is convenient. Our version just vacuums hard surfaces, but the newest robot vacuums can also mop the kitchen floor and clean windows.

SMART GLASS

Smart glass is another cool invention. With an electrical charge, clear glass becomes opaque. I can imagine installing this in the bathroom. When someone’s in the shower or on the commode, you make the glass opaque; otherwise, you allow the clear glass to make the bathroom feel more expansive.

SMART TELEVISION

Voice-activated television is sure handy. You can surf the net, watch YouTube, enjoy a show on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you never have to get off the couch. I can say, “Hey Google, I’d like to watch Scandal.” Google responds, “Would you like it on YouTube or Netflix?” If I choose Netflix, Google remembers and sets it up that way next time, too.

You do have to be a little careful because advertisers have discovered that if they include “Hey Google” or “Alexa” in their commercials, they can cause your smart-gadgets to order their product for you.

ATOMIC CLOCKS

If all this smart gadgetry seems a little too much, you may consider starting with an atomic clock. These battery-powered clocks connect to an atomic clock so they are always on the right time. When Daylight Savings begins or ends, the clocks automatically make the adjustment. Maybe that’s enough convenience for now.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Smart Homes Keep You Connected 24/7 – Part I

In 1898, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, Charles Holland Duell, reportedly said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Wouldn’t he be surprised if he attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas each January to see all the latest tech creations?

For decades, technology has developed at an astonishing pace, changing how we interact with each other and the world around us. One area of development has been “smart home” technology—the creation of devices and software that allow us to have remote access to our homes and keep us more comfortable when we’re at home.

In the 1980s, we thought it was high tech to use timers for lights, thermostats and coffee pots. It was revolutionary when we began recording TV programs on VCRs, so we could watch our favorite shows whenever we felt like it and fast-forward past commercials.

These days, we have computers that can teach themselves how to make us more comfortable. For my birthday, my children got me the new Nest thermostat, which not only allows me to program temperature settings, but also to access the system with my cell phone. When I was feeling under the weather recently, I used my phone to tell Nest to increase the temperature in my house because I planned to go home early. By the time I got home, it was nice and warm.

Nest also predicts my needs. I’d been turning down the heat when I headed off to bed about the same time each night. Then I went to bed early a few nights in a row, and the Nest system noticed the new behavior and turned the heat down at my new bedtime automatically.

If I’m at home and I don’t happen to have my cell phone in my hand, I can simply say, “Hey, Google. Please turn up the temperature to 70 degrees.” And just like that, my house starts warming up.

During the holidays, we had a Christmas tree with lights that plugged into a wall outlet behind the tree. Turning the lights on and off required gymnast-like dexterity and flexibility, neither of which I possess. So, we made that outlet a smart plug, and all I had to do to turn the lights on was to say, “Hey, Google. Turn the Christmas tree lights on.” Voila, beautiful lights.

Another bit of smart-home convenience comes in the form of the smart door. How many times have you approached your locked front door with arms full of groceries, fumbled for your keys, dropped your keys, then as you attempted to pick up your keys, dropped your groceries (usually the bag with the eggs)? With a smart door, this never has to happen.

You can convert your old front door into a smart door with a new lock and knob that detects your phone and automatically unlocks the door. You can also program the door to open for your cleaning lady’s digital key on Tuesdays between 1-3 PM when she’s scheduled to arrive, or provide a one-time entry key to the dishwasher repairman so he can stop the water from leaking all over your kitchen floor.

In addition to convenience, smart homes can increase safety. The smart doorbell allows you to see who is at your door and to talk to them. This is not a huge improvement over the peephole and yelling through the door, until you realize that you can respond to the person at the door from your lounge chair in Cancun. The person at the door has no idea you’re not home.

If someone does decide to break into your home, motion sensors trigger the auto-record feature of your video surveillance cameras, allowing police to get a good look at the intruder.

These are just a few of the smart-home innovations available. Who knows what’s next?

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.