Survey says: housing

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An informal look at opportunities and challenges facing Avalon in the year ahead

Housing was the top issue among participants in a recent and informal Catalina Islander social media survey. Infrastructure, the internet, vacation rentals, and beautification also came up—but housing was the top issue.

The Islander recently asked social media members, on the record and for possible publication in the print edition of the newspaper: what are the opportunities and challenges for Avalon in the year head. The survey received 54 replies (many of them from repeat participants) totaling 1,896 words. Space limitations made it impossible to quote every word that every participant wrote.

Some quotations below were edited for minor spelling and grammar errors. Some comments were paraphrased to save space or to make clear the difference between one person and another.

Robby McCormick wrote: “Housing, more specifically oversight of housing regulations in Avalon. There is zero oversight and rent stabilization. It should not require the average working class person to have two or three jobs just to barely scrape by making the $1,900 rent costs for a studio or small apartment. It’s killing us all. It makes it impossible to support local small businesses because nobody has any spending money left to go eat at a restaurant, or go shopping. It’s a vicious cycle of overpriced, outdating housing that has no end in sight until there’s a more active and more involved housing authority in place to help mitigate disputes and improve accountability as a whole.”

Chad Holzer wrote: “$1,900 isn’t much money for a studio. That’s fairly similar to housing across the pond. Perhaps the problem lies with the employers only paying minimum wage. $1,900 for living in paradise? C’mon!”

McCormick argued that the problem could go both ways. McCormick wrote that if employers start paying more, that increases their overhead, which increases the cost of services or products sold, so the customer ends up spending the same ratio of money.

“Whereas many ‘studios’ for rent in Avalon are not real ‘studios’ to begin with. They’re a spare bedroom, or sometimes not even a bedroom just a partitioned off section of living space,” McCormick wrote.

McCormick argued that no one is monitoring code compliance with properties that are “less than up to code” or just uninhabitable. “But because there’s no real authority to regulate that, you end up having people paying that $1,900 for a place that doesn’t have some of the basic necessities that people from across the pond might get to utilize in a jurisdiction that DOES have a housing authority or that might be taken for granted elsewhere, where the status quo isn’t ‘how much can I get away with?’” McCormick wrote.

In reply, Chad Holzer wrote: “[S]o what do you suppose the answer is? When basic shacks cost over $1 million, should the owner take a bath? Perhaps it’s more than 1 issue.”

Robby McCormick agreed it was more than one issue.

“I suppose the answer or at least a good place to start would be a housing authority that can more reasonably regulate and enforce laws that are not only county laws, but state wide laws as well,” McCormick wrote.

“As opposed to the ONE building inspector we have currently who is forced to bear the responsibility for every home, project, remodel, and renovation all by themselves with no policy for enforcement or any method to prevent inadequate maintenance of property’s both commercial and residential,” McCormick wrote.

Lorren Dawes pointed out that the problem isn’t unique to Avalon.

“Unfortunately Avalon is not the only tourist town that has/is experiencing a shortage of ‘affordable housing,’’ Lorren Dawes wrote.

“It is happening all over California (that’s why there are more people leaving the state than moving to the state). But it is also prevalent in all the resort [mountain] towns in Colorado where they don’t have housing that ‘service’ workers can afford nor is there much in availability period,” Dawes wrote.

Dawes also wrote that unless Avalon builds affordable housing, people who don’t own homes will have no option but to live in substandard, crowded conditions.

Jamie Boyd wrote: “That is IF you can even find any housing.” Boyd wrote that there were vacation rentals available year-round while locals who have lived on the Island their entire lives were constantly searching for housing. Boyd wrote that the majority of people Boyd knew work two jobs and don’t usually complain because they live in paradise.

“[B]ut the housing situation in general ($1900 or any price) is very rare to find,” Boyd wrote.

Holzer wrote: “See! Demand sets the price. If you can’t find housing, perhaps developers could build more. “Oh wait. That costs billions.”

Boyd wrote that all the locals want is to find a forever home in the only place they have ever experienced as their home.

Moniqua Garcia did not know if there was a cap on vacation rentals, but wrote that there should be one. “And if there is, they need to revisit that and hear us,” Garcia wrote.

(According to Avalon City Attorney Scott Campbell, there is no cap on vacation rentals in Avalon. “We have instituted a license for such rentals and have recently revoked some transient licenses,” Campbell said. )

Reva Zemke reminded discussion participants that property owners pay taxes, insurance, a mortgage, and homeowners association fees.

Nikki Costello cited transient rentals as the problem. “If the city would stop giving out vacation rental permits, then owner would have no choice but to rent their places out as year around,” Costello wrote.

“[A]nd who is going to regulate that? The ONE building inspector we have? No, there needs to be an oversight board that keeps up with those sort of inspections and guidelines,” McCormick wrote.

“The problem with that is that let’s say the owner wants to come to the island, once a month and stay for a weekend in their rental property … does that mean every month for a weekend their tenants are supposed to be put up in a hotel or just supposed to leave their living space for the weekend?” McCormick wrote.

“That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Airbnbs in Avalon are crazy expensive and huge revenue for many of the homeowners … they’re not just going to give that up without some sort of authority that’s going to make sure they’re doing it the right way,” McCormick wrote. McCormick called for better code enforcement.

Dawes wrote: “Looking at the number of American households and the number of vacant housing units, Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored purchaser of mortgage-backed securities, estimates a current supply shortage of 3.8 million units, driven by a 40-year collapse in the construction of homes smaller than 1,400 square feet. It is a national issue exacerbated when people choose to stay in locations with few choices for housing.”

Maya Martin raised the issue of infrastructure. “You cannot continue to build in Avalon without proper Infrastructure. Our sewage treatment plant was meant for 1,200 people [and] Summer days, not 4k [people] plus Summer days and cruise ship[s],” Martin wrote.

Madisyn Hill wrote: “Housing availability! My boyfriend and I have been looking for dog friendly housing for 3 months with no luck.”

Emmy Bravo wrote: “Yup, same. Seems like people who come just for summer find places faster than us.”

Emmy Bravo wrote that they had been looking for a place for nine months.

“I know the locals will probably disagree but I think the city should spend more money on beautification of the city. Cleaning the sidewalks, planting the planters, painting. The mole and public areas are looking very worn,” John Salazar wrote.

In reply, Garcia wrote: “[I]n addition to that, I dream of the day we have a beautiful community garden, large enough to walk through. And maybe some chickens too. That’s beautiful to me.”

Salazar wrote: “I think that would be great as well. That shouldn’t cost much either. Very good suggestion!”

Lindsey Sessions wrote: “Need a job to get a house, need a house to get a job … we need more public housing.”

“[A]nd affordable housing at that!” Jennifer Cuccia wrote.

Kasey Andruski wrote: “As someone who comes to the island, it is frustrating that I can’t get a hotel for one night.”

Julia Dennis wrote: “Housing [and] activities for kids.”

Ruby Danielle Engel wrote: “Rent control.”

Kelly Andreen McIntyre wrote: “I would love for there to be a yoga studio on the island with regularly scheduled classes.”

Nikki Costello wrote: “I would say housing is a city issue and not a Catalina Islander issue.”

Jana Martinez wrote: “Affordable housing based on income.”

Boyd wrote “(affordable) housing” in all capital letters.

“Medical care, long term availability of resources like water and electricity, reliable internet,” wrote Jacqueline Lehr.

Ahmad Hajeir wrote: “Housing, housing and housing.”