Tuesday, September 06, 2005

In Solano County last year, 2,397 single-family homes and 584 multifamily units were built

Article Published: Thursday, February 03, 2005

County housing still shy of needs

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Solano County ranked 14th out of California's 58 counties in the number of housing units produced last year, a new survey says - but, like the rest of the state, it is running a losing race as it tries to keep up with demand.

Though housing starts hit a 15-year high statewide last year, California's population growth still outstrips production, said California Building Industry Association spokesman John Frith.

"Compared to what is needed, the 210,000 (housing) units built statewide last year is still about 40,000 less than needed just to keep pace with population increases," Frith said.

Housing starts in California broke the 200,000 barrier in 2004 for the first time since 1989, but that's not enough, Frith said.

In Solano County last year, 2,397 single-family homes and 584 multifamily units were built. Only Alameda, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties produced more total housing units than Solano County last year, Frith said.

But Solano County is also one of the fastest-growing, making keeping up with housing demands a major challenge.

Vallejo city spokesman Mark Mazzaferro said 440 houses were started in Vallejo last year and two projects "are on the drawing board" for this year. They will produce more than 500 single-family homes.

There are several multifamily units in the works as well, he said.

John Bunch, Vallejo's director of development services, said some government projections show the city is not keeping pace with housing needs. But he and others question those forecasts, calling them "unrealistic," he said.

The problem involves basing projected housing needs in outlying areas like Vallejo on the number of jobs created in "core areas" like San Francisco and Oakland, Bunch said.

"Core Bay Area jobs are the problem. Outlying areas are expected to create housing for people filling those jobs, clogging the freeways, increasing commute times and overloading services," Bunch said.

Vallejo's focus on creating mixed-use, higher density residential areas near transportation hubs needs to be more widely adopted throughout the Bay Area, he said.

Frith said the state's failure to keep up with its housing demand will likely cause real estate costs to continue climbing, though probably at a slower pace than in recent years.

Further, the various fees cities charge builders and developers exacerbate the problem, he said.

"Land is already expensive, and you add thousands of dollars in fees before you can even turn a shovel of dirt," he said. "Either we have to curtail population growth, and the state doesn't have the power to do that, or we have to create more housing. We have a supply and demand imbalance. It's Economics 101."

Bunch agrees that costs have risen across the board, creating problems for home buyers, but disagrees that fees are the cause.

"That is too narrow a view," Bunch said. "Fees are only a fraction of the cost of new housing. They are based on the costs of services provided, like building inspections, sewer and water treatment, parks and other public services, without which the growth would not occur in the first place."

- E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at RachelZ@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6824.


By the numbers ...

- In Solano County last year, 2,397 single-family homes and 584 multifamily units were built.

- Solano County ranked 14th statewide in the number of single-family homes built in 2004.

- Solano County produced the fourth-largest number of housing units in the Bay Area last year.

- Production of single-family homes in Solano County last year was up 263, or 12 percent.

- Multifamily unit production was up last year by 40 units, or 7 percent, in Solano County over 2003.

- The total number of housing units built in the county was up by 303 units, or 11 percent. That compares to San Francisco's 8 percent increase and an overall statewide increase of 7.6 percent

- California Building Industry Association report

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