Why We’re Failing to Solve Our Local Housing Crisis

Since 2009, the County hasn’t come close to meeting its own housing development goals. As per the 2009-2014 Housing Element Update, 2,988 housing units needed to be built; sadly, only 443 were (http://bit.ly/14-19HElement).

The Board of Supervisors and the Community Development Agency, which consists of the Building and Planning Departments as well as Code Enforcement – to name a few, exacerbate the problem, despite being managed by experienced professionals. Currently, it’s impossible to build affordable housing here. Not all the factors are under the County’s control, but they can make things easier.

I’m running for Supervisor in District 1 for an array of reasons, a few of which are that I’m frustrated by how long it takes to get projects through, how much it costs, and the no-growth mentality of the Board of Supervisors. As Supervisor, I’ll reform how the County deals with housing development. I will streamline permitting processes, make them faster and waive or reduce fees so that it’s affordable to build, add-to and renovate homes. I will focus on smaller homes and high-density projects.

Are you a homeowner looking to make renovations? Are you considering building an in-law unit (ADU) to generate passive income? Would you like to get your existing ‘as-built’ structure up to code? Whether you’re looking to build, buy, or rent a home, these issues matter to you.

Can affordable housing actually be built in Nevada County? I’ve been asking around, and most contractors, realtors and longtime industry experts agree – it’s not. In 2019, the average cost to build was $250-$300 per square foot. New state building codes focused on energy efficiency (sprinklers, EC fixtures, solar, etc.) took effect this January and will affect these numbers. I’m guessing the cost to build is going to increase 10%-20%.

How can we create affordable housing solutions amidst this madness?

SOLUTION #1: Increase the housing inventory by building the right type of housing.

If there’s no supply and lots of demand, it’s a landlord’s market and renters suffer. There is affordable housing that exists. The trouble is, none of it’s available. With no available inventory, you’ll never have affordable housing. By building more homes, we create more options, create price competition and incentivize landlords to improve their offerings.

The easiest, fastest and cheapest way to increase our housing inventory is for the County to partner with local municipalities and encourage high density development within their spheres of influence. When high-density building, costs will be shared by an increased number of units. This division of costs suddenly makes housing significantly more affordable.

I also want Nevada County to loosen its requirements so that efficiency dwellings (aka tiny homes) and ADUs can be built on land that supports these structures. Developing these small, secondary units while we wait on the construction of more high-density developments will provide much needed, immediate housing for healthcare, construction, agricultural and food services workers in our community.

SOLUTION #2: Bring building and renovation costs down while reining in the County’s skyrocketing costs and fees.

We both know that if you can, you will AVOID the Building Department. Those that don’t often regret it. Whether you’re a home buyer, homeowner, contractor, REALTOR® or commercial property owner, believe me, you DON’T want to deal with the County. Not only will the County deter you from developing your land, but it will also make it so untimely and costly for you to do so that you’ll never complete your project.

Simple projects like adding an accessory generator aren’t even “over-the-counter” permits. Even with a licensed, bonded and insured electrician to do the job, it’s a challenge. However, in early December, Placer County dropped all fees associated with the installation of a backup generator. They’d rather know where the generators are and help people understand the potential fire risks before they start fires. This is a great idea and Nevada County should follow suit.

Fees and code compliance violation costs are outrageous, and they’re preventing us from doing what makes sense.

SOLUTION #3: Streamline processes and allow for a more flexible interpretation of building codes.

The Building Department, Code Compliance Department and state/local environmental agencies are further disincentivizing people from developing their properties. It’s no secret there are hundreds of unpermitted structures in the County. I want to create streamlined and affordable ways to bring these units up to code. Instead, the County is avoiding liability issues completely by keeping the rules as black and white, and as strict as possible. There is no leniency and no room for interpretation.

Getting projects approved takes too much time. Too much time = too much money! We need a solution that relaxes building codes across the board! Title 25 is a good start, but not extensive enough. California’s out of control residential building codes are crippling our state, and rural counties suffer the most.

SOLUTION #4: Sell pre-approved, turnkey building plans over the counter and combine field inspections to decrease the number of total inspections necessary and ensure projects get done.

To promote growth, I suggest the County design ten generic efficiency dwelling and Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) plans that are fully approved and available for purchase over the counter. Let’s make it simple. You come into the office, pay a flat rate fee, sign an indemnity agreement and get fully approved, ready to build plans. Of course, you’ll still need to consider site-specific engineering (percentage grade, etc.) and utility hookups, but if those precluding projects go through, your building plans will be guaranteed to go through.

Let’s simplify things by lumping together inspections, thereby decreasing the total number of field inspections needed to complete your project. The County should trust that the licensed, bonded, insured contractors we’re hiring are building to code and that inspectors are ensuring projects get done correctly.

SOLUTION #5: Create a fair and just way to resolve code compliance violations and protect property rights.

Since permitting is such a painful, costly and time-consuming process, I believe that many homeowners in Nevada County are choosing to build and renovate without permits. If you’re one of them, who could blame you?

When the County inspects one code violation on your property, they’ll actively look for others. They might even document your ‘as-built’ or ‘unpermitted’ structures as having increased your property value and raise your property taxes while they’re at it. When they do, what can you do? There’s no fighting back. The County will use your tax dollars against you to bleed you dry, financially and emotionally.

I want to create a healthy platform that will: (1) allow a third-party mediator to help county residents resolve issues with the Community Development Agency, (2) instill a quick, fair and just process for property owners to bring ‘as-built’ or ‘unpermitted’ structures up to code and (3) create financially feasible payment plans. As members of this community, we should not fear doing the right thing.

SOLUTION #6: Acknowledge that we can’t make everyone happy and do what’s best for the greater community.

What about those in our community who don’t want to develop Nevada County? They’re a small group that’s controlling a large conversation. “Not in My Back Yarders” (NIMBYs) should not be able to stop crucial progress that Nevada County’s sustainable future depends on. Yes, we should allot all individuals their right to freedom of speech, but the Board of Supervisors should also be able to make decisions for the greater good.

As a licensed general building contractor in Nevada County with 40 years of experience, I understand these issues and want to get us back on track. I’ve worked with many local contractors on both commercial and residential projects. I have professional and personal experience dealing with county permitting and planning.

I’m running for District 1 Supervisor because affordable, attainable housing in Nevada County should be possible. I’ve never been affiliated with any government agencies or political parties and am willing to expose problems at the County level. I want reform. I want to stop government overreach. As Supervisor, I will bring oversight to Nevada County.

If you feel strongly about issues related to housing or have had difficulties building or developing your property, please reach out to me by email at mtaylor4district1@gmail.com. I’m working to build a coalition of concerned citizens. Together, we’ll ensure our voices get heard in Nevada County.